The notion that all is fair in politics and war, and that every situation is only about tactics, partisan advantage and endless games of gotcha, seems to have seized the imagination of some commentators about the decision to allow military trainers to stay behind the wire in Afghanistan.
“Liberals played for suckers” seems to sum up this view.
I guess if you think politics is all about holding a wet finger to the wind that would be true. But it’s worth remembering that the most popular politician in the western world in 1938 was Neville Chamberlain, whose placating of public opinion was best summarised when he told the world it wasn’t worth getting all worked up about an argument in a small far away country about which people knew very little.
No doubt there might be short term partisan advantage in playing to the gallery about its fatigue with the Afghanistan engagement. It is a difficult, frustrating, costly, and painful military and political conflict. It is hard to see a road to success, and hard as well to see much progress in the life and condition of the people. “Troops out now” would win much applause.
We went into Afghanistan with our NATO partners, with the full approval of the United Nations. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, ravaged by 30 years of civil war. Al Qaeda and other extremist groups have found a haven in the south of the country and the north of Pakistan.
Of course all issues are about politics. But some issues can transcend partisanship. In every other country in the NATO alliance there is multipartisan support for efforts in Afghanistan, a willingness to discuss options, in a climate of public candour.
Why should Canada be any different ? Our political culture is now all about trench warfare. Everything is supposed to seen through a partisan lens, and everything played to short term advantage. Anyone who asks “what’s best for Afghanistan ?”, or “what’s best for Canada, our role as a reliable member of NATO and the UN ?” is portrayed as some kind of poor sap who doesn’t “get” politics.
It’s called doing what you think is right, talking to the public about it, and worrying less about who gets credit. There’s something almost pathological about the state of our politics, to say nothing of political commentary, if we can’t have that kind of conversation.
There should continue to be a debate about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and how to deal with the range of failed and fragile states that are emerging across the world. But enough with the nonsense about who played the partisan game better.