02 January 2014

Afghanistan—the mother of all unpopular wars

There are unpopular wars, and then there are really, really unpopular wars. The Afghan war falls overwhelmingly into the latter category. According to a CNN/ORC International survey released this week, 90 per cent of Americans supported the war in early 2002, now 82 per cent oppose it.

This dramatic change in opinion is not confined to the U.S. Over 70 per cent of Brits supported the war in 2002, falling to 30 per cent by 2008. Similarly in Canada, support collapsed from 70 per cent to 35 per cent by 2010.

The rationale for Canadian participation was always muddy. While Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham was touting our role as "quintessentially Canadian ... helping to rebuild a troubled country," Chief of Defense Staff Rick Hillier was blustering about killing scumbags and bragging, "We are the Canadian forces and our job is to kill people." Prime Minister Paul Martin later said, "I had no sense that it was war. ... Our purpose was reconstruction." Stephen Harper’s first Defense Minister, Gordon O’Connor, suggested  the war was about “retribution” for the 9/11 attacks.

All this confusion wasn't surprising when our real reason, which no one in government would admit, was to placate the Americans for our failure to join the coalition of the willing in Iraq. Even Prime Minister Harper was sounding distinctly skeptical as our combat role wound down.

Yet it doesn't seem all that long ago that he and Peter MacKay were visiting the troops and puffing themselves up in flak jackets á la George W. Bush. Now they, and we, seem to be quietly forgetting the whole thing. I imagine a lot of Americans would like to do the same.

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