Cut and Run – Canada in Afghanistan

7 Oct ’06

John Dickerson of Slate runs a piece examining the political utility in America of the phrase “cut and run”, and covers the latest ground on continuing efforts by the Administration to prepare the ground to do exactly what, in the run-up to the mid-term elections, it is using to portray Democrats as cowardly and disloyal. Coverage in the U.S. of this issue is growing steadily now. We get some coverage of this issue in Canada, but generally only of the U.S. debate; not of the effect on the prospects for the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

I fear our media is not serving us well; Canadians need a deeper understanding of Afghanistan, including the likely consequences on the war in Afghanistan – and the lives of the Canadians there – of a U.S. evacuation of Iraq, the inevitable disintegration of Iraq that would follow it, and the resulting boon to Taliban fortunes that would result. For example, the story recently told by Frontline of the return of the Taliban and the role of Pakistan in their return has not generally received much coverage in Canada; except a mention of the broadcast itself by the Globe’s entertainment reporter, John Doyle.

The recent news of the resignation of former aide-de-camp to the commander of the British taskforce in southern Afghanistan was, as far as I can tell, not even reported by the Canadian media:

“Having a big old fight is pointless and just making things worse,” said Captain Leo Docherty, of the Scots Guards, who became so disillusioned that he quit the army last month.

“All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British,” he said. “It’s a pretty clear equation — if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would.

“We’ve been grotesquely clumsy — we’ve said we’ll be different to the Americans who were bombing and strafing villages, then behaved exactly like them.”

Docherty’s criticisms, the first from an officer who has served in Helmand, came during the worst week so far for British troops in Afghanistan, with the loss of 18 men.

Coming, as this news did, so soon after the publication of “Fiasco“, Thomas Ricks’ account of the war in Iraq, an exhaustively researched account that paints a chilling portrait of the growth of an insurgency fuelled because of the way the Iraq war was prosecuted (a failure that the U.S. military recognizes and is attempting to address), I was expecting at least some coverage of this story by the Canadian media. But what I see is generally limited to (essential, but surely not sufficient) coverage of deaths, and the disingenuous and self-indulgent tripe our politicians reflexively utter about the need to “support the troops” (does anyone who opposes a war on whatever grounds ever believe that troops ought to be abandoned?).

This lack of coverage is difficult to understand. To any close follower of that region the resurgence of the Taliban and the growth of an insurgency in Afghanistan have been predictable since the U.S. pullout and the beginning of the war in Iraq (or, more truthfully, since the British left Pakistan). And reporting on the U.S. media’s failure of coverage in the run-up to the war in Iraq has been extensive; surely there is a message in that to all who report on these wars.

Why do we not get in-depth coverage from our media? Is it because of a dearth of experienced war correspondents in Canadian journalism? Is it editorial attitude towards the war? A fixation instead on the Liberal leadership race?

The Canadian media needs to do a better job of covering the war in Afghanistan, and putting related developments elsewhere in context for Canadians.

Update: Jeff Jarvis covers a presentation at ONA about news coverage of the War in Iraq that is right on point.

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