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Delivering Community Power CUPW 2022-2023

Making sense of the Afghan mission

Reviews

The last Canadian troops in Afghanistan were scheduled to withdraw on March 31, 2014. nearly 13 years old, the Afghan mission is the longest-ever in Canadian history, and represents a period of dramatic transformation of Canadian foreign policy and military strategy. That transformation, and the political and economic forces that continue to drive it, is the subject of Empire’s Ally: Canada and the War in Afghanistan, a major contribution to the debate about Canada’s role in the War on Terror and the nature of the deployment.

Edited by Jerome Klassen and Greg Albo, Empire’s Ally brings together leading and emerging scholars in Canadian political economy and international relations who trace the evolution of Canada’s military strategy, and the institutions of the Canadian state along with it, against the backdrop of US imperialism and the longer history of intervention in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Their contributions demonstrate a sensitivity to anti-war sentiment across Canada: “Although a majority of the Canadian public has opposed the mission in Kandahar for several years, this opposition has not been reflected in academic debates, which typically accept the parameters, goals and methods of the mission” (viii). in response, Empire’s Ally mounts a rigorous and compelling challenge to the mainstream narrative about the war in Afghanistan, and to the logic of war itself.

More than just an academic text, Empire’s Ally is an accessible and readable resource for scholars and activists alike. For the anti-war movement in Canada, it should be required reading. no other text has attempted as comprehensive a response to all the key debates about the mission as this one has; nor has any other as successfully demonstrated the link between Canada’s mission in Afghanistan and the “capitalist class strategy within the Canadian state to build and advance a policy of global militarism in line with the deep integration of the north American bloc and the internationalization of Canadian capital” (xi). This approach ensures that Canadian foreign policy and military strategy are not treated in isolation from each other or from the broader, long-term political and economic developments that have reshaped global politics in recent decades: the end of the Cold War, the globalization of capital, the rise of neoliberalism, the internationalization of the state, and the emergence of US hegemony on the world stage.

The focus on Canada’s interests abroad, especially their role in shaping the Afghan mission, helps explain the Canadian government’s policies at home: “at a national level, the war served as a catalyst for ramping up defence spending and for reorganizing the foreign policy apparatus around a strategy of global neoliberalism, continental integration, and counterinsurgency warfare” (xi). This emphasis on the link between foreign and domestic policy also helps activists to deepen the relationship between the anti-war movement and more localized struggles against spending cuts, privatization, deregulation, increased policing and surveillance, the repression of civil liberties, attacks on immigrants and refugees, and racial profi ling.

Since its publication in 2012, Empire’s Ally has already begun to change the terms of debate about Canada’s role in the war in Afghanistan, in both academic and activist circles, and represents another important milestone in the development of progressive, movement-oriented scholarship that seeks to strengthen anti-war struggles in Canada. As the last Canadian troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, those struggles will shift to a battle of interpretation about the outcome of the war. its opponents have a responsibility to intervene, not only to make sense of the mission, but also to explain how this war will shape the next one. Empire’s Ally is just the tool we need.

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