Kinsman: What is the biggest lesson Canada can take from its experience in Afghanistan?

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April 30, 2012
Jeremy Kinsman
Former ambassador to the European Union and high commissioner to Britain

Being advocates immediately after 9/11 for NATO to go to Afghanistan was right. The US screwed everything up by diverting to invading Iraq. Canada’s hubris-driven decision to shift to a combat role in Kandahar was irresponsibly hasty, without evaluation of the readiness of NATO partners to take on equitable burden-sharing and rotation. We were naïve from Day One about negative Afghan cultural realities, Karzai, corruption, etc. Our low-end media reporting bought uncritically into Warrior Nation-type crap that the mission was about “killing scumbags.” The Conservative Government made our stake in Afghanistan the be-all and end-all of its “foreign policy” whose opportunity costs were everywhere else. Yet, while it’s hard to say how much capacity-building we contributed to unfortunate Afghans, we grew. Canadian professional military and civilian capabilities to operate in really difficult places were upgraded a lot, against lessons learned about the limits of intervention into complex, divided and emphatically distant societies.