Thursday, February 15, 2007

Star story distorts Bush speech

Bush did not “snub” Canadian troops – he encouraged other NATO countries to increase their role in Afghanistan

Today’s Toronto Star P.M. arrived with an item from Washington bureau chief Tim Harper on George W. Bush’s Afghanistan speech today. It’s headlined “Bush snubs Canadian troops.” The key paragraph:

In telling the world that the Afghanis have “a lot of friends’’ in the world, Bush lauded contributions made by such players as Bulgaria, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Iceland and Norway and he mentioned the efforts the British who are engaged in the most intense fighting in the south along with Canadians. But the omission of Canada was notable, particularly since the Harper government has banked on the 2,500 Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan to raise Ottawa’s profile as a partner in the war on terror.

Now here’s the paragraph from Bush’s speech:

For NATO to succeed, member nations must provide commanders on the ground with the troops and the equipment they need to do their jobs. Many allies have made commitments of additional forces and support -- and I appreciate those commitments, but nearly as much as the people in Afghanistan appreciate them. Norway, Lithuania and the Czech Republic have all agreed to send special operation forces to Afghanistan. Britain, Poland, Turkey and Bulgaria have agreed to additional troops. Italy has agreed to send aircraft. Romania will contribute to the EU police mission. Denmark, Greece, Norway and Slovakia will provide funding for Afghan security forces. Iceland will provide airlift. The people of Afghanistan need to know that they've got a lot of friends in this world who want them to succeed.

First of all, nowhere in the speech does Bush single out British forces. He repeatedly refers to “NATO forces” and their operations and successes in Afghanistan. Yes, Canada has made an extraordinary commitment and suffered painful losses. But this is a NATO effort and, in singling out one country for praise, Bush risks alienating or insulting other countries who no doubt have media outlets that are equally prickly or prone to trouble-making.

Further, reporting that Bush said Afghanis “have” a lot of friends distorts Bush’s meaning, clear from the above paragraph: Afghanis “need to know that they’ve got a lot of friends in this world who want them to succeed.” Had Canada been included in the list preceding this plea, the reaction from the Star might well have been indignation and outrage.

Having read it in its entirely, the intent of Bush’s speech seems clear to me: the U.S. will increase its efforts in Afghanistan – in troops and dollars – and other NATO nations need to increase their commitments too. Just last December 1st, a Toronto Star editorial bemoaned the reticence of other NATO countries to join in the fight.

Bush’s speech suggests that the Harper government’s cause of getting other NATO nations to step up to the plate in Afghanistan, which dates back to last fall, has been taken up by Bush.

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