Kinsman: How has Canada’s experience in Afghanistan changed Canadian foreign policy?

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June 27, 2011
Jeremy Kinsman
Former ambassador to the European Union and high commissioner to Britain

Upside in capacity but downside in international behaviour.

Our Afghan experience built a well-kitted and combat-savvy military and civilian hands-on know-how. They can support humanitarian interventions in what will remain a violent world.

Downside? The Afghan operation shifted foreign policy calculations to the PMO/PCO, where there is zero interest in international opportunities without domestic political payback. Our press bubble on Canada’s Afghan engagement (foreign outlets hardly noticed us, covering only their own soldiers), pumped-up political patriotism that now deludes Canada even to oppose solo international health warnings on chrysotile asbestos, completing a picture of protecting dairy farmers, lauding a throwback seal hunt, and ducking answering for oil sands carbon emissions. These positions aimed at pleasing disparate fragments of Canada’s voting public form for the international professional community a composite national official personality that seems self-congratulatory and politically selfish. Can we recover positive internationalist energy and our place at the table?