From Afghanistan to Iraq, the perils of overconfidence – Brian Stewart

Brian Stewart’s commentary on the recent audit on the aid program in Afghanistan and a reminder for the need for greater policy modesty:

My own view, shared by many others, is that central to Canada’s problem was an overconfident, relentless boosterism around this mission that was encouraged, even demanded, throughout by Ottawa.

“We went into a complex country without a proper strategy and this was a major problem. And there was over-optimism so we were not looking at the status of the insurgency,” Nipa Banerjee, who ran our aid there between 2003 and 2006, told Canadian Press this week.

In later years, the sunny Canadian outlook often astonished even NATO allies.

Chris Alexander, then our senior diplomat in Kabul and now the minister of citizenship and immigration, is remembered in one British memoir as “among the most persuasive of the optimists, and in many ways the golden boy of the effort in Afghanistan … a formidable operator who never let much check his unquenchable optimism.”

For many of Canada’s allies, our military and aid officials in Afghanistan simply ignored a trilogy of inconvenient facts: that the West didn’t have the military or civilian capacity necessary for the challenge at hand; that the Afghans were in no position to take over any time soon; and that the Taliban grew stronger thanks to sanctuaries in neighbouring Pakistan.

Some may be asking themselves if these elements, including overconfidence, apply to what looks to be our expanding war against ISIS in Iraq and possibly Syria.

One dark irony of this period was that the Conservative government and other ardent supporters of the war often criticized the media for being too pessimistic in its Afghan coverage.

The reality is most media were far too pliant and unquestioning of a military-civilian mission that, with rare exceptions, hid behind the false-confidence curtain dictated by Ottawa.

Understandably, many Canadians want to put that far-off war behind us and forget. But we simply can’t ignore the lessons learned about the cost of our simplistic over-optimism if we’re to avoid similar mistakes in Iraq or other campaigns to come.

From Afghanistan to Iraq, the perils of overconfidence – World – CBC News.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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