Monday, March 2, 2009

Candid Harper on Afghanistan War

"We’re not going to win this war just by staying . . . we are not ever going to defeat the insurgency... My reading of Afghanistan’s history is that they’ve probably had an insurgency forever, of some kind."

- Prime Minister Stephen Harper, interviewed on CNN last week.

UPDATE: Critics, like Warren Kinsella, label this a flip-flop but that is ridiculous. It's called evolved thinking. Eight years on, and with the kind of reports he receives, doesn't the intelligent person constantly challenge their own beliefs? To begin with, this war had almost unanimous support. We wanted to hit the Al Qaeda after 9-11. (Kinsella's boss Ignatieff was certainly for it.) However, it has become something we haven't quite bargained for. The US have attempted nation building and are pretending Pakistan is an ally, when it is an enemy. You have to imagine Harper has been privately frustrated with the operation. He is doing the right thing now by talking about possibilities, instead of sticking to something that is clearly failing.

UPDATE II: John Geddes at Maclean's says Harper has been thinking about this since late 2007.

He certainly didn’t talk in terms of coalition forces securing some sort of decisive victory over the Taliban before pulling out. Here’s what I wrote in a Dec. 28, 2007, piece we headlined “Not-so-happy New Year”:

On Afghanistan, the dominant defence and foreign policy file, Harper again looks ahead to tough choices. Rather than talking up the military mission in Kandahar as an inspiring undertaking, he used the year-end sit-down to vent frustration at slow progress in building a self-sufficient Afghan government. “You know, the United Nations and our allies will have been in Afghanistan 10 years in 2011. For God’s sakes, Germany was basically fully restored within four years; Germany joined NATO ten years after it was conquered.”

He does not seem to be willing to accept anything like an open-ended commitment in central Asia. “To say that Afghanistan would need decades and decades just to do the basic security work, I think is pushing credibility,” Harper said. “Not just pushing the patience of the Canadian public and the military, pushing the credibility of the effort. A sovereign government must, at some point, say, ‘We can actually deal with this on a day-to-day basis. We can be responsible.’”

Update III: I'm watching coverage of this on the news and it's driving me crazy. Don Newman on CBC is saying that he thought Harper didn't want to cut and run. They then show a 2006 clip of Harper saying this. Like this is a smoking gun of hypocrisy. He was saying that about the mission in Kandahar and Southern Afghanistan AT THE TIME. That Canadian soldiers came under fire and held tough. He didn't mean that we had to stay fighting this thing until 2050, no matter what new factors arise.

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