Evolving science doesn’t mean don’t take stock or concrete and credible action along the way

I’ve read Lewis MacKenzie’s, Remember the Taliban, and stay the course, as well as Bruce Anderson’s, What Canadians want, followed by Rick Salutin’s Acts of greenies and meanies.

On the one hand I feel for what a traditional military person such as retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie must think when he perceives that even 1% in a quantitative survey would dare to express concern, even doubt, about a military exercise. And I agree with Bruce Anderson, the design of polling questions is anything but the issue — as valuable as surveys and focus groups can be in understanding and telling a story. However, when, how, and of whom we pose certain types of questions, and then how we understand and choose to tell the story is, mind you, also pretty darn important.

I am not convinced average Canadians feel instinctively “duty-bound” to watch-over, weigh, and make decisions about our military involvements, as much as we react to how deployments are played out in the media. First, compared to say WW-II, news today is reported to the masses “real-time” and with an ability to portray and spin the news in ways completely unheard of a decade or so ago. Second, Canada has so far [very sadly] lost 40+ soldiers in Afghanistan since being deployed in that part of the world many months ago. Compared to the much higher number of [also very sad] losses in WW-II, we have, in my view, a somewhat lopsided degree of awareness and, dare I say, perhaps even a misplaced relative sense of concern.

What are the differences?

First, in WW-II the faces and heartfelt story of each fallen soldier were not posted, within minutes, all over a “www” of an entirely different meaning, complete with full family bios and a team of so called analysts only too happy to provide colour-commentary a la CNN.

And the second main difference is that Afghanistan is not, for good reason, being portrayed by the media as a “win” in the making, much less one that is imminent. On the contrary, the media’s feed off the internal military sentiment is “the battle can’t be won” which only serves to hasten the public’s arrival at an opinion that begs the questions, as Mr. Anderson says, “whether the nature of the mission is changing, whether the strategy is effective, what success looks like, and whether it can be achieved.” Pardon my use of profanity, but if the military and media sentiment was that we were “kicking-ass and winning” then Canadians would, I suspect, weigh the losses to date less critically. But, thank goodness they aren’t doing us this disservice by telling us a story, just to get our support, that is somehow different from what is really going on at ground level.

In this regard, Rick Salutin edges closer to the crux of the matter when he says People are not questioning goals; they are evaluating the chances of getting there. They see not just the bodies arriving, but the news, and it looks too much like Iraq. In its way, it is getting as unmistakable as global warming.”   

Which brings me to what I feel is one of the missing and final pieces to the puzzle in trying to understand what we are dealing with, and, perhaps begins to create the conditions I believe are necessary for any chance at a solution taking place anytime soon. Let me explain.

Quite apart from an inherent sense that we, Canada, are bearing a greater share of the brunt in Afghanistan, there is currently a juxtaposition and a near impossible attempt at trying to solve, with one broad stroke of the brush, two very different manifestations of a misalignment in ideologies. One ideology says: I have the right to chop women’s heads off and the other says: “and if you won’t let me, then I have the right to fly a plane into one [or two] of your buildings.” Put aside, for the moment, there is oil in this region and none in say Darfur; in the first instance we very discriminately seem to think we have some sort of conflicting, yet ideological, obligation to protect helpless others, and in the second instance we are protecting “only” ourselves.

Few Canadians question our response to an attack when it occurs on our continent, or if an incident is still relatively fresh such Israel/Hezbollah was in the first few weeks. But given the realities of what the media can and does accomplish, our commitment begins to wane as time drags on and when the veiled protection of others starts to look a little too magnanimous, or pricey. And, the more personal and better the coverage, the less we are willing to pay.

Mr. MacKenzie’s frustrations ought not to be with survey methodology, but rather with the type of traditional military response being applied to a mostly non-traditional and non-military attack. I believe what Canadians are beginning to show in the way of turned-up eyebrows – even if they haven’t yet figured out how to tell pollsters – is a growing impatience for the expectation that conventional military means can have the desired impact on a most unconventional form of attack and ideology. Even Hitler could be characterized as an ideological terrorist, but at least the only way he carried-out his particular brand of terror happened to be in a manner for which the Allies possessed a perfect, matching, and effective response. Moreover, the term “Allies” back then came with more support and meaning.  

Canadian’s support for their troops isn’t waning. Au contraire. However, support for trying to play hockey on a chessboard is. Ideological wars are no longer won by conventional military means. This does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean we should pull out. But it also does not mean just keep doing what we are doing and hoping — read as fooling ourselves — that Wayne Gretzky is somehow going to checkmate Veselin Topalov anytime before, or after, 2009.

The solution lies in not just figuring out the new game, the new rules, and who are the players, but first and foremost in successfully untangling the ideological divide. To complete even this first task, all sides are going to have to take a few decades-worth of steps backwards and rebuild upon the implications of where we’ve ended up today. Ideological wars are not won, at least certainly not very quickly when the causes and the conditions leading up have been largely ignored for so very long. All along we have foolishly allowed ourselves to believe it was oil and water that didn’t mix, when in fact the water was long ago replaced with religion.

This, obviously, isn’t just about Canada. In fact, Canada is an insignificant pawn at the root cause of the matter. But once we stop posturing and face reality, I think it is entirely possible, even very likely, world leaders will have at their disposal the means by which the same solution can be deployed to deal with other powder-kegs in-the-waiting, e.g., Kim Jong-il.

However, so long as we run around pretending there is any doubt about how we have arrived at where we are, including on such topics as the link between CO2 emissions and global warming as an “evolving science” which, this too, we can barely afford to take a chance and gamble on, then I suppose we can also go on ignoring what Canadians are thinking, but not yet clearly telling pollsters, they are truly concerned about when it comes to Afghanistan.

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