Weekly Commentary  

Generals and shopping generally

General Stanley McChrystal is now the Commander of US Operations in Afghanistan. He is credited with the turnaround of the campaign in Iraq. He was also the Commander of Special Operations back in the war in Kuwait. This guy knows how to 'bring it.'

He was in Ottawa this week for meetings. As Chairman of our Cabinet Committee and Task Force on Afghanistan I was able to talk with him about the US surge of 30 thousand more troops (NATO nations are also sending another 7,500). That's no small amount. There will be an impact.

A key part of the strategy will be to target certain cities or villages to be cleared of Taliban. After clearing an area a strong security perimeter is established to prevent enemies returning. Then, the all important human and civil development projects can take place. This gains the trust and confidence of the local population.

Finally, training the Afghan security forces (army and police) is the priority. They are taught to provide for the safety and ongoing confidence of the population.

Can this strategy work? Glad you asked. It has already been proven as the reason for the turnaround (though not perfect) in Iraq. It is also the method that our Canadian troops are already using in the Kandahar District. General McChrystal commented favourably on how we are progressing with that approach.

He also repeated what other Afghanistan watchers have observed. That is the fact that Canadian soldiers continue to operate effectively, courageously and with clear and tangible results.

Some people have asked me if the US General (or others) are pressuring us to change our minds about drawing down our military in Afghanistan before the end of 2011. I can tell you that he is not. He is well aware of the motion passed in our Parliament which commits us to withdrawing our military presence in Afghanistan by the end of 2011.

The gains our military have achieved are significant. Just because our national mainstream media are strangely reluctant to highlight the progress in Afghanistan doesn't mean it hasn't happened. Regular readers of this column will know that every quarter I give a full report to the House of Commons and to the media of goals achieved (or missed) in Afghanistan.

Most recently we have built seven more schools, another health centre, trained more Afghan military and police, given literacy courses to another 10,000 men and women, inoculated another 800,000 children against polio, provided hundreds more people (mainly women) with micro-financing loans and continued work on the Dahla dam.

Also not widely reported is the fact that there has been a US battalion under Canadian command for some time now. This is rare in American military history. It shows the confidence which the US have in our military people. I will keep you updated on progress there.

I'm in Vancouver for some infrastructure announcements and Asia-Pacific Gateway meetings this week then back again to the riding for meetings and announcements right up to the 23rd. Then some Christmas shopping…Yay! My favourite thing.

You know every Christmas we read all the bemoaning about the 'commercialisation' of Christmas and the 'evils' we commit as consumers. I have to admit, I find the annual ritual of complaining about people buying stuff is missing some key points.

First, I agree there are special and real elements of faith and humanity that accompany this time of year. Whether you believe the Christmas message (as I do) or adhere to another faith or practice, most of us appreciate the emphases at this time of year. Peace, joy, family and the care of the lonely and those less fortunate.

But I have to tell you, I also don't mind that we all get out there and (somewhat unselfishly) spend a little money. When I see a crowded mall I think of all those jobs being maintained. I think of everybody in the whole supply chain of merchants and salespeople, truckers, manufacturers, inventors, investors, builders, technicians, advertisers and on it goes, millions of people working and getting paid all because of Christmas.

I see the eyes of expectation of children as they wonder what special treats are wrapped in those boxes and bags, waiting to be ripped open only days from now. I recognize the worried look of men in malls trying to remember the clothing or ring size or special wish of the woman in their life. I mean, think about it. This may be the one time of year for a lot of guys to take time to focus on more than work or sports.

And if you don't like the crowds in malls there are now enough retailers who stay open really late (or 24 hours) to allow you to stroll casually down aisles you never knew existed before. So shop on folks! The economy will love you for it and so will every one you buy for.

May your days be merry and bright and may you really find those quality and memorable hours in the week ahead which you will treasure forever.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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