In campaigning for the presidency, Barack Obama was careful to distinguish between the invasion of Iraq - a "stupid war" - and Afghanistan, which he said was a "good war". And, here in Canada, Jean Chrétien saw things pretty much the same in March, 2003: in announcing that Canada would not support the American invasion of Iraq absent a second UN resolution, Mr. Chrétien said: "We are with [the Americans]on terrorism and terrorism is in Afghanistan."
Notably, a month earlier, Mr. Chrétien announced a heavy commitment of ground troops to Afghanistan, thereby leaving us with no forces to commit to Iraq, but setting Canada on a course that eventually had our troops moving to Kandahar - the most dangerous region of the country - under Paul Martin. And continuing there with heavy losses under Stephen Harper, with Parliament having authorized that our troops remain there until the end of July 2011.
To be fair to Mr. Chrétien, the former prime minister opposed extending the Afghanistan mission after he left office; and it even was reported that he was calling around to members of Stéphane Dion's caucus back in 2008, urging them not to vote in favour of the resolution. In the end, however, that resolution passed with Liberal support.
With Prime Minister Harper seemingly bloody-minded about living up to his commitment to remove our troops from Afghanistan, the Liberal Party remains internally divided on the issue. On Monday, for example, foreign affairs critic Bob Rae argued in the Toronto Star that Afghanistan was not Vietnam and that we should stay on in some capacity to build that country; the next day, in the Ottawa Citizen, Senator Colin Kenny wrote:
"Parliament has made the right decision. We can wallow around Afghanistan for another three years trying to save face. Or we can be adults and not get burned twice. Let us face a harsh truth: for all the efforts of our courageous troops, and the courageous troops of our allies, nation-building doesn't make sense in a nation that doesn't want to get built. Let's quit pretending."
What's increasingly clear is that, on both sides of the border, the public has tired of the Afghanistan war. On Monday, for example, USA Today reported the results of a Gallup poll that has not been widely reported in Canada:
"Support for Obama's management of the war fell to 36%, down from 48% in a February poll. Now, a record 43% also say it was a mistake to go to war there after the terrorist attacks in 2001.
The decline in support contributed to the lowest approval ratings of Obama's presidency. Amid a lengthy recession, more Americans support his handling of the economy (39%) than the war.
Even Obama's handling of the war in Iraq received record-low approval, despite a drawdown of 90,000 troops and the planned, on-schedule end of U.S. combat operations there this month.
Only 41% of those surveyed Tuesday through Sunday approved of the way Obama is handling his job, his lowest rating in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll since he took office in January 2009. In Gallup's separate daily tracking poll, his approval was at 45% Monday."
Today, the Vancouver Sun reports the results of an Ipsos poll:
"Canadians support their soldiers and believe in the country's combat mission in Afghanistan.
But they still want the soldiers home by 2011 - as originally scheduled. They do not want Canadian Forces to stay until 2014, when Afghan security forces would "lead and conduct military operations in all provinces," setting a potential timeline for foreign troops' departure.
Almost 80 per cent of Canadians still want to end the mission in Afghanistan in 2011, a new Ipsos Reid poll conducted exclusively for canada.com showed.
"These numbers are very indicative of a public that is now, in their minds, out of Afghanistan. They've made a conscious decision as a nation that we are exiting," John Wright, senior vice-president of the polling firm, said Wednesday.
"This is the first time we've seen very significant numbers saying we want to end the mission when it's supposed to end and ... we've done our job as a nation and let's move on to another agenda….
Canadians' ideas of what should happen after the mission is clear: 57 per cent - with a majority from province to province - said they want to bring our troops home after pulling out of Afghanistan while only 12 per cent suggest we should stay.
One in three Canadians supported a compromise, where troops would stay but only to help train Afghan soldiers or police officers."