Prime Minister Stephen Harper drew heavy criticism earlier this month when he told CNN that international forces in Afghanistan were never going to defeat the insurgency. His comments provoked a tongue-lashing by everybody from opposing political parties to the renowned Washington-based magazine Foreign Affairs. What’s really shocking about Harper’s comments is not their legitimacy; many reputable sources close to the issue have said the same thing for a long time now. The real scandal is what his comments and the ensuing reaction to it reveal about the pathetic scope of debate on the Afghanistan issue. Those who criticize Harper do so because they believe the war can be won, or that it is an insult to soldiers to say otherwise. What links Harper and his critics is that they all justify the war based on whether it is winnable or not. If we can win, we should stay. If we are going to lose, we should go. (A few years ago Harper was happy to boast to the world that Canadians “don’t cut and run”.) There’s been an appalling lack of critical thought in this country about this war ever since the former Liberal government signed up for George Bush’s “war on terror”. Iraq has had plenty of critics, but Afghanistan has been strangely immune to criticism. Nowhere can I find a convincing answer to a very simple question: Why are we there? Are we there because of September 11? The Taliban were not involved in the planning of 9/11. Before the invasion, the United States propped up the Taliban regime with millions of dollars until American oil interests were unable to build a lucrative pipeline through the country. That is why government documents show the U.S. was planning to overthrow the Taliban well before the terrorist attacks. Sound like Iraq? This is a more rational explanation than the idea of squandering billions of dollars just to hunt down one man. Are we there to instil freedom and democracy? In October 2001, the U.S. and its allies ignored the pleas of 1,000 non-Taliban Afghan leaders to stop the bombing of their country. The leaders begged the West to overthrow the Taliban regime through other means – a goal they believed was possible without killing. Why were these proposed alternatives never considered? Are we there to counter Islamic fundamentalism? We now have a country run by drug warlords with no viable economy, horrendous rates of illiteracy, and widespread starvation. Nothing has improved. Things are worse. Worse yet, the Taliban has been given a new lease on life thanks to the hatred the war has incited among Afghans. To date, more than 100 Canadian soldiers have died. With each death, this country turns into hero-worship mode, turning our soldiers into martyrs for dying for such a ‘noble cause’. But their deaths do not make them heroes; rather, they become tragic figures. Their deaths are tragic because we cannot give a good reason why they had to die.