Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Some Clarifications, for Peter MacKay

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay says the government stands behind Canada's troops in Afghanistan and won't do anything to cast doubt on that support.

"The last thing that we want to show is any wavering or any backing away from the commitment of our Canadian troops," MacKay said on CTV's Question Period on Sunday.

"We have to be 100 per cent behind them. We have to demonstrate in every way that we support the important work that they're doing. And to that extent, this government is 100 per cent behind our troops and appreciative, incredibly appreciative of the effort that they're making."

MacKay was responding to critics who suggest Canada's commitment to Afghanistan should be taken to a parliamentary vote.

It seems Mr. MacKay has some misconceptions about when a debate would or would not be appropriate on a military deployment. Let's clear this up right now. When is it the right time to debate a life and death military mission?


It is always appropriate. To debate the nature of a military mission, to examine whether circumstances have changed, to talk about what the role of Canadian troops is or should be, about what resources they have or need, about the effect they are having on the daily lives of Afghans, about what long-term psychological impacts the mission is having on the troops themselves. We can't solve a damn thing without first talking about it. We can't even know if there are problems if we don't talk about it.

To hide behind "supporing the troops" is cowardly. Calling for the troops to come home could be supporting them. Calling for more money, more troops, new training, better gear, a change in mission; all these things can be legitimately supportive of the troops. Leaving a bunch of guys in the desert half a world away, with no public political discussion of why they are there is not supportive.

But wait, there's morale! What if talking about the mission, maybe even raising serious doubts about their ability to impose peace on a fractious landscape (one with the British Empire twice failed to subdue, followed by the Russians, followed by the Americans) weakens their resolve?

What is morale, anyway? It is the common spirit of a team, and its members willingness to do their tasks. So yes, I can see how actually talking about their chances of success might damage that crucial element of readiness.

If we were talking about a T-ball team, that is.

These are soldiers! They aren't six fucking years old, people. They're grown adults who chose a profession that involves being shot at. They've been attacked with roadside bombs, mortars, grenades, by the friendly fire of their allies, and most recently, with an axe. We expect them to take daily danger, harsh living conditions and seperation from friends and family with equanimity, but a little bit of talk about why they're there will have tears pouring from their eyes? Give me a goddamn break.

You know what would be good for their morale? Giving them some input in the debate. Bring soldiers who've served in Afghanistan and let them speak to Parliament, directly to the MPs. Let them talk about what they really need, what they think the mission is, what they believe in. Let's listen to the privates and corporals and the front line officers. Let's hear from their mothers and fathers, and their husbands and wives, too. Let's hear from Afghans, not just the ones they've helped, but the ones who want them the hell out of their country.

And then, let's have that debate.

We can let Peter MacKay sit this one out. He wouldn't want to be seen wavering, after all. I'm sure total, blind-eyed ignorance is the best way to stand behind the troops.

1 comment:

Drew G said...

That last part about letting soldiers in on the debate, sure genius. In much the same way as owning a part of the company you work for will improve your performance, having a say in a mission which you are involved will improve moral.