Fair to say that a decade or two ago we didn’t care much about Afghanistan. Just another Third World basket case. Let the ethnic tribes there bloody one another up. Let superpowers try to harness it.
Then a couple things happened. The Taliban got singled out as being exporters of terrorism and as running a government even more medieval than other tribes. We had a general, the popular Rick Hillier, who was gung-ho on getting Canada back on war footing. We figured we owed the Americans something because we hadn’t joined them in Iraq and hadn’t agreed to their missile-defence program. So we sent troops to the Afghan hot zone of Kandahar.
The usual right-left debate ensued with one side rah rah on war and the other dubious. No foreign invader, many argued, had ever brought Afghanistan to heel, the list including Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the British Raj, the Soviet Union.
But as is normal in war, politicians and generals held to the line that progress was being made. We can’t cut and run, they said. And if you don’t cheer for the war effort, you’re not supporting our troops. In other words, the usual patriot games, some legitimate, some just plain old bullshine.
But today there is a consensus that says that little or no progress has been made, that Afghanistan remains as it almost always has been — untamable. Canadians, smarter than their generals and politicians, were never really enthusiastic about this war. Now they’re saying in polls that they want their troops out before the deadline of 2011.
The Americans are getting set to send in new forces, which will more than compensate for Canadian withdrawals, if and when they occur. With this effort the new president, Barack Obama, will be able to prevent the Taliban from regaining power. But it will require his getting bogged down in a long war.
There will be more pressure from his White House for Canadians to stay on. But Canadians will have seen enough. They will turn back the clock. It will be just about as it was before.
They won’t care much about Afghanistan. They’ll leave it to the Afghans and the superpowers — and save their soldiers from dying from roadside bombs.