October 7 will grimly mark the eighth anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. As the death toll mounts daily, reaching unprecedented levels this year, a sober assessment of Canada’s mission of folly is required.
Exposing the crisis and corruption in Afghanistan and Canada, intellectuals James Laxer and John W. Warnock offer two scathing critiques of the war and the successive Canadian governments that poured oil on the fire. The Canadian anti-war movement is muted at best, so Laxer’s and Warnock’s latest publications must be read as a means of exposing the deadly and disgraceful policy of the Canadian government. A strengthened approach is required to end this war.
Mission of Folly: Why Canada Should Bring its Troops Home From Afghanistan
by James Laxer
Between the Lines, 2008
James Laxer has a way of peeling back the Canadian identity and exposing the country’s grim interior. So, while primarily a critique of the war in Afghanistan, Mission of Folly shines strongest when Laxer turns his lens inward upon Canada itself.
Laxer reveals that Canada has spent millions – not on bullets, but on propaganda. He vividly describes the Canadian government’s effort to control the message with overt propaganda, deception and outright lies. Laxer describes the ardent militarism of Don Cherry, the Toronto City Council and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach with phenomenal results. He also details the Van Doos’ tour of Quebec before deployment as a means of gaining support from a reluctant and historically defiant province.
Mission of Folly is by no means an exhaustive account of the war – but it is an excellent source to open a wider dialogue about what role Canada should play as a middle power.
Unlike most studies, Laxer is bold enough to offer independent policy alternatives throughout. Canada should focus on increasing its sovereignty against the U.S. while shifting to missions conducted under United Nations auspices. In stark contrast with public support of UN missions, Canada has slipped from its top-ten ranking for UN personnel in the early 1990s to fiftieth out 95 countries.
But Laxer’s policy recommendations aren’t without their problems. For starters, it is one thing to make suggestions, but another thing entirely to implement them. He also recommends that Canada focus on the “responsibility to protect”; that is, Canada should intervene in sovereign-state affairs if a country cannot protect its own people. But responsibility to protect was the very model of intervention that led Canada to its brutal bombing of Kosovo in 1999 and its current occupation of Afghanistan.
Mission of Folly is also peppered with shocking morsels of information on Canada’s well known democratic deficit. Laxer details former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s unilateral decision to go to war, and in doing so exposes the widening gap between public opinion and political policy.
Creating a Failed State: The U.S. and Canada in Afghanistan
by John W. Warnock
Fernwood Publishing, 2008
While Laxer is at his at his best when focusing on Canada itself, John W. Warnock’s Creating a Failed State packs its strongest punch when focusing on Afghanistan. Canada is at war for humanitarian reasons, the government says. The Canadian Forces may say they’re in Afghanistan to prevent the country from turning into a failed state; but the title of Warnock’s book suggests the opposite. The very presence of Canadians in Afghanistan has sent the country in a death spiral toward failed-state status.
Creating a Failed State opens with a flurry of “precision” bombs devastating the country on October 7, 2001. Bush’s “war on terror” has begun, and Canada is a willing and eager ally. Warnock consciously places an emphasis on how Afghans feel about the war, and what they want could not be further from what the U.S.-NATO presence is offering.
While Laxer deftly explains the propaganda efforts in Canada, Warnock provides great insight into U.S.-NATO control over Afghanistan itself. From the election of its political warlord elites to the drafting of the country’s retrogressive constitution, Canada has been more than complicit.
Warnock has balanced his analysis perfectly, focusing on Afghanistan itself and then filtering events of the war through U.S. propaganda, almost always closing with insight into Canada’s role in the country.
His greatest insights are about the country’s lack of control over its own affairs. Any state-owned enterprise and independence gained in the 1950s and ’60s has been shredded under occupation, leaving the country bankrupt and dependant upon the west.
Warnock has written an excellent chapter on women’s rights and the backward-looking Afghan government under Hamid Karzai. Often used as a tool to relay the success of the occupation, women’s rights have actually corroded under Karzai. The corruption of Karzai and the war criminals that support him is so effectively hidden by western propaganda that much of what Warnock reveals will come to readers as a painful, essential shock.
Creating a Failed State is an outraging portrait of how Canada has gone far beyond its role as a complicit ally to the U.S. to become an active military and policy-shaping power, imposing its will upon a battered country.
In many respects, Laxer’s book is best read in conjunction with Warnock’s. Laxer fills in the blanks about what the Canadian government is doing in Canada, while Warnock focuses on what Canada is doing abroad.
These books are two valuable additions to the growing body of Canadian material on the war in Afghanistan. They make it very clear that Canada is not in Afghanistan in the best interests of Afghans, and they venture beyond most studies to offer compelling solutions to this mission of folly.
All that’s missing is an organized and powerful voice to effect serious changes in Canadian policy. Prior to the Iraq war, Canadians were part of the largest anti-war rally in history. Now regarded as the “second superpower,” the public will need to be vocal if Warnock’s and Laxer’s policy alternatives are to be realized.
This article appeared in the November/December 2008 issue of Canadian Dimension .