Afghanistan is known as "The Graveyard of Empires" for good reason. Since Alexander the Great invaded in 330 BC, followed 1,000 years later by Genghis Khan, the country at the crossroads of Asia has been conquered many times but never held.
In modern times, the Brits tried three times and were slaughtered. The doomed Soviet invasion in the 1980s created fertile ground for the hard-core Islamic extremism that led to the rise of the Taliban. NATO tried for 20 years and, tragically, followed precedent.
I think we were right to join the coalition to destroy the Al-Qaeda terrorist network that carried out the 9/11 attacks and to fight the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that sheltered it. I think it was the right thing to wage war on Islamic extremism that threatened our way of life and prevent it from gaining a foothold in our country.
The last existential threat to Canada and the rest of the world was the Second World War. Seth Klein’s new book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, analyzes the lessons learned from the extraordinary mobilization of the whole country to the war effort, when Canada produced more military transport vehicles than the three Axis powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan—combined.
Klein touches on political mobilization as well; we “need our political leaders…to look and sound and make this feel like it’s an emergency. We need regular briefings and announcements.”
I don’t recall Prime Minister Justin Trudeau giving a briefing on August 15, when Kabul fell to the enemy. Did he immediately stop campaigning, assemble his advisors in an ops center, demand hourly sitreps from his people at the sharp end, and work the phones with our allies?
No, he called an election.
And in so doing, he prioritized a naked power grab over monitoring the ignominious conclusion to Canada’s longest war, which stranded dozens of Canadian citizens in a failed state under the control of a bloodthirsty group of thugs.
In so doing, our prime minister dishonoured the sacrifices made by tens of thousands. Like many of my brothers and sisters, my blood soaked the soil of Afghanistan. A small puddle of my brains also ended up in the dust, and I know of at least three pairs of legs that were left behind. With the enemy once more in control, many Afghan vets are asking if the struggle was worth it.
I would guess the brave interpreters who risked their lives and their families serving by our side have similar doubts because of how badly they have been treated by the government. Distant bureaucrats ignored frantic emails and calls while knotting them with red tape to get visas and badly botching emergency evacuation flights.
The day after Kabul fell, the prime minister took precious time from a campaign stop in Quebec to trot out palatable sound bites;
“We are going to continue to do absolutely everything we can to...”
“We’re going to continue with the international community to put pressure on the Taliban..”
“Every single day I’m getting briefings...”
I have no regrets about volunteering for the fight in Afghanistan. I was a platoon commander with an infantry reserve regiment when I watched the doomed planes slice through the thin skin of the World Trade Centre towers. I knew there would be a fight, and I knew I wanted to be part of it.
Our mission was to empower and educate young Afghan girls and women. There are hundreds of women judges and politicians and thousands of female teachers across the land. Since the Taliban takeover, large groups of women have taken to the street, demonstrating loudly for their right to work and be educated. On August 17, a female television journalist interviewed a Taliban spokesman about their plans for Afghanistan. It was the first time an Afghan woman has conducted an interview with a senior Taliban official inside Afghanistan.
My hopes for Afghanistan lay with such formidable women as these. I believe that every Canadian generation confronts evil in some form. The Taliban were my generation’s evil to fight, and even though we joined the other empires that fell in the sands of Afghanistan, I think we gave a fighting chance to the extraordinary women of Afghanistan to maintain their fierce spirit and determination in overcoming the evil that once more rules their battered nation.