Monday, November 08, 2010


Most of us are probably aware of this by now:
Well-placed sources have told The Canadian Press they expect Prime Minister Stephen Harper to make a decision soon on a proposal that would send up to 600 troops to Kabul to continue NATO training efforts. The Canadian personnel would not be involved in combat operations.
"Regardless of Afghanistan, Canada has an obligation to NATO," said one of the sources, adding it would be "inconceivable that the prime minister would not take that into consideration."
So the unamed source seems to suggest that for the Harper government, being in Afghanistan isn't really about Afghanistan anymore. 
It's now about maintaining some political obligation to NATO, which really translates into supporting the Americans. 
If the Americans said they were leaving tomorrow, we'd be queuing up our C-17s with theirs at Kandahar airfield. They have 65% of the 120 000 odd foreign troops in the country, and there's no way anyone would stick around that place without them. Yes, the rationales may shift and change from bin Ladin (hint: that's why we first went there) to state building and Taliban fighting, but ultimately those rationales are built around the US presence. If we and NATO really meant our committment to Afghanistan we'd be pleading with the US to keep it up. Instead, they are often the ones begging us.
It's fundamentally a US war and they need NATO for cover because it looks really bad if it's just them repeating the Russian error but with added Laos Cambodia Pakistan. With NATO, the risk is shared even though it isn't Czech or Dutch armed drones flying over Pakistan now and adding recruits to the Taliban when they kill nine civilians for every enemy or whatever the figures are now. If we leave, it might well be that other countries start making for the exit too and we'd boil the conflict down to its essentials.
It might pay now to hear Col. Pat Stogran's comments from the weekend:
He said ordinary citizens and political leaders should think seriously about how and when they commit soldiers to war and ask themselves why Canada was in Afghanistan in the first place. "We've paid a high price in terms of human sacrifice and is it all for naught?" Stogran said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.
Stogran, who commanded the country's first battle group in Kandahar in 2002, said if the country has lost the will to fight, it should fold up the tents and not wait until the spring because any deaths from here on would be in vain.
"Let's pull out now. Why should we have one more person die if we're not committed to the long-term?
On one hand we can say it's about rebuilding and helping or sorting out the Taliban and all that, and that works to a point at the individual or national cultural level. Canadians like that sort of rationale and being who we are, it fits with our big narratives of identity.

But these wholesome justifications cannot at the end of the day be easily seperated from the bigger picture rationales and issues, uncomfortable facts that they may be. 

And that's the hard part.

If the Prime Minister is now saying the rationale for being there is some NATO committment, his bilious government needs to be taken to task over it and asked to explain why this means Canadians must be maimed and killed. "Honey, I'm missing my legs and my brain is fucked from blast concussion because the Prime Minister felt that we were obligated to NATO, and NATO was obligated to the US, and the US SecDef would be cross with him if we suggested otherwise," just doesn't cut it, does it?

The big hairy pachyderm in the room is this question of meaning. We're flailing about for clear rationales for what some of us witnessed and participated in, and many of us have supported.

For the eye witnesses, there will be life-long question marks and nightmares. Others will come to some sort of terms with it. The veterans and the Canadian Forces as an institution will take some serious time to process the past nine years. Many members have two or three combat tours over there and Afghanistan will dominate the culture and the discourse within the army especially for some time to come. These are the most affected and I sincerely hope that they may all come to peaceable terms with what they've witnessed.

The public, well, it is our duty to hold Harper and his House of horrors to account. Because they'll do it again if they get the chance. And again. And again. (Iran? Israel's next war?) They'll trot out the line about their political opposition hating the troops, but they've burnt that card, as we've seen this week.

Part of this generation's maturation as a society is to be able to acknowledge our faults and failings and learn from them. After World War One  that generation tried and ultimately failed to put in place mechanisms that would avoid the political prick measuring that led to that muddy slaughter. After the Second, they tried very hard to strengthen international law and the venues for dialogue between states. It had plenty of faults, but we developed the institution of peacekeeping and managed to avoid nuking ourselves out of existence.

The generation of 11 September now has its marching orders. Here rests the meaning of Afghanistan.


Dana said...

Twenty-five to 40 years.

That was my original estimate of the time it would take to transform Afghanistan along the lines of what the tigers and hawks would prattle on about.

The financial cost I thought would probably be in the ten to 20 trillion dollar range. Building, staffing and protecting schools of various levels would be the lions share of that cost but things hospitals and modern infrastructure would be right up there too.

I think my timeline is probably optimistic now. Cost too probably. We, by which I mean the west generally, have now made too many errors and killed too many innocents. Its bad enough when every warrior you kill generates a family worth of people sworn to avenge the killing but when you kill innocents you radicalize entire tribes.

The other thing that'll force the west to stay and keep bleeding is that Communism was supposed to fail. Capitalism is supposed to succeed. If capitalism admits defeat in Af'stan than capitalism is no better than communism and that can't be right, can it?

I'd guess that every major player in the New Great Game will eventually bankrupt themselves there. And China will own the world.

punditman said...
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punditman said...
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punditman said...

I will paraphrase Gwynne Dyer by saying that there is often more than one reason why a country goes to war. Unfortunately, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, the official ones do not stand up to scrutiny:

1. 9-11. Afghanistan did not attack New York City. In fact, fifteen of the nineteen highjackers were from Saudi Arabia. Ooops.

2. The Taliban harboured the 9-11 killers (al-Queda). Actually, only two of the nineteen hijackers had trained in Afghanistan. What's more, it is unclear whether or not the Taliban knew anything about the 9-11 attack plans. But there is evidence that they were prepared to hand bin Laden over but the U.S. declined the offer having decided to attack Afghanistan. In fact, on October 4, 2001, the Taliban agreed to turn bin Laden over to Pakistan for an international tribunal trial that operated according to Islamic Sharia law, but Pakistan blocked the offer as it was not possible to guarantee his safety. On October 7, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan offered to detain bin Laden and try him under Islamic law if the U.S. made a formal request and presented the Taliban with evidence. The Americans rejected the Taliban offer.

3. Bin Laden himself. So what happened? All that dead or alive stuff evaporated as quickly as he may well have at the Battle of Tora Bora (either into thin air or Pakistan). C'mon, hands up all who really believe that they couldn't nab him by now if they really set their minds to it? Or is he dead?

4. Helping the Afghans fight against the Taliban and a culture of misogyny. A rather dubious claim considering how many innocent women and children we kill in the process. Next...

4. Kissing USA butt. That is basically Harper's rationale. How many Canadians aside from Don Cherry actually accept this on merit? Perhaps they have not taken a close look at the first three reasons?

Or don't know about this one:

Oil Pipelines. As Dyer says, there's always more than one reason to go to war. U.S. corporations have long sought a natural gas pipeline to transport Caspian Sea area gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. This avoids going through Russia and Iran and is hugely important geo-strategically. Too bad the Masters of the Universe don't just come out and say that your son or daughter was killed to ensure profits for the Masters of the Universe.

Beijing York said...

"4. Helping the Afghans fight against the Taliban and a culture of misogyny. A rather dubious claim considering how many innocent women and children we kill in the process. Next..."

According to RAWA, the new crop of leaders are no better in term of the treatment of women. It's being under-reported by the media to keep the fig leaf of a pretense alive.