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Norman Spector

Jean Chrétien's war Add to ...

A majority of Canadians in all regions are now opposed to Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan, according to a new EKOS poll reported by CBC news.

In one sense, this should come as no surprise, given the lack of progress in Afghanistan and our high casualty rate - the highest among the allies who are doing the heavy lifting. As the Brits (who are in second place) are now acknowledging, sending under-manned and ill-equipped troops to wage war is a recipe for disaster. In particular, the lack of helicopters has made British troops, and ours, extremely vulnerable to roadside bombs and other IED's - the Taliban's weapons of choice.

What is surprising is the lack of debate in Canada that preceded the ramping up of our involvement in Afghanistan. Essentially, Jean Chrétien took that decision in order to remain in the Americans' good books after declining to participate in the Iraq war. While the United States was turning its attention to Iraq, the theory went, Canada along with other NATO allies would take on an increased burden in Afghanistan. Later, under prime minister Paul Martin, Canada sent its troops to Kandahar, one of the most dangerous regions in that country, also with little public debate.

Interestingly, the Americans are now ramping up their forces in Afghanistan for much the same reason. As a candidate for the presidency, Barack Obama declared that George Bush's attack on Iraq was the "bad war" and that Afghanistan was the "good" one. Now, as President Obama, he has ramped up U.S. military involvement in that country and has extended the war to Pakistan. Meanwhile, U.S. troops are out of Iraq's major cities and British troops will be withdrawing completely from that country in a few weeks.

Afghanistan is now very much Barack Obama's war. Mindful of the Vietnam experience, he's reluctant to agree to a further increase in U.S. troop strength. However, he must also be concerned that his political opponents are waiting to pounce on him if the outcome in Afghanistan falls short of the outcome in Iraq - which they and others attribute to some degree to a troop surge that Mr. Obama opposed.

Meanwhile, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper no longer making the case for Canadian troops being in Afghanistan, public support for the war has been declining in our country. Indeed, Mr. Harper, once a hawk, now finds himself in the dovish camp - being of the view that the insurgency in Afghanistan will never be snuffed out, and that a date-specific withdrawal is the only way to place responsibility for controlling it in the hands of the Afghan army and police.

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