Chris Alexander: The Best of the Best in Afghanistan

September 28th, 2009 at 10:09 am | No Comments |

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On September 29th, cure Chris Alexander is expected to be confirmed as the Tory candidate for the Ajax-Pickering electoral district in the next Canadian federal election.

Alexander, now 41, was appointed Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan in 2003 at the tender age (for diplomats) of 34, after nearly a decade at the Canadian embassy in Moscow.

Most recently he’s been special envoy to Afghanistan for the UN secretary-general and is widely acclaimed as one the few realistic experts on Afghanistan.

As one who knows Alexander a little, and who has seen his effect in Afghanistan and the Canadian troops, my initial reaction on hearing he intended to run for Parliament was: Lucky Ajax-Pickering.

No matter what party he was representing – I’d vote for him. He is his own man. Unlike many diplomats, he has a proven record of being unfazed by crises. There aren’t many out there like Chris Alexander. His potential is unlimited.

Arguably, Alexander is the most knowledgeable person in Canada (and possibly the U.S.) about Afghanistan, and what it will take to leave that country with reasonable prospects for peace, security, and maybe even a bit of prosperity.

I was in Afghanistan for its first “free” election in 2004, when the predominant prediction of the outside world was that it’d be a disaster, with no clear winner for president, with voters too intimidated to go to the polls, with women afraid to vote, with Taliban violence and bombs disrupting the occasion.

It didn’t turn out that way. In fact Afghans relished their first exposure to democracy, and while incidents of corruption and violence occurred, the election was considered a huge success simply because it happened.

One who accurately anticipated the outcome was Chris Alexander whose reputation was one of going out among Afghans to see for himself and not being intimidated, of possessing a cheerful, knowledgeable, disarming demeanor.

Afghans trusted him – and Afghans don’t give their trust casually.

Canada has never had an ambassador quite like Alexander. For a decade, he cut his diplomatic teeth at the embassy in Moscow, and seems incapable of pomposity or panic. For relaxation in Kabul he liked to mix with Canadians at Camp Julien where he competed in sports, ran marathons and earned the mutual respect of soldiers.

Amid gloom and doom being generated about Afghanistan today, because of increased Taliban violence, Alexander’s is a voice of reason, realism and maybe a touch of optimism. Tactfully, he speaks his mind; unconcerned if his views differ from the conventional.

Even in the days of excessive optimism about Afghanistan, he didn’t join the chorus, ever recognizing the pitfalls of that curious, intriguing, magical country and its varied people.

Alexander swims against the tide of those who deplore Afghanistan as a war that “cannot be won.” He doesn’t see it as hopeless, and has always warned that peace and security cannot survive unless there are soldiers there ready to protect reconstruction. Like General Stanley McChrystal, he is wary of deadlines for withdrawing our troops.

Like most of our soldiers (as opposed to politicians and media), Alexander doesn’t see Afghanistan as a wasted effort. The eventual solution to the Taliban has to be an effective Afghan army and police, combined with sensible aid and patience.

Canada always has need of people like Chris Alexander. One hopes he succeeds in Ajax-Pickering, en route to someday being foreign minister.

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