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Leaders need military savvy

Editorial:

As people contemplate various New Year’s resolutions, we suggest that federal politicians consider learning a little military history as their goal for the year.

Debate over the Canadian involvement in the Afghanistan conflict is often polarized into the either-or, black-and-white argument of whether our forces should remain in Afghanistan. Such an approach shows a lack of depth, and a failure to recognize the future merits of our current involvement.

Despite that, some NDP forces – including federal leader Jack Layton – call for a total withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan. There may be wisdom in that, from some points of view, but such decisions will not necessarily improve Canada’s international relations.

There is just reason to believe that the NDP stance – at least as articulated in the autumn of 2006 – is borne more of self-serving political motivation than genuine concern for Canada’s troops.

Although Conservatives often remind the nation that the former Liberal government put our troops in Afghanistan, the welfare of Canadian soldiers is largely under Conservative guidance. So far, things are not going well: 2006 was the bloodiest year in recent Canadian military history.

As long as our forces are there, the government is responsible for their welfare. Therefore, no MP should dismiss functional and legitimate criticism of Canada’s role in Afghanistan.

Yet this is exactly what is happening.

Consider that many Afghanistan farmers depend on the poppy crop for their livelihood, yet the money gained from poppies goes towards goals contrary to the current NATO objective. Eradicating poppies - as U.S. forces have directed – weakens the economic power of poppies but at the same time forces impoverished farmers to turn against allied forces. What are potential solutions to this challenging dynamic?

Local Conservative MP Gary Lunn apparently feels the best solution is to dismiss the problem entirely. Lunn’s response hints of political motivations and signals an all-too-common failing: politicians are rarely blessed with military acuity.

History teaches us that governments and leaders without military savvy lose wars.

Time and again, politicians at the helm of this world’s great nations underscore the danger of commanding military forces without an understanding of military goals.

The situation in Afghanistan is perilously fluid and demands constant adjustment to defined goals. Turning a blind eye to vital truths, and trivializing the complex realities underpinning the Afghanistan conflict – as Lunn has done – is inappropriate and tantamount to an abdication of political responsibility.

In fairness, Liberal MP Keith Martin’s views (see Page A1 and A3) seem reasonable.

The fate of Canadian forces in Afghanistan depends on wise evaluation of all facts at hand, and Martin offers credible insights and viable paths to potential success in the Afghanistan theatre.

Yet Martin cannot be held blameless. While his tenure as Liberal Party MP has been brief, he must nonetheless bear criticism for a key failing of the former Paul Martin Liberal government: Canadian forces were not, under that regime, given a clearly defined and militarily achievable goal.

From that point of view, the Conservatives can rightly argue that they inherited an ill-planned military mission that has only recently become volatile due to prior mismanagement.

Many arguments on the future of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan have their own merits – and this is where politicians must understand their greater role as military commanders. Regardless of political convictions, it is imperative that every MP in office today recognizes a duty to provide the nation with competent military command.

We hope that MPs, attempt to broaden their understanding of military thinking as it applies to Afganistan while maintaining their right to hold conficting views.

Regardless of what the federal government looks like at the end of this year, the lives of Canadians rest in the hands of not one political party, but in the hands of every federal MP.

Let’s not have political squabbles cause a repeat of last year’s tragic losses.

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