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Canada, History, and Afganistan.

(Over the Summer I wrote a few articles that don't look as if they'll see print. This one was briefly considered by Maclean's, but seemed to fall off of the editor's radar during the lead-time period.)

It was approximately 241 years ago that a common order of the federation of Canadian provinces was formally discovered and constituted into a body of institutions, unwritten practices and agreements that has largely remained a living thing even into our times. What was largely an agreement of gentlemen, joined in common concerns of defense, and in a common respect for political debate, diplomacy and law, formed the basis of a union that came to incorporate ten provinces and now three territories -- partners drawn together by a common concern, one might even say a fear, of an aggressive foreign power to their south; the United States of America.

In many respects, though certainly not all, the common order that was discovered and recognized by the founders has remained unbroken in its validity, though the historical circumstances in which it persists have shifted greatly. The United States, for one, are no longer thought of as the aggressive, dangerous foreigners on the southern borders that they were perceived to be by our ancestors. Through historical circumstance, not the least of which being the immigration of tens of thousands of American families into the provinces during the opening decades of the federation, the "foreigners" to the south came to be understood as neighbors rather than as barbarians, and as friends and allies in the face of great threats and fears ranging the imperial madness of the Great War to the existential horrors of first Nazism and then Marxism. It was the discovery of great commonalities of order and morality, of our common understandings of the world and our place in it which enabled our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents to stand alongside their American neighbors in a common defense against the grossest oppressions of the human spirit of the modern age. Through this historic mingling and shedding of red, the citizens of the great other to the south became bonded to many of us in a philia -- a great friendship -- that evoked, and does often evoke, feelings of family.

It was for this reason, above all others, that we as citizens of a federation chose to involve ourselves in the war in Afghanistan. When the massacres of 9/11 occurred, it would not be inaccurate to remember that the raw, unthinking reaction of most Canadians was one of deep, personal shock; it was if a wound had been experienced against kith and kin, as was indeed the case. Combined with that, there was the moral outrage -- the burning sensation that such wholesale murder was a gross perversion of the moral order of the world, and act of either evil or insanity that demanded some form of justice to set it right.

It was a nearly familial loyalty then, and the sense of an offense having been committed against justice, that brought so many Canadians -- so many Canadian soldiers in particular -- to the province of Kandahar. But why are we, or they, still there?

To find an answer, the first question that must be addressed is: who was it that we sought to make war against when first we went to Afghanistan? Secondly, we must ask if the enemy whom we war with now is the same opponent as then.

It is as glaringly obvious now as it was then as to whom we were warring against at the outset of the war, In 2001, shortly after the massacres, the leaders of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization were quite eager to proclaim their complicity and responsibility for the acts. It was also well known that those men, supported by a literal army of Al-Qaeda soldiers and agents, inhabited military compounds within Afghanistan, that they were considered honoured guest-friends of the de facto hegemon of the region -- The Taliban -- and that their military, paramilitary, and terrorist activities from within that sphere of influence was officially condoned. When asked to turn over the leaders of Al-Qaeda for trial and just punishment, that their holdings and armies within Taliban-controlled areas be scattered and removed, or for the Taliban leadership to willingly step-aside in order for the injured parties -- the United States and her friends and allies -- to hand down justice themselves, they were refused. Proclaiming Al-Qaeda, its members and leadership as friends the Taliban furthermore stated that it would employ military force to defend its ally. Thus, two enemies presented themselves; Al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of the crime, and the Taliban, which aided and abetted its ally. The lines were drawn, the enemies had chosen themselves, and persuasion had ceased to be effective in restoring order. A bloody enforcement of justice through war followed.

Seven years on, we must now ask if what we, as Canadians, are involved with now is in fact a continuation of the war that we justifiably engaged ourselves into in 2001. The war on behalf of our friends, extended family, and neighbors has certainly drawn blood. Of Al-Qaeda it can certainly be said that its organized bases in Afghanistan have been annihilated, and that many members of that organization have died for every murder committed on 9/11. Its principle leaders, however, remain at large, though they no longer enjoy the succor of a local government. The Taliban, too, was utterly devastated in the initial years of the war, lost its status as hegemon and de facto government of Afghanistan, and suffered horrendous casualties for its trouble. If the war had ended there, the results would have been ambiguous. Without retribution against or the surrender of the leaders of Al-Qaeda, no one could rightly feel that justice had been restored.

At present, the exact situation in which we find ourselves is more ambiguous that it was even three years ago. It was then that the then-government of the United States, under the leadership of President G.W. Bush and Vice President Cheney, diverted the armed forces of their country from their in-completed mission in Afghanistan for a war that seemed morally dubious to Canadians even at the time. It was a war that soon revealed itself to be hideously unjustifiable, which only complicated the righteousness of our involvement in the continued was in lands further east.

If, for instance, an aggrieved party which desires justice, essentially renounces its cause against its aggressor, do the friends of the aggrieved serve justice in pursuing the matter themselves? Did the United States, in fact, abandon its bid for justice when it diverted its attention to an unjust war in Iraq, thus allowing the leaders of Al-Qaeda to themselves escape justice? Lastly does it change matters at all that the government of President Bush is now re-diverting troops back into Afghanistan? I will try to posit passable opinions on the matter that may substitute for real answers.

First and second, it seems to me that the United States government gave-up any expectation of Canadian military aid for their cause in Afghanistan the moment that they ceased to pursue the cause on their own behalf and on behalf of their citizens. The friends of an injured party cannot be expected to carry a burden that she herself has shirked. Third, the sudden refocusing of interest on Afghanistan on the Bush administration's part does not alter the fact that it willingly abandoned the original cause. Whatever the new cause, it is not the same cause that put a moral demand on Canadians to help in any way possible.

If, though, no moral burden remains upon us to aid the United States in furtherance of justice, another question remains: what moral obligation do we have to the people of Afghanistan? This, to me, seems to be a a question with a less clear-cut answer. On the one hand, Canadians have traditionally felt a strong moral burden of charity and care for those in need -- as many in Afghanistan certainly are. It is a cultural trait with deep roots in a Christian tradition, even if our current outlook reflects a pluralism that encompasses an even greater range of traditions that it did at the time of confederation. It is because of this morality of charity that relatively few Canadians feel comfortable with a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, even when they feel strongly against the war. This tension of emotions among Canadian citizens is not indicative of a lack of intelligence or refinement; it is rather a reflection of the fact that we have discovered ourselves in a deeply conflicted position, with opposing forces pulling upon our spirits. We abhor involvement in a war that has lost its justification, but it shames us to think of abandoning those in need.

What, then, are we to do? Here are my thoughts on where our hearts may force us: to begin, we should abandon all pretense of support for a vaguely-defined "War on Terror". Our representatives of government, moreover, should certainly stop speaking of that canard as if Canadians generally felt that a "war" that could be used to justify an invasion of Iraq had any moral legitimacy whatsoever. Furthermore, Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan should no longer be sent to engage in front-line offensives against Taliban strongholds unless it comes in response to a clear act of aggression against themselves or those they protect. Given that the American government abandoned its offensive against its enemy of the time, it can no longer claim that the Taliban owes a debt of blood for 9/11. If our armed forces stay in the Kandahar region, and I believe perhaps they should, it should be in defense of the peace, and not in the pursuit of war. It is our responsibility now, dictated by the demands of our sense of the just, to attempt to aid in the reconciliation of waring Afghan factions as we perform our charitable duties for noncombatants and attempt to stem the tide of foreign combatants who use Afghanistan as a theatre for their violent productions.

This, I think, is the essence of a role which could speak to Canadian identity, to our sense of what is good and just, in a way that a war on terror never should.

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