Thursday, March 13, 2008

Should we extend the mission?;

Should we extend the mission?; I thought the answer was 'no' - until I heard what Jimmy Carter had to say
Posted By Arthur Milnes
Posted 3 hours ago
Like millions of Canadians, I've been an "agnostic" - to use the phrase of pollster Frank Graves of EKOS Research - when it comes to Canada's participation in the military mission to Afghanistan. I have been neither among the 30 per cent Graves says strongly support the mission, nor part of the 20 per cent who are strongly opposed. "The rest are churning back and forth from soft support to soft opposition," Graves said in a recent interview. "They're agnostic, haven't made up their mind."

My "soft" opposition to the mission - and I suspect I'm far from alone in this - increases whenever we lose another Canadian soldier. Since we joined our American friends and neighbours and NATO in the aftermath of 9/11, 80 Canadians (79 soldiers and one diplomat) have made the supreme sacrifice in Afghanistan. While this number may seem small to some south of us in the U.S., when almost 500 young Americans have been killed in Afghanistan, a look at our relative populations (33 million for Canada, 300 million for America) shows what a massive contribution our nation has made over there.

Some months ago, one of the hearses carrying a dead Canadian serviceman happened to pass by me while I was driving back to Kingston from Toronto on Highway 401. I pulled over respectfully after seeing it and its escort in my rearview mirror. I reflected on the Afghanistan mission as I sat there in silence, watching the hearse continue along in its sad mission. I thought at that moment of the many students at my wife's primary school here in Kingston whose military parents leave for six-month deployments in Afghanistan regularly. These parents leave their young children behind, and these mothers and fathers put their lives at risk for Canada in a way I - a non-soldier - will never fully comprehend.

Thinking of the kids my wife teaches, I was sure that day that I was against my country being involved in Afghanistan. No child should lose a parent in war, especially so far from home. This, combined with the overly partisan approach to the mission politicians of all parties in Ottawa have taken, moved me for a time to the 20 per cent of Canadians who are strongly opposed to our participation.

Then along came former American president Jimmy Carter.

This aging warrior for peace and human rights brought Israelis and Egyptians together at Camp David while the 39th president. He bravely crossed the demilitarized zone dividing the Koreas to negotiate face to face with the North Koreans over that nation's nuclear program. This man from rural Georgia, so far south of us, put his life in danger to prevent an invasion of Haiti in the 1990s, and, rightly or wrongly for a former U.S. commander-in-chief, spoke out against his own country in the runup to the invasion of Kuwait to remove Iraqi forces in 1990. He's also a man who has personally made interventions in the last quarter-century that have seen the release of thousands of the unjustly imprisoned around the planet. And. lastly, Carter is the man who in 2002 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an earned medal if there ever was one in the cause of worldwide peace and justice.

Carter recently gave a little-noticed televised interview to Canadian journalist Evan Soloman of the CBC. I've thought about the interview more than once in recent days as our Parliament gets set to vote today on whether Canada should extend the Afghanistan mission to 2011. Until I heard from Jimmy Carter, I was sure I wanted MPs to vote a resounding no to extending the mission. In large part because of him, however, I no longer see things as I once did.

"If you were to give advice to the prime minister of Canada right now - we're in the middle of a mission in Afghanistan right now, very controversial with the Canadian public - what would you say [about] that mission to the Canadian prime minister?" Soloman asked the former president.

Carter then gave his answer.

"I've ordinarily been against approximately 100 adventures that have been launched by the U.S. since I've left office, many of which resulted in military action," the former nuclear submariner turned Sunday school teacher in Plains, Georgia, answered. "I think the one in Afghanistan was necessary. I think our invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 in order to root out Al- Qaida and capture Osama Bin Laden was necessary ... So, I think now to rebuild Afghanistan and to try to persist and to bring a good life and democracy and freedom to the Afghan people is a worthy cause."

Polite as the Southerners I've met always are, Carter kept his most powerful thought unspoken, though his meaning was clear: Canada should remain in Afghanistan.


Carter recalled in his memoirs, Keeping Faith, that his last official visitor to the Oval Office before Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency was Vietnam veteran and triple amputee Max Cleland, whom Carter had appointed in 1977 to represent all American veterans as part of the Carter administration.

"[Cleland] came to tell me goodbye," Carter's diary recorded. "He brought me a plaque with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: 'I have the consolation to reflect that during the period of my administration not a drop of the blood of a single citizen was shed by the sword of war.' This is something I shall always cherish."

While I still worry about the serving parent-soldiers of the kids my wife teaches here, and pray they'll return to Canada safely, this former American president has provided me, as a Canadian, with a certain assurance about the Afghanistan mission none of my own leaders have been able to provide so far.

Jimmy Carter is a man I profoundly respect and listen to - even if I occasionally disagree. As extending Canada's military mission in Afghanistan is voted on today in Parliament, I hope our leaders will consider Carter's words as well.

If our mission is right and just by America's greatest peacemaker, Jimmy Carter, that is good enough for me.

- Former Whig-Standard reporter Arthur Milnes spent the last four-years as former prime minister Brian Mulroney's research assistant in the writing of his memoirs.

Article ID# 941592
Canada votes on staying in Afghanistan today

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