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Why Canadians keep falling for the Afghan scam: we want to believe

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Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon

There is a moment in a confidence swindle when the mark begins to suspect that something is amiss.

This is the pivotal juncture for the swindler. The victim's faith must be maintained long enough for the hustle to succeed.

Why do victims so often remain in the scam until the con artist has absconded with their fortune, even as their nose detects the first sharp whiffs of fraud? Because they want to believe.

But it is not so much greed that motivates the victims of swindles, as you have been told many times. It is pride. No one wants to appear to friends and loved ones to have been a sucker. The confidence trickster subtly beguiles our pride to keep us playing along long enough to be fleeced.

Canadians are now at this crucial moment with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Afghanistan scam. On the face of it, the lie is obvious enough. "Oh, if only I had trusted my instincts," we'll tell ourselves tomorrow. But for the moment we need to believe. Otherwise we would have to acknowledge we have been played for fools, at great cost in blood and treasure.

The headline in my local newspaper yesterday reads, "2014 Afghan pullout date firm: Cannon… Foreign minister reinforces prime minister's declaration." A declaration! Surely that sounds solid enough, we marks tell ourselves. As solid as the Rock of Gibraltar!

And so, writes Juliet O'Neill of the delightfully named Postmedia News, "Canada's end date of March 2014 for a training mission in Afghanistan is firm despite NATO's plan to continue non-combat operations there, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said Friday. 'We might be pressured obviously, but I think the prime minister has made this perfectly clear,'" the appropriately named Cannon went on, echoing one of the favourite phrases of Richard Nixon, another politician who promised to withdraw from a difficult and foredoomed war according to a tight schedule. "'March of 2014 is when we will be leaving,' Cannon said at a news conference."

Not just 2014. March of 2014! Surely we can take that to the bank?

Alas, no, this is the grifter's wheedling call for us to maintain our faith just a little longer.

Even the prime minister's ideological fellow travellers acknowledge this, for heaven's sake! Speaking of another, similar news report in another newspaper, no less a pillar of the Canadian Establishment than Norman Spector, at various times prime minister Brian Mulroney's chief of staff and Canada's Ambassador to Israel, wrote yesterday in the Globe and Mail: "Here's my question: In light of Mr. Harper’s past statements -- from the election campaign of 2008 right up to a couple of weeks ago -- why would a single Canadian, whatever their political allegiance, believe a single word of this report, when NATO and the U.S. are already hedging on 2014 as the end date?"

Indeed. Why would anyone? Because, of course, we want to keep the faith, just a little bit longer.

Well, here are some facts you can take to the bank:

Canadian soldiers, "training behind the wire," will continue to die in combat. Historically, so-called combat "trainers" frequently find themselves in the thick of the fiercest fighting, lest they lose credibility with their students. If Canadians support the training mission, as Ipsos-Reid claims, it is because they do not understand what a military training mission entails.

"Canada's end date of March 2014" is not firm. We will be pressured, as Cannon acknowledged, and our prime minister will fold like a tent.

The cost to our supposedly strapped national treasury will continue in the billions of dollars, while other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries praise Canada's "absolutely essential" sacrifices but do not step up to make their own.

The fight is not going well. Indeed, on the battlefields of Afghanistan, the Pashtun-based insurgency we call the Taliban is gaining confidence and strength. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s claim notwithstanding, it is folly to say the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be ready to stand on its own by 2014, or ever. Not, at any rate, as long the Pashtun people, the country's largest ethnic group, and their nuclear-armed Pakistani neighbour, which NATO dares not challenge, support Karzai's foes.

In other words, not only have we been lied to, we are still being lied to. The only question is whether Canadians will wake up and smell the coffee.

The facts are plain. Only pride stands in our way. As the Bible usefully reminds us: "Pride goeth before destruction."

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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