When Hillary Clinton made her ‘Canada should stay in Afghanistan’ comments last month it shone a bright spotlight on the rock and the hard place Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in.
I should note: I have had to take some meds and have a little nap after realizing that I agreed with Hillary on something. Between that and finding one common-ground issue with Obama - Afghanistan - perhaps it’s time to call my therapist…
Leading a precarious second minority government, Harper has seen support for the role of our military in the war-torn nation fall steadily. Pressured by opposition parties and the public, the Conservative government made the flawed decision to announce the end of Canada’s military participation in 2011.
The work of our Armed Forces in Afghanistan - including taking the lead role in battling the Taliban and al-Qaeda when American focus was primarily on Iraq - has given our nation a sense of public pride for our military not felt in years.
Now that the U.S. is ending it’s time in Iraq (in such a way as to ensure mass chaos) and zeroing in on Afghanistan, the Canadian P.M. must feel stuck. Viewed as fairly pro-American (as all right-wingers are painted in Canada) and pro-War on Terror, Harper doesn’t want to lose his (final?) chance at achieving the first Conservative majority government since the Brian Mulroney 1980’s.
I would guess he would love nothing more than to keep Canadian troops front and center past the 2011 deadline. Harper understands the sacrifice the nation has made, and he also understands that the fight against terrorism can’t be won by gun alone.
But there is a vital military component the path to victory in Afghanistan, one that Canada has excelled in since our Joint Task Force 2 Special Forces Unit arrived right after 9/11, followed in 2002 by our first of many thousands of troops on the ground, a battle group from 3rd battalion PPCLI.
Canadian forces have focused on more than just fighting the Taliban. Our troops have worked tirelessly at the reconstruction side. Infrastructure of all kinds have been built - then destroyed - then rebuilt, sometimes over and over.
The absence of Canadian troops will be noticed. Imperative work that has begun will not be finished. We will be leaving before the job is done.
To the terrorists, we will have been defeated. They may even feel embolden to attack us on our own soil.
So there is Stephen Harper’s quandary: keep to the 2011 deadline - and live the next year fighting an enemy who knows you are running away - and be safe in his job, or do what is fundamentally right - and put his neck on the line and his political future in jeopardy - by abandoning the defective ‘war with a time limit' concept and renewing our commitment to NATO and to the War on Terror.
Perhaps his answer is in the words of Winston Churchill:
“It's not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required.”