New book by York’s James Laxer questions Canada’s role in Afghanistan

A new book by York political science Professor James Laxer questions the motives and decisions behind Canada’s military role in Afghanistan.

In Mission of Folly: Canada and Afghanistan (Between the Lines, 2008), launched on May 10, Laxer makes the case that Canada’s military intervention, and that of its NATO allies, is a failure. He argues that Canadians have been exposed to propaganda to support a war with impossible – and disingenuous – objectives.

"The struggles in recent decades over who is to wield power in Afghanistan have had nothing to do with human rights," Laxer says. "Canada’s participation is simply part of the wider American geo-political struggle for control over wide areas of the Middle East and Central Asia."

Laxer, based in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, writes that the conflict has been widely depicted in the western world as a struggle between forces representing democracy and human rights on one side, and an authoritarian seventh-century-style theocracy on the other. Western involvement, however, has failed to create a democratic Afghanistan, in which the rule of law is respected, and human rights – in particular those of women – are achieved.

"Canadians are deeply skeptical about the wisdom of a military mission where, on a per capita basis, we’ve suffered the highest casualties of any NATO country," Laxer says, noting that the propaganda is driven by a surge in pro-militarism on the Canadian right. "Their line is, ‘to critique the mission is to critique our troops’."

Right: James Laxer

The book delves into the geopolitics of the west’s war on drugs in Afghanistan, the epicentre of the global opium and heroin trade, and situates the conflict within the broader historical context of the region. It deconstructs the argument that our ongoing military presence is key to maintaining our NATO allies, and proposes an alternative direction for Canadian foreign policy, grounded in offering aid.

"To understand our position in Afghanistan today, one needs to turn a critical eye to the history of military intervention in this region. As was the case with previous invasions of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, the British and others, this one is virtually certain to end with the foreign forces being obliged to withdraw."

An award-winning author and a former Toronto Star columnist, Laxer is the author of over a dozen books, including Perils of Empire (Penguin Group Canada, 2008) and Red Diaper Baby: A Boyhood in the Age of McCarthyism (Douglas & McIntyre, 2004).