Bring Canadian troops home now

By  Ian Hunter, Catholic Register Special
  • April 29, 2010
The fact that Brigadier-General David Menard, the Commander of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, called for an inquiry into his own conduct — specifically into the circumstances in which his rifle discharged at the Kandahar airbase last March 25 — will hardly inspire confidence in the troops under his command and among the Afghan civilians they are defending.

Canada might be new to modern warfare, our generals might be rusty on how to load a rifle, but we yield to none in knowing about inquiries. Indeed, conducting inquiries seems to be the only Canadian growth industry immune to the vicissitudes of the economic cycle.

What Canada needs more than another inquiry is a plan to leave Afghanistan today. It no longer makes sense to pretend we still belong there.

Menard is quoted as saying that the inquiry will determine whether the firing of his gun was “accidental” or not. Excuse me? Wouldn’t the Brigadier-General already know the answer to that question? Or does he mean that such is the level of public cynicism about senior officers that no one will believe his answer without a full inquiry? If so, it is a sad commentary.

No military man am I, but I would have thought that if a soldier’s gun fires, and no one is killed or injured, and no property damaged, it’s not a big deal. But since most of what prompts public and parliamentary inquiries seems to me no big deal, possibly I am not in tune with what pollsters call “the Canadian psyche.”

It would not surprise me if the parliamentary committee that is currently examining Canada’s treatment of Afghan detainees decided to summon Menard to testify. Surely a space could be made for him between the riveting accounts of taxi-drivers and former translators. The parliamentary committee could sift all the evidence and let us know definitively whether the March 25 gun discharge was accidental or not. Michael Ignatieff could furrow his eyebrows and tell us whether the Brigadier-General betrayed Canada’s “international obligations.”

Politicians of the left always favour what is called “soft diplomacy” over military action. The trouble is that the Taliban do not favour soft diplomacy. Hilaire Belloc put the age-old problem in a nutshell:

“Pale Ebenezeer thought it wrong to fight;

But roaring Bill, who killed him, thought it right.”

The government intends to pull Canadian forces out of Afghanistan by the end of next year, but I am in favour of bringing them home now. We don’t have the stomach for foreign wars and there is no point in pretending that we do. I sometimes wonder if we would have the stomach for a war to defend our own borders, but that’s another question.

What we are doing now is a pointless waste of young lives. It is immoral and counterproductive to send soldiers to fight a war when you have already announced a departure date.

Since Canada has an all-volunteer army, I suppose the legal maxim volenti non fit injuria (to the willing no injury is done) might be invoked. Even so, I feel sad for the families of Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. Few have died in combat, most because they were driving along a road booby-trapped with IEDs. What’s the point? If the politicians have a convincing answer to that question, I haven’t heard it.

What sort of accounting will be given to spouses, families and children of our dead soldiers when the ill-conceived Afghanistan mission is over? None, I expect. Because the mission was started by Liberals, and continued by Conservatives, I expect  our elected representatives — so keen on inquiries into matters of marginal consequence — will have no stomach for an inquiry that would critically examine the Afghanistan misadventure.

Are there lessons to be learned for the future?

Perhaps the soothsayers at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto (“a hub for specialists …providing innovative approaches to the challenges, organizations and ideas that are reshaping the international landscape”) can answer that question. I cannot.

No doubt we have the resolve to determine whether Brigadier-General Menard’s gun discharged accidentally; perhaps in future, we might limit foreign involvement to sending lawyers abroad to conduct inquiries. We know something about that.

(Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Western University.)

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