Iraq and Afghanistan Two Sides of Same Coin

On the sixth anniversary of 9/11, Canadians have been inundated with what are largely American concerns:

Is it time to scale back the annual commemoration at the World Trade Centre?

What to make of the week-long photo-op by Gen. David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and President George W. Bush?

How many troops can be pulled out of Iraq and when?

Why can't the Democratic Congress tame this White House?

Understandable as these preoccupations are, they blur the big picture that concerns Canadians.

Iraq is a doomed enterprise, arguably worse than Vietnam, its domino effect reaching the West in the form of terrorism, increasingly homegrown.

Iraq is the central but not the only element in the disastrous policies that have destabilized the Muslim world and unleashed civil wars.

Others are the failed War on Terror, the tottering mission in Afghanistan, the tragedy of the Israeli Occupied Territories and the increasing instability of Lebanon, plus Washington's war of words against Syria, Iran, even Pakistan.

On the domestic front - besides Guantanamo Bay, Maher Arar, etc. - Islamophobia is creeping up in Canada, Quebec in particular.

Ontario is not immune, as we saw during the so-called "sharia" debate and may see in the debate on John Tory's ill-advised idea of funding private schools, opposition to which is no longer driven by anti-Catholic bigotry but fear of Islamic schools, about which we'll no doubt be told some horror stories soon.

Whatever damage this does to that beleaguered minority, its greater danger is in rattling all of us to the point of irrationality, as illustrated by the furor over veiled women voters. Politicians are ordering the chief electoral officer to, in effect, break the law to favour mob rule.

This potential undermining of our democratic institutions is the inevitable outcome of the post-9/11 politics of fear, just as terrorism is of the wars on and in Muslim lands.

All this underscores the need for a holistic view of the world, difficult as it is amid the CNN-ization of our media and the Americanization of our politics under Stephen Harper.

America is mired in Iraq and we are mired in Afghanistan. Bush does not have a clear exit strategy there, nor does Harper in Afghanistan. The instincts of both are to keep the wars going and "win." Yet neither quite knows how.

There are other parallels, though the Afghan mission has the approval of the United Nations, and cannot be abandoned for fear of creating a failed state there.

Both missions are hobbled by similar man-made problems - an inability to provide security for parts of the population or the essentials of life; too much infrastructure destroyed; too many civilians killed; too much reliance on warfare, not all successful, as territory is won and territory is lost and must be re-won; too many suicide attacks and roadside bombs.

The political rhetoric is also the same: We'll stand down in Iraq (Afghanistan) when Iraqis (Afghans) stand up. We are there to keep us safe from terrorists. Or, to spread democracy and liberate women.

Washington blames Nuri al-Maliki, Ottawa Hamid Karzai. But the two are not the real problem any more than Mahmoud Abbas in West Bank or Fouad Siniora in Lebanon. Bush blames Syria and Iran, and Harper Pakistan. Mischief-makers as those regimes are, they, too, are not the real problem.

The problems are the policies.

More and more allies understand. Distancing itself from Washington, Britain has abandoned Basra city to the mercies of Shiite militias. The Germans and other NATO allies won't join us in southern Afghanistan. Either they are cowards or they are smarter than us.

Unless Ottawa comes to grips with these realities, Harper will be spinning his wheels as much as Bush - at the expense of our troops, our international credibility and, more ominously, perhaps our security.

Haroon Siddiqui, the Star's editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday in the World & Comment section and Sunday in the A section.

(c) Toronto Star 1996-2007

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