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Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar [Hardcover]

Janice Gross Stein , Eugene Lang
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 9 2007

With our troops now committed until 2009, The Unexpected War exposes the poverty of Canadian foreign policy, arguing that Canada’s various military missions in Afghanistan have been ad hoc in nature and made on the basis of political calculations—often flawed—about Canadian–American relations. Drawing upon interviews with key decision makers and advisors, and a first-hand account by a former Defence Ministry insider, the book offers a gripping account of how Canada became embroiled in a new kind of war—fighting insurgency in a failed state.


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Review

"If you want to know how Canada wound up on the front lines in Afghanistan, follow the dots in THE UNEXPECTED WAR: CANADA in KANDAHAR. It reads like a whodunit. From the players, the private conversations and the presumptuous bravado in the Canadian and American corridors of power, this is the inside story." -- Sally Armstrong

"The Unexpected War is a fine piece of work--well-written, engaging, informative and thorough (supported by inside information and insightful personal interview material). For anyone interested in a first-hand account of Canada's road to Kandahar--and the political and bureaucratic machinations that accompanied it--this book is a must read." -- The Ottawa Citizen

"This book reveals tough realities about how public servants and politicians dither and avoid hard decisions in Ottawa, and about how our senior public service needs a deep shake-up. Its insights are more than timely, they are urgent!" -- Senator Hugh Segal, former Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and a Senior Fellow at the Queens School of Policy Studies

"[A] riveting insider's account that will challenge any preconceived notions about the war, and might well leave you flabbergasted and hopping mad, regardless of where on the political spectrum your sympathies lie... a tour de force." -- The Montreal Gazette

From the Author

Janice Gross Stein is the director of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. Eugene Lang was the former chief of staff for two Liberal ministers of defence.

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Most helpful customer reviews
40 of 65 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Partisan Liberal Whitewash Oct. 22 2007
Format:Hardcover
This book comes across as a partisan "whitewash" of two Liberal(Chretien and Martin) government's machinations and duplicities that led to our commitment of combat troops in and around Kandahar, Afghanistan. Defence Ministers McCallum and Graham appear to "walk on water" while General Hillier, many unnamed bureaucrats in Foreign Affairs, National Defence and the Conservative government are blamed for stumbling into and our continuing combat involvement in Afghanistan.

Surprisingly, the real underlying reason we are involved in Afghanistan is given on page 67 by Sheila Copps when she states; "I was at the table(Liberal Cabinet meeting, Feb 4, 2003) when the decision was made, and there were two theatres playing out. One was in Iraq and the other was in Afghanistan and we deliberately made a decision to go to Afghanistan because we knew very shortly down the road we would be asked to participate in a US-led invasion of Iraq which we did not want to do and this was a neat political way of squaring the problem.... of Canada-US relations". It is made perfectly clear that Liberal government leaders were hoping that doing a tough job in Afghanistan would placate the Americans after we refused to support the invasion of Iraq and participate in Ballistic Missile Defence. Senior military officers are blamed for over-zealously advancing this course of action. The book then goes on to say that Canada's generals and admirals tend to be more concerned about their relationships with their American counterparts than they are with their own political masters in Ottawa - is it any wonder when our Liberal foreign policy was predicated on an immature love/hate relationship with the US. There is no discussion on doing the right thing for Afghanistan or Canada.
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8 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oral history now Jan. 24 2008
Format:Hardcover
Stein and Lang have produced a book that normally could be written only in 30 years, after archived documents have been released, the memoirs have been written, and the war in Afghanistan has run its course.

If you want to see how national policy and action is born of accident and extraneous influences, and how and why we wound up in Afghanistan, The Unexpected War and its interview and access-to-information documentation will do nicely until the full-blown histories come along. I doubt that the latter will be very revisionist of the Stein/Lang effort. There will be quibbles, but a "Liberal whitewash" it is not.

Five stars for effort and result.
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Amazon.com: 1.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Liberal Government Whitwash Jan. 14 2010
By Alexander G. Mills - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book comes across as a partisan "whitewash" of two Liberal(Chretien and Martin) government's machinations and duplicities that led to our commitment of combat troops in and around Kandahar, Afghanistan. Defence Ministers McCallum and Graham appear to "walk on water" while General Hillier, many unnamed bureaucrats in Foreign Affairs, National Defence and the Conservative government are blamed for stumbling into and our continuing combat involvement in Afghanistan.

Surprisingly, the real underlying reason we are involved in Afghanistan is given on page 67 by Sheila Copps when she states; "I was at the table(Liberal Cabinet meeting, Feb 4, 2003) when the decision was made, and there were two theatres playing out. One was in Iraq and the other was in Afghanistan and we deliberately made a decision to go to Afghanistan because we knew very shortly down the road we would be asked to participate in a US-led invasion of Iraq which we did not want to do and this was a neat political way of squaring the problem.... of Canada-US relations". It is made perfectly clear that Liberal government leaders were hoping that doing a tough job in Afghanistan would placate the Americans after we refused to support the invasion of Iraq and participate in Ballistic Missile Defence. Senior military officers are blamed for over-zealously advancing this course of action. The book then goes on to say that Canada's generals and admirals tend to be more concerned about their relationships with their American counterparts than they are with their own political masters in Ottawa - is it any wonder when our Liberal foreign policy was predicated on an immature love/hate relationship with the US. There is no discussion on doing the right thing for Afghanistan or Canada.

On page 133 Foreign Affairs are quoted as saying in 2003 that Canada was among the best-equipped militaries in Afghanistan. There is no mention that many CF casualties caused by IEDs could be avoided if Canada had heavy lift helicopters which they did have(Chinooks) until they were forced to sell them in the 90s because of extreme budget cuts. No mention of Canadian combat troops originally deploying to Kandahar in a combat role under US command in 2002 and later in Kabul with dark green camouflage combat clothing and flimsy Iltis jeeps in which at least three Canadian soldiers were killed by IEDs. There is no mention of Liberal opposition to attempts by the Conservative government to speed up the awarding of defence contracts for badly needed equipment in Afghanistan now(eg. replacement Chinooks).

Just over halfway through the book the present Conservative government is blamed for not changing our combat role in 2006 to one of reconstruction and training in other parts of the country other than Kandahar and for extending the mission to February 2009. Easy to say but very difficult to find other NATO countries interested in taking over a combat role and you cannot just pull out and leave a vacuum - it could be deadly for our NATO allies fighting around Kandahar and they would surely question our resolve.

General Hillier gets the blame for signing a flawed original agreement on the handling of detainees in Afghanistan - the reader wonders what one of the authors, the chief of staff to Defence Ministers McCallum and Graham and a professed expert on international security was doing when this supposedly flawed agreement was drawn up and signed.

Present Liberal MP McCallum should have read this book before he accused the present government of Canada of committing war crimes by turning Taliban prisoners over to the Afghans instead of the Americans. The book proves that the Liberals approved the original prisoner agreement with Afghanistan in 2005 knowing all too well how they might be treated by Afghan prison authorities. They went ahead with the agreement in an effort to embarass the US over unproved rumors about Gitmo.

I will wait until an unbiased, non-revisionist historian investigates and writes a book to get the facts about how we became involved in Afghanistan in the first place and the good things that are being done for Afghan citizens at tremendous cost by our brave and courageous men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces. I will not hold my breath.

Alex Mills
Winnipeg
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