Every Canadian with an opinion about our role in Afghanistan, and every Canadian without an opinion, too, should read the report of John Manley's independent panel, which was made public yesterday.
The main part of the document, 30-some pages in clear language, makes a calmly convincing argument for something most Canadians are against.
The former Liberal deputy prime minister and his four colleagues have done the country an immense service in spelling out what's at stake in a way that lifts the issue out of the swamp of partisan scheming. The Manley panel got it right, and Parliament should act accordingly.
The key proposal is that Canada should continue our combat role in Kandahar province - provided that one or more of our NATO allies add 1,000 troops to our 2,500 or so - this in addition to a recent promise of 2,200 U.S. Marines for combat across the south of the country. And, the panel said, we need modern helicopters and surveillance drones, and soon, if we are to stay and be effective.
This balances duty with realism. The panel says Canada, as a rich country, a member of the United Nations and NATO, and a potential target for terrorism hatched in failed states, has a responsibility to be in Afghanistan - which, we are told, has a gross domestic product per capita only half as big as Haiti's. And the world's efforts are helping, we are reminded: Since 2002, per capita incomes have doubled, school enrolment has tripled, 5 million refugees have returned, child mortality is down ...
But Canada can't do the impossible, the report says. If some NATO members won't pull their weight, we will have to give up the fight against the fanatics and bandits in Kandahar, and that will likely happen before the growing, improving Afghan army can take over. Such an international retreat could "condemn the Afghan people to a new and bloody cycle of civil war and misrule."
But if we are to stay past the Parliament-mandated but arbitrary deadline in 13 months, the panel says, some things ought to change. NATO partners need better co-ordination and joint planning, and better bench-marking and measurement of progress, both military and civilian. There is also a sharp rebuke for the Canadian civilian role. Who knew there were only 48 Canadian government civilians in the whole country? Canada's foreign-aid agency comes in for particular criticism.
The Manley group also calls on Stephen Harper to get more involved. This might surprise many Canadians who see Afghanistan as the PM's personal issue, but the panel wants Harper to pay personal attention to three things: selling other NATO leaders, face to face, on providing those new combat troops; streamlining bureaucracy at home to make aid efforts more robust; and explaining better to the Canadian people what this is all about.
In all of this, Manley and his colleagues have done a fine job in clarifying the issue and exploring what lies ahead. This is a report worth reading - and heeding.
The report is available in both English and French at