photo: BNF

It’s been a busy few weeks for diplomatic engagement in Afghanistan. First Karzai’s meeting with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, then the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, and now this week French President Sarkozy is in Washington for a meeting with Obama, and the main topic of discussion will be Afghanistan. The AP reports:

The meeting may boil down to one question: Will Obama persuade Sarkozy to buck popular resistance and send more troops to Afghanistan?

Fortifying the international force in Afghanistan is a fresh concern for Obama after his first presidential trip to Kabul. And a key aim of Sarkozy’s trip to Washington is to show that France is a firm U.S. ally in fighting terrorism, from central Asia to North Africa and beyond.

But is “France” really committed to more war, or just Sarkozy? The article says he’d have to “buck popular resistance,” and also notes:

Sarkozy may not risk an unpopular decision with his own popularity at record lows, and with his conservative party suffering from fractures and badly beaten in recent regional elections.

Not only is the French public united against the war, but Sarkozy’s entire government might well collapse because of this opposition. But we already knew this was the kind of pressure Sarkozy was under, because we read it in the CIA memo conveniently leaked just days before the French president arrived in the US.

The memo says:

The fall of the Dutch Government over its troop commitment to Afghanistan demonstrates the fragility of European support for the NATO-led ISAF mission. Some NATO states, notably France and Germany, have counted on public apathy about Afghanistan to increase their contributions to the mission, but indifference might turn into active hostility if spring and summer fighting results in an upsurge in military or Afghan civilian casualties and if a Dutchstyle debate spills over into other states contributing troops.


Public Apathy Enables Leaders To Ignore Voters. . . (C//NF)

The Afghanistan mission’s low public salience has allowed French and German leaders to disregard popular opposition and steadily increase their troop contributions to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Berlin and Paris currently maintain the third and fourth highest ISAF troop levels, despite the opposition of 80 percent of German and French respondents to increased ISAF deployments, according to INR polling in fall 2009.

The language is pretty damning. Ignoring voters, disregarding popular opposition, escalating the war against the wishes of a full 80% of the public. But maybe, as Sarkozy said, “it is not easy to explain that French people are dying in Afghanistan.” I’m not sure if that means he thinks the French are stupid, or if he’s just bad at explaining things. After all, Obama sure had no trouble boiling down his reasons for war during his recent trip to Kabul:

Plots against our homeland, plots against our allies, plots against the Afghan and Pakistani people are taking place as we speak right here. And if this region slides backwards, if the Taliban retakes this country and al Qaeda can operate with impunity, then more American lives will be at stake. The Afghan people will lose their chance at progress and prosperity. And the world will be significantly less secure.

Obviously there’s a lot to pick apart in the argument, but for now let’s just assume that Obama is right; We need to stop terrorism launched from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we need to help the Afghans build a stable country. It’s understandable why NATO would be sympathetic to those objectives, and the US solution. But besides France, the US is also meeting with another NATO ally who shares our objectives in Afghanistan. Is the only solution to those objectives ignoring democratic opposition and escalating a massive military occupation, as the US is suggesting to France? Not for Canada, apparently:

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dashed Washington’s dream of a closely allied future in Afghanistan, saying the only Canadians in the country past 2011 will be civilians working for peace.

In a 20-minute meeting Tuesday morning with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Conservative leader said not a soldier will remain on Afghan soil when the current Canadian mission comes to an end next year.

Looks like Canada is not only sticking to a firm timeline for military withdrawal, but will also be leaving peaceful civilian forces behind to help with development and reconstruction. And even that civilian peace mission will be subject to democratic controls, as Harper’s opposition explains:

“There has been discussion for a long time about civil, humanitarian work, all kinds of stuff,” said Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

“Even on that we have to be clear … All of this stuff is worthy of public debate and discussion. And it needs to come to Parliament. And this government needs to respect Parliament, respect the Canadian people, and say ‘here’s what we are prepared to do in Afghanistan after 2011.’ It’s not my job, it’s the government’s job.”

So even the specifics of the peace mission are up for public debate. And Harper still gets to talk tough about Afghanistan, just like he did in his own speech to the troops after taking office:

[C]utting and running is not your way. It’s not my way. And it’s not the Canadian way.

We don’t make a commitment and then run away at the first sign of trouble. We don’t and we won’t.

They’re not cutting and running, they’re simply changing to a peace mission. All together you have a NATO ally ending their military conflict, engaging and satisfying popular opinion, and still contributing to the causes of peace and development in Afghanistan. Meanwhile Obama and Sarkozy are planning to subvert democracy and escalate the war.

What does this tell us about our own push to end the war? The Canadian strategy is pretty clear: Get the timeline and the peace mission, then withdraw. So far, we’ve only called for a withdrawal in Congress, but we’ve been working here to rethink our approach and develop the rest of that strategy.

There are also members of the peace movement who are already actively deploying this strategy to end the other US war in Iraq. Peace Action’s website allows you to enter in your zip code to connect directly to your local representatives, and then offers you specific talking points on issues to address complete with a policy-ready timeline for complete military withdrawal from Iraq. Developing a peace mission for Afghanistan along with the withdrawal timeline shouldn’t be out of reach.

The peaceful strategy doesn’t even need to be definitive, as we saw in Hekmatyar’s peace plan and now in Canada’s peace force. The specifics of Harper’s peace force will be hashed out in negotiations in Parliament just as the specifics of Hekmatyar’s 15-points are negotiated in the Kabul peace talks. We need to push Congress to develop our own solutions to the problems in Afghanistan so the next time they call for withdrawal, they’ve got the peace plan to go along with it, just like the Canadians.

Want to help push for those solutions? Head over to our Rethink Afghanistan Facebook page and join thousands of other people working to end the war in Afghanistan.

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed here are my own.

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