Cdn Politics, Global Issues

Quick thoughts on ‘The Unexpected War’

Janice Stein and Eugene Lang have written a great book on the first 5 years of the Canadian engagement in Afghanistan. I won’t review it in full, but a few of quick points.

First, this is a very effective model for a foreign policy book.  Lang was on the inside, so we are privy to the story as it evolved in Cabinet.  Stein is a great writer, and brings an analytic clarity to the work that complements the policy wonk writing of Lang.  She also has the academic and intellectual credibility that clearly led to impressive access to candid interviews with the real players in this story.

Second, this book both praises and damns Hillier.  The story of how he romanced Graham and Martin is important, and clearly demonstrates his intelligence and revolutionary spirit within the military bureaucracy.  He is the Canadian Rumsfeld.  However, there is little doubt that he oversold the military’s capability to do both Afghanistan and Darfur – a clear precondition for Martin’s support of going to Kandahar.  What’s more, he also was not honest on his intentions to stay longer than a year, advocating for an expanded role before we even deployed.   One is left wondering whether the PMO’s case for Andrew Leslie as CDS instead of Hillier was prescient.

Third, the military hysteria around US relations is a knee jerk reaction that undermines Canadian foreign policy. It has got to change.  Time and time again, Stein and Lang detail the exaggerated warnings by the military of the consequences of not aligning with US policy.  Iraq and BMD were supposedly death nails in US-Canada relations.  Neither proved to be even remotely the case.  There is a reason that the DM positions controlling our military are split.  Civilian military leadership may not be good at procurement, but they do know politics.  Related, this point seems particularly important now that we have a government that is more sympathetic to the types of arguments the military were making regarding streamlining with the US military.

Fourth, the story Stein and Lang tell of the federal bureaucracy, and their clear inability/unwillingness to implement any real form of integration is proof that if we are serious about 3D, or any such integrated peacebuilding model, then a laissez-faire approach is wholly insufficient.  The British model of incentivised funding structures, in their case Conflict Pools, is going to have to be considered much more seriously than it has to date.

Fifth, the military component of our mission is engaging in tactics that Stein and Lang believe fundamentally undermine the mission.  What’s more, the balance between the three D’s of the mission are so disproportionately weighted to the military that the impact and effectiveness other the two are significantly marginalized.  I agree with both points, as Patrick Travers and I argued here. Stein and Lang, however, fail to draw out the consequences of such a critique. What are the implications of this argument?  Seems to me that the logical conclusion to their damning assessment is to either address the unbalance and the tactics that threaten the mission, or get out and stop pretending that we are doing something we are not.

Or, maybe these critiques don’t actually matter. Perhaps integrated peacebuilding is just a rhetorical tool to sell counterinsurgency to a country which wants to peacekeep. In which case, as you were…

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