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VIEW: ‘Canada’s willingness to lead and bleed good for relations with US’, says Saideman

In his op-ed in today’s Globe and Mail, Stephen Saideman, Canada Research Chair in International Security and Ethnic Conflict at McGill University, writes, “There is much truth to the claim that Canadians have borne a disproportionate burden, suffering more casualties per soldier on the ground than nearly any other country. But this attitude suggests that Canada has been engaged in Afghanistan as a favour, rather than in its interests.”

He highlights, “Canada has gained a great deal of influence because of its willingness to lead and bleed in Kandahar. While it does not see itself as a power-seeking country, having more influence, whether it is over operations in Afghanistan or in bilateral discussions with the United States, is a significant and undervalued benefit.”

His line of argumentation has been seen elsewhere.

On November 8, 2008, Liberal Senator Colin Kenny wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that, “How do we get a new U.S. administration …to help solve our problem (of a thickening border)? Cut off their oil and gas? We can’t – it’s illegal. Offer them our water? Unthinkable. Remind them we’re best friends? Countries don’t need friends. They need allies that have something hard and useful to offer.  We have to be able to offer the President something he needs if we are going to convince his new administration that it should resist inevitable congressional pressure to shut Canadian products out of U.S. markets. That something is significant military assistance, both to defend the continent and deploy abroad when it makes sense… Sensible military assistance is not too much to offer an ally so essential to our well being – especially if it gives us a preferred seat at the table in Washington when issues are discussed that are vital to Canadian job creation.”

Journalist David Pugliese wrote in the Ottawa Citizen on March 25, 2006 that, “In a July 2005 interview …(then Defence Minister Bill) Graham …acknowledged that mending fences with the Bush administration played a role in the government’s decision to take on the Kandahar mission. The U.S. was still angry over Canada’s refusal to join its invasion of Iraq and it didn’t help that the Martin government had declined to participate in the Pentagon’s controversial missile defence system.”

Columnist Lawrence Martin wrote in the Globe and Mail on April 6, 2006 that, “A former, highly placed Defence Department official, whose hands were all over the Afghan file …tells me the reason the Liberals took up the mission was not out of any great noble purpose. It was principally because they had no choice. They had to appease Washington for not having joined the invasion of Iraq.”

The “Soldiers, Not Peacekeepers” article in the March 2006 issue of The Walrus political affairs magazine noted, “Those who see a link between trade and foreign affairs believe Canada has good reason for…(sending troops to Afghanistan). The American security agenda extends overseas and across North America, and, as the United States consumes nearly 80 percent of Canadian exports and provides nearly 65 percent of our foreign direct investment, its demands for beefed-up Canadian military support…can be rebuffed for only so long…In the entwined corridors between (the ministries of) Defence, Foreign Affairs, and International Trade, and through shuttle diplomacy between Ottawa and Washington, the thinking may be that we will finally resolve the softwood-lumber issue and keep our border open to trade by lessening America’s burden in Afghanistan.”

The Canwest News Service has reported that, “(In October 2008), Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released a detailed report that suggested the full cost of the mission could reach $18.1 billion by 2011. Page’s study took into account the long-term costs of caring for physically and mentally ill soldiers.”

To date 127 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002, including most recently Matthieu Allard, age 21, and Christian Bobbitt, age 23, on Saturday August 1.

Mr. Saideman’s op-ed can be read at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/the-afghan-pullout-reconsidered/article1257498/?.