In Kitchener at “The Word on the Street” event September 21, Graeme Smith spoke about his new book, The Dogs Are Eating Them Now. Smith is a local lad from New Hamburg who broke the 2007 story about Canadian complicity in detainee torture in Afghanistan. His book’s dustcover notes that “Smith devoted more time to southern Afghanistan than any other Western journalist between 2005 and 2011.”
Smith’s talk, and the essence of his book, is summed up in the first line: “We lost the war in southern Afghanistan and it broke my heart.” His commitment to Afghanistan is unquestionable. In the face of what he has learned and written about the war and the country, he continues to live in Kabul, now as a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. Yet he has no doubt that the NATO mission in southern Afghanistan, including Canada’s military role in Kandahar, has been a failure.
The book is a personal history of Smith’s interactions with heroes and villains and many in between, and it documents why NATO failed Afghanistan. He admits that there were times when he thought, as did many others, “that an influx of firepower would help the situation.” But his experiences led him to conclude that finally, following the withdrawal of NATO troops, “at best, we are leaving behind an ongoing war. At worst, it’s a looming disaster.”
In spite of his experiences, Smith believes there is still hope for southern Afghanistan. He argues for continued Western engagement, with closer attention to meeting the basic needs of Afghanis. He clearly is concerned that Canada and other NATO states may simply walk away, claiming a fictitious victory that denies the inevitable consequences of full withdrawal. His book is a call to Canadian political and military leaders to recognize and learn from the failures of Afghanistan. It remains to be seen whether any are brave enough to do so.