General Rick Hillier, Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff has my attention. From what I have gleaned from reading stories about him and listening to interviews he has also acquired the attention of other Canadians. What is it about him that makes me believe that his reign over our Armed Forces will not only a turning point in it's development, but will also positively impact the perception and feelings of Canadians?
Hillier is a straight talking, hands-on intelligent strategist who clearly has a vision for boosting morale, boosting the forces and enhancing the reputation of the men and women who serve under him. He has gained the respect of many because he seems to live his high standards. His expectations of Canada's role in various countries, particularly in Afghanistan, are based on a foundation of realistic clarity. He is the right person in the right job at the right time.
He has integrity.
One of the first steps he took this week during the changeover was to order that our Canadian flag be replaced by the Afghan flag, a symbolic gesture to the Afghan people that we are their to help and guide, but we are visitors in their country. They are the lead, and we respect that. The Canadian Armed Forces role is to help develop the infrastructure in that country needed to eventually become self-sufficient, something that Afghanistan has not experienced in over 25 years. Hillier is practising lead management techniques...leading, advising, coaching, guiding, listening, observing, directing, supporting while making decisions and teaching others to learn how to make their own decisions........all the while always showing respect through action.
He has my vote.In an interview today in the Globe and Mail, Hillier talks plainly and openly about several issues, particularly pertaining to our role in Afghanistan and the dangers of the situation. Not one to mince words, he shares an honest picture of the realities of our role. It's not peacekeeping as we Canadians once defined it in the 1950's and 60's. It's not war like we defined it during World War II. No, it's a different kettle of fish, and it's going to take a long dedicated amount of time to help shape the future of this war torn disabled country....... Here are a few excerpts.
LOGISTICS OF AFGHAN MISSION
"When I was in Afghanistan, the first thing the president [Hamid Karzai] said was: 'My greatest threat is our lack of capacity to handle our own threats.' Part of the reason was because those very visionary and extremely intelligent leaders I saw — starting with Karzai — had zero capability to turn their vision to a strategy to a policy to a plan.
There was no bureaucracy, no public service. They were either dead or living in the West because of the 25 years of brutality.
Kabul, and the northeast, north-central, and northwest have made enormous strides . . .
The real need is in the south, to make sure it does not again become a fertile ground for terrorists to breed and recover and recruit and reconstitute and resource themselves and then project their violence.
I'm there to help Afghans rebuild their families and communities and become part of something more stable and get on with life.
It takes a while to build an army. It takes us a while to build a new unit, and we're an army in longstanding. They're starting from a clean sheet of paper."
ON THE NEW CANADIAN FORCES
"People try to put us in a niche: You're not conducting peacekeeping or you are conducting war-fighting operations or you are conducting combat. Here's what we're doing, because the terms are not necessarily helpful.
We're doing the entire spectrum of operations, from straightforward negotiation and dealing with folks to training police, training the army, to helping work with the international community, right through to firefights with the Taliban, to ensure they're not going to be able to stop the progress.
So to describe that as war is actually, it's really 1940, 1950s terminology."
"You're living with people who desperately want you there — and the Afghans do. I mean, they say: 'The only thing between us and chaos again is you.'
You're living with people who are benign or neutral or slightly hostile, and you're living with a small group of people who actually want to kill you.
That's a completely differnet dynamic than what we trained, prepared, structured for over 50, 60 years of the Cold War, when — we aim for the North German plain, countering that armoured thrust in the Warsaw Pact — everything we've done in structure . . . was all designed for that fight . . .
Everything we're doing in transformation is designed to shape out our structrue, training, equipment, organization, leadership, how we approach things, how we work with people."
CANDID TALK ABOUT MISSIONS
"The Canadian Forces have actually been in a survival mode for the last decade and our ability since the Somalia affair — and that crystallized a whole bunch of other things — when our population, in the view of many soldiers and sailors and airmen and airwomen, disowned us, divorced themselves from us, led us into a situation where our survival was the only priority which we had.
So now we're out of that. And one of the aims is to make sure that never occurs again.
But I also throw the ball back in the other court. Canadians disowned their Canadian Forces in one respect back in the early to mid 1990s. And have never been engaged in the way they needed to shape it going forward. So it's a responsibility I throw back into normal Canadians' laps and say: 'It's your armed forces, you get engaged.'
We do live in a very nice, luxurious, safe, stable, fat and easy country, right? It's easy to get myopic and navel-gazing and think the rest of the world is like us. We're part of 1 per cent of the world that's like this.
Canadians need to wake up to the fact that we are viewed by the rest of the world as luxurious, decadently so perhaps."
Hillier's right. We live in luxury compared to the vast majority of people in this world. It's bound to distort the realities of what others have to face day in and day out in their lives. Who are we to sit back and be judgemental without an awareness of the realities beyond our backyard? Who are we to turn away from certain areas in this world that need our attention and assistance when it doesn't fit into the Pearsonian view we still have about peacekeeping? And more importantly, when are we going to turn a corner and start supporting the good work our troops are doing in various hot spots around the world?
It's time to listen up. It's time to support our troops and be proud of the fact that we have the privileges in this country to be able to take the lead insightfully and respectfully instead of harbouring negativity and allowing the media to ask stupid questions about an outdated view of peacekeeping and our role in the world. It's time to wake up to the realities that millions of people in war ravaged impoverished countries have to face every day and know that we have the capacity and ability to make a difference. It starts with supporting our own.