A national debate on whether the war in Afghanistan is a “noble fight” or a “lost cause” kicked off in Halifax Tuesday night.

On the eve of Remembrance Day, Maclean’s columnists Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells led a panel discussion from Neptune Theatre, broadcast live on CPAC, on Canada’s planned withdrawal from combat in 2011.

Wells said it was a “noble fight,” but spoke of a soldier he had met in Petawawa, Ont., who was excited to go away and “make a difference.”


“I am increasingly less certain that they are continuing to make a stable and long-lasting difference,” Wells said.

Kandahar residents feel unsafe and have little confidence in their government, he said, while the last four months have seen record highs for Canadian casualties.

“These casualty rates could be sustainable if there was some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, but what we keep seeing is more tunnel,” he said.

Coyne argued Canada had not had the right strategy and resources, but now that they were coming into place, the troops must stay the course.

“We have to ask ourselves: are the losses unacceptable in view of the importance of the cause and the likelihood of victory?” he said. “Afghanistan has to be seen in the context of the situation in Pakistan, where we have an insurgency that would take enormous heart from a defeat from NATO in Afghanistan, and the broader fight against jihad international, where the best slogan for recruiting fighters is, ‘We’re winning.’”

Canada has so far lost 133 soldiers in the Afghan war, and the mission has cost Canadians an estimated $18 billion.

Coyne and Wells were joined by Chris Alexander, Canada’s first resident ambassador to Afghanistan, Scott Taylor, a former soldier and current editor of Esprit du Corps, and military analyst Mercedes Stephenson.

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