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1. A Call To End Canadian Combat Operations in Afghanistan

There are extremes that exist on both sides of any argument to do with war.
God is surely on one side or the other, right is surely on one side or the other,
and the need to ensure such simplistic outlooks is maintained to remind us
that, no matter our transgressions, one of those two sides is justified in their
actions.

Throughout human history, the excuses of divine providence, justice, and
preemption have been used to corrupt our morality, producing events which
have cost the lives of more human beings that one can count. Belief in the
simplicity of a reason is the most powerful tool with regards to encouraging
people to abandon their sense of morality, and is one that has been employed
by both those that have premeditated coercions to suit specific ideologies and
those that would use the championing of freedom as their justification for
military action.

Unfortunately, despite the simplicities that we often cling to so that we are
better able to come to terms with the actions that we support, there is nothing
simple about the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. They, like other military actions
undertaken in the latter half of the 20th Century, are fraught with those
inconveniences that no one likes to confront when it comes to the justifications
for supporting them – complexities, ambiguities, and historical complicities.

The reality is that our presence in Afghanistan is directly linked to the attacks of
September 11th. Were they to have not occurred, what would have been
Afghanistan’s fate, and how many who now champion our intervention there
would be crying afoul the crimes of the Taliban? That is not meant, in any way,
to detract from the severity of the Taliban’s crimes, but the fact remains that
while massive human rights abuses were taking place while the regime was in
power, we said and did nothing.

This brings up a very important question. What is required for us to support
military interventionism? If we are to place faith in the preemptive and
unilateralist doctrine adopted by the current US administration shortly after
September 11th because of the belief that a global war on terror was ushered in
by the events of that day, that being the justification for our inclusion, then we
must be willing to rationally examine what the definition of success is with
regards to fighting such a war. If we are not willing, or able, to define that
success, then we must, in all good conscience, question the validity of not only
our actions, but the scope and consequences of them given the context of such
an ambiguous affair.

So what is our definition of success? Currently there are two major military
actions being undertaken in the Middle East, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
The invasion of Iraq, like that of Afghanistan, removed a despotic regime
responsible for mass human rights violations. In both cases, the West was
complicit in either aiding them in the past or creating vacuums in which they
could exist. Such truths are, like the most things, conveniently overlooked
because of the hysteria created by 9/11, and the governmental leverage that it
provided, and thus have no bearing on our present course. That is, of course,
until we repeat the same mistakes. In both instances, democratic reforms and
governments were rushed into existence, largely to placate Western publics,
proving that intervention was the correct course of action. Unfortunately, in
both cases, the governments that were created have been largely ineffectual
and are, in many ways, little more than adjuncts for foreign privatization goals
and regional military foot-printing.

Again, what is our definition of success? That Afghanistan and Iraq might
become stabilized democracies that mirror Western standards? Is it to see them
become democratic states that must work backwards with regards to energizing
the public’s belief in not just the process of participating when the time comes
to claim a purple finger, but the principles of democracy itself? Is it to render
both of them secularist, removing the religious aspects of their societies from
government – a feat that even we seem unwilling or unable to do here at home
with regards to the rise of Christian fundamentalism and its impact on
government?

Afghanistan, like Iraq, is a factionalized nation, one in which tribal and religious
disputes have played a significant role in its history. It is a nation that has been
invaded and externally influenced by numerous others; ruled by monarchs,
oligarchs, theocrats, and one whose President, in the not too distant past, was
working towards the reinstatement of its Shah (King) – the same man that now
champions Afghan democracy So how do we presume to infuse a hyper
escalated sense of democracy into such a nation and then attempt to define
timetables as to when we are able to leave having done so?

If the answer to that question is that we must remain there until the nation is
completely stabilized, then we must be prepared to face the reality that we will
be in Afghanistan for more than a decade, and that our commitment will be
calculated in dollars and lives. It will require the total defeat of the Taliban
movement, and any other movement that might subsequently take its place, or
multiple movements for that matter. It will also include the confrontation of the
vastly complex infrastructure of Pakistan’s military regime, not to mention the
Islamic radicals in that country who, in no small way, possess influence with
regards to the struggle against occupational forces in Afghanistan. There is also
the fact that members of the UIF were absorbed into the current Afghan
administration, and that in the past it too has been responsible for considerable
human rights abuses. Much of the UIF’s military strength has also been
absorbed into the Afghan Army, which is, not surprisingly, led by senior officers
that are also former UIF members. Such factors must be taken into
consideration, given that problems will most assuredly arise in the future with
regards for the need to consolidate the democratic process in Afghanistan by
reconciling its various factions, including elements of those that are currently
fighting occupational forces. Unless, that is, the aim is to militarily eradicate
them entirely, including their civilian base of support.

So, again, what is our definition of success? Is it to see the Taliban utterly
destroyed, its leaders disposed of after show trials at the hands of those now in
power that have long since represented their opposition? The fact remains that
following the invasion of the country, the defeat of the Taliban was swift, not
unlike that of the Hussein regime. And yet, like the insurgency in Iraq, the
Taliban has been revitalized, and now, after six years, poses a serious threat to
Afghanistan’s national security. That being the case, can they, as a group, be
written off as a minor factor – and going out on a limb, even within possible
future political processes?

When examining these questions we must also examine the realities of our own
role in Afghanistan, which, unfortunately, has a great deal to do with US
regional interests. Despite claims to the contrary, Canada’s initial involvement in
Afghanistan was not as a member of a NATO mission. Canadian forces were, in
fact, under US command prior to the creation of ISAF. No matter the illusions of
a rubber stamped UN sanctioned mission, or the bizarrely enacted tenets of the
NATO Charter in this case, we should not be afraid to examine the ultimate use
of Canadian Forces, and other international forces, as US proxies in this matter.
To claim such an examination absurd is to claim that we are not in Afghanistan
fighting in an action that was initiated in response to the attacks of September
11th, but are there for entirely other reasons, which is simply not the case. Our
inclusion in efforts in Afghanistan is, first and foremost, steeped in the US
response to 9/11. Nation building, democracy, Canadian national security, et all,
were after thoughts. Because when those buildings fell in New York that
morning, the hue and cry was not “we must deliver freedom to the oppressed
people of Afghanistan”, but rather something far more primeval - “kill ‘em all”.

In the words of President Bush addressing a group of rescue workers at Ground
Zero - “…and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us
soon”. Ironically, and unbeknownst to many, they’ve been hearing from us for
quite some time.

Let us be clear about who and what we are. Let us also be honest with
ourselves about the hypocrisies of the world’s foremost powers. While we
advocate peace and freedom, we do not engage in any redefinition of our own
military capacities. We expect others to forgo the gun, and yet are part of a
cooperation of industrialized nations that continue to produce the majority of
the world’s arms – the permanent members of the UN Security Council being
the foremost producers of arms in the world. While we expect others to adhere
to what we champion as cherished freedoms, we exploit those that have been
brought under heel and use them to help sustain our way of life, caring little for
their plights until such time as their governments wise up to the realities of our
usury and attempt to do something about it – in which case we paint them as
wholly anti-democratic and dangerous. The engineered overthrow of Haiti’s
President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti, point to
that clearly enough as a recent example.

Thus it would seem that the definition of success relies on something deeper
than most are willing to admit. That to save others we must first be willing to
commit to a new and heightened level of internal vigilance, free to question the
actions of those in positions of authority without fearing repudiation. That to
deliver freedom to others we must first be willing to examine the diminishment
of our own freedoms and the apathy that is rampant in our own society. That to
claim that others must abandon violent means, we must be prepared to do the
exact same thing. And, most importantly, begin to understand how our own
complicities have affected others elsewhere in the past and influenced their
attitudes.

On an international level, there is no question that the United Nations must be
dramatically reformed. Permanent seats on Security Council, for example, must
be increased in number, and the ability of those powerful enough to ignore the
Charter because of their influence and might must be held accountable for their
actions. If, as is the case, those very nations represent the financial cornerstone
of the UN itself, and are able to use that position to usurp its authority or
influence it in any way, then the organization itself is pointless and the creation
of a new body of states should be undertaken, one in which the authority of the
International Criminal Court is more prevalent and nations are held accountable
for their transgressions under stricter international laws. In the case of those
that feel threatened by such a precedent, it will become clear enough to the
world why they might fear inclusion in such an organization and perhaps, at
long last, expose them on a more significant scale. Because if freedom and
peace is the aim of such a body, then no nation that claims such virtues sacred
should be afraid to commit itself to it.

While the ISAF mission in Afghanistan was sanctioned by a United Nations
resolution, something that is suspect given those who hold sway over it, the
fact that an organization primarily comprised of Western powers, whose own
Charter was use as justification for involvement, was called upon to supply the
force now fighting the Taliban insurgency is telling to say the least. Were the
mission one in which a fully UN sanctioned and controlled force was in place for
security measures, blue helmets and all, perhaps one could argue for our
inclusion. Unfortunately, our legacy in Afghanistan is now inexorably linked to
not only the objectives of the United States, but to the tenets of their current
foreign policy doctrine. And to our discredit, we have demonstrated, be it by way
of our military leadership or government, that we are willing to tow that line.

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