I hope that I will one day have the discipline to pump out essays like my friend, John Conway, does. Here’s another really good one folks.
The Afghan War: Harper’s Re-election Gamble
by J. F. Conway
Our esteemed prime minister continues to dig himself deeper into his political hole. Soon it will be impossible for him to claw his way out.
On the UN world stage Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to present himself, and Canada, as warmongers, defending the dirty war in Afghanistan and vowing never to leave until the job is done. Finally, he is brazenly affirming that Canada is at war. But what is this war? It is a war of invasion, occupation and aggressive combat supporting one side against the other in a civil war. The current puppet regime, put in place by the US after questionable elections, wouldn’t last a fortnight if NATO troops pulled out. Indeed, military experts argue that in the absence of superior American air power, the current combat troops on the ground would be overrun by the Taliban-led insurgency coalition.
Harper insists we are fighting the war on terror. But the Taliban, formerly the government after driving out the Soviet invaders, then toppled after 9/11 by US bombing and invasion, are not the terrorists who haunt us. They are one side in a civil war. Our war is therefore a war on the Afghans who support the Taliban. According to the Senlis Council of Europe and the US-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, both prominent establishment think tanks, the Afghan war can no longer be won. That in a nutshell is why other NATO members are reluctant to send troops. The military campaign has ravaged the homes, farms and infrastructure of the country so badly that the Afghan people face insecurity and lawlessness, abject poverty and mass starvation. And this massive destruction has been due to the bombing and artillery shelling of NATO forces. The 10 to 15,000 refugees in camps in the south are not receiving enough aid simply to survive. As a result the Taliban is returning to political prominence and has fashioned a growing insurgency coalition against the foreign occupiers. Over one-half of Afghanistan and one-third of Iraq are now effectively in the control of the respective insurgencies.
Harper dug himself in deeper by inviting Afghan President Hamid Karzai to visit Canada and to address a joint sitting of the House of Commons and the Senate. Karzai’s visit was planned to coincide with a 10,000 strong “Wear Red Friday” rally on Parliament Hill. The Wear Red on Fridays campaign was founded by family members of troops from the Petawawa military base. The movement has grown into a jingoistic pro-war “support our troops” movement mobilized with a great deal of help from Harper’s Tory party. In his address to the rally Harper promised to build up the Canadian military and to stay the course in Afghanistan through all necessary means, no matter how long it takes.
This double whammy of the theatre of pro-war propaganda – Karzai’s visit and the Wear Red rally – might contribute temporarily to growth in support for the war among Canadians. The last Strategic Council poll reported that 49 per cent of Canadians want to bring the troops home, while 43 per cent support staying the course. These figures reveal a polarized and confused public, since the polls have gone up and down with events and propaganda campaigns. But the pattern has remained clear, a plurality of Canadians, usually a majority, opposes the war and wants our troops brought home. Harper ignores this political truth at his peril, and the Afghan war could become a defining issue in the next election. Harper appears to welcome such a possibility (after all, 43 per cent is higher that his current support level of 35 per cent).
The polling numbers reflect the deep ambivalence in Canadians’ sentiments rooted in contradictory attitudes. All Canadians support our troops in the sense of admiring their courage and their devotion to their duty as defined by Parliament. All Canadians grieve with the families of the fallen. Harper’s cynical and manipulative ploy of trying to conflate those good sentiments into support for the war and its political objectives is hard to resist. Harper says in order to support our troops, and to honour their sacrifices, we must support this war and support continuing to send more troops to wage it. Canadians, however, are increasingly moving to the position that the best way to support our troops is to bring them home now, not to leave them there to fight, kill and die, nor to send yet more young men and women to do so.
What is truly astonishing about Canadian attitudes is that opposition to the war continues to be so strong. The Canadian media have betrayed the trust of the Canadian people by serving as a pro-war propaganda arm of the Harper government and cheer leading chorus for the war. Even the news broadcasts are little more than pro-war propaganda. There is a virtual absence of critical, investigative reporting on the war. But despite a pro-war media, a pro-war prime minister and government, and repeated pro-war messages from the military broadcast daily, the Canadian people have refused to be bamboozled and stampeded.
This failure of the media took a particularly disgusting turn with the visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The media bought into Harper’s stunt of treating Karzai like he was the greatest freedom fighting government leader since Winston Churchill – pomp, ceremony, honour guards, salutes by cannon, the whole red carpet treatment, including the rare honour of addressing a joint sitting of Parliament. One understands why the Harper government would want to do so as part of a political campaign to win the hearts and minds of Canadians to support the war. But where were the critical analyses in the media about Karzai? Canadians were being instructed to honour this man uncritically, and asked to spend yet more blood and treasure (37 dead and over $3 billion to date) in supporting him and his government.
Did Canadian people not have the right to know that Karzai has so little support outside the capital city that he is widely referred to as “the Mayor of Kabul?” Or that he vetoed US plans to destroy the poppy crop through aerial spraying (Afghanistan now supplies 92 per cent of the world’s heroin; during the Taliban regime the trade was virtually stopped)? Or that his brother is alleged to be involved in the drug trade? Or that he was picked to lead the country at a meeting of US officials and Afghan exiles prior to the overthrow of the Taliban at a meeting in Bonn? Or that his election was allegedly riddled with fraud, only one month’s campaigning was allowed, his opponents were blacked out by the media, and his main political adversary, the Taliban, could not run (and would not in an American organized election)? Or that he was a former consultant to oil companies in the region? Or that he has fired all the reformers from his cabinet? Or that he is alleged to have had links with the CIA and US military intelligence? Or that George Bush personally approved his candidacy? The fact is that Karzai heads up a puppet regime set up by the US and its NATO allies. Do Canadians not have a right to know the nature of the president and government they are sending their young men and women to die defending?
This is a time of shame for Canadian media institutions. They have failed to inform Canadians in a balanced way about this war. Not only have they betrayed the public trust, but they have lost the trust of the public.
Harper is clearly gambling that he can parlay his warmongering, pro-US stance into a victory in the next election. Many think he has made a big mistake.
Conway is a University of Regina political sociologist.