Monday, January 28, 2008

"This is tragic but it's worth it"


John Manley, chair of the Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan:
If Canadians really don't want to do this, well then that is something that has to be respected. But in the past, Canadians have shown a willingness to do things that were difficult and required sacrifice and were challenging. But you can't feed them news about young men and women dying without putting it in a context in which they can say this is why and this is meaningful and this is tragic but it's worth it.
Presumably Manley was referring to the young Canadian men and women dying in Afghanistan. The Afghan victims (young or old) are rarely mentioned. I was reminded of Madeleine Albright's infamous remark regarding the deaths of many thousands of Iraqi children due to the sanctions, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it." I'm not trying to equate these situations, but note that while Manley and Albright both conclude that the deaths in the respective situations are "worth it", they're not the ones paying the price.

It is revealing that Manley says you can't "feed" Canadians "news about young men and women dying without putting it in a context in which they can say this is why and this is meaningful". Factual reports of deaths provide too much opportunity for heterodox interpretation. Instead, bitter facts need to be coated in reassuring meaning so as not to upset Canadians' stomachs.

Manley grudgingly concedes that if "Canadians really don't want to do this" (my emphasis), "well then that is something that has to be respected." In the latest Canadian poll from Angus Reid, 61% of respondents indicated they did not support extending the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan beyond the current end date of February 2009. The figure was almost identical in a July poll. So how does Manley's panel show its respect for public opinion? By arguing strongly for an indefinite extension of the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan.

With respect, that's not respect.

Some relevant commentary on the Manley report: Eric Margolis, Steven Staples, Rideau Institute, Council of Canadians, Canadian Peace Alliance.

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