Thursday, May 03, 2007

Another Take On The Alibi Room Af'stan Debate

That's from an analysis Ian King has written about the Tyee panel debate on Afghanistan last Thursday. It's a fine account. There's also this:
". . .The most intense moment of the night was a standoff between Glavin and [Michael] Byers, ending with Byers telling Glavin that he’s no longer a socialist and that he’s left the left. 'You used to be cool' was the message from Byers to Glavin."
That's certainly what it must have sounded like, but what Ian didn't hear is that Byers wasn't telling me I was no longer a socialist. He was telling me I had gone "over to the dark side" because I have written critically about the New Democratic Party's incoherence on the question of Afghanistan.
That's what set me off, anyway. For two main reasons.
The first reason is I've tried to be generous to the NDP about this from the beginning, as in this column fom last March:
The good news in all of this is that the job of NDP defence critic has fallen to Dawn Black, the eminently capable and progressive New Westminster MP who regained the riding in the January 23 election. In an interview, Black, who has worked in democracy-training efforts in Bosnia and Cambodia, agreed that the NDP's position on Afghanistan is still evolving. But she was clear on this much: "I think there is a real role for Canada to play and that Canada is playing."
And this column, about a particularly brave NDP candidate, Randall Garrison, who agrees with me that the NDP has been rather less than coherent in its Afghanistan policy:
Garrison believes in things that any self-respecting social democrat would be proud to believe in. And he's not afraid to do the heavy lifting that comes with those beliefs. . . Garrison is a new and different sort of New Democrat. He isn't afraid to say this: 'An independent foreign policy requires a strong military.' He isn't afraid to say this: 'People who serve in the Canadian Forces are ordinary people, and the left has distanced itself from people who do that service. We disdain that service, and we should not' And he's also unafraid to say this: 'You know, if you were a woman or a gay person, what happened in Afghanistan wasn't a war of occupation. It was a liberation.'
So there's all that, but the second big reason for the standoff was that Byers chose to assume an insulting and dangerously naive position, which is that it's traitorous to be concerned enough about the NDP's drift from its core anti-fascist and socialist roots to write about it - but more importantly, because it betrays a crippling incapacity on the part of Canada's self-proclaimed left to even recognize the really dark side on these questions.
Byers' testiness with me had begun only a few minutes earlier when he took as an insult what I had intended as a compliment. I told the audience that I was optimistic about the NDP because it was fortunate enough to have acquired Byers as a senior adviser. He snapped back at me, and said I was bringing "partisan politics" into the debate. And on that point, it may be that I was being the tiniest bit naive.
I had no idea that around the same time as the Afghanistan panel, Byers' association with the NDP was becoming a topic of public debate and scrutiny. And it's not letting up.
As for me, I've said my piece. For a synopsis of what I had to say at the Alibi Room debates, read this. And then start paying attention to Lauryn Oates and Jared Ferrie.
AND FOR ANOTHER THING: Read this essay from last summer by my fellow Eustonard Morton Weinfeld, in the Ottawa Citizen (Will The Real Left Please Stand Up?) It captures the dilemma precisely.


Blogger Ellis said...

In terms of optimism and the NDP:

I too feel optimistic about the future of the Party. I was a card carrying member for years until the Afghanistan issue made me tear up my card in disgust and disappointment. However, after several discussions with my peers, who were actually not NDPers themseleves, I realized that running away wasn't the answer. I have since rejoined and have become more involved at my riding association here in Montreal. While my views on foreign policy are not shared by the majority, I am pleased to say that I am not alone and that opposition has been reasonable, polite, and intelligent. With this kind of open debate, I am convinced that NDP can be salvaged from its postmodern and pacifist quagmire. I hope that there are enough of us to steer the party back to its roots.

By the way, I have been reading your blog for some time now, Terry, and I really think its superb.


12:54 PM  
Blogger Blazing Cat Fur said...

Good post Terry, keep up the heat but I fear that the NDP has swung too far to wherever it currently resides to be reclaimed any time soon.

4:17 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Thanks Ellis and Cat.

My hope would be that it is still possible to develop a robust, ambitious, bold and progressive foreign policy and military policy in Canada that enjoys broad, public and multi-party consensus. That's the kind of optimist I am. If that's shooting for the stars, it's still something that might hit the moon.

5:38 PM  
Blogger dirk604 said...

I don't know what the big deal is.So what if the NDP got off to a "confusing" start.All sides in the debate have changed their positions.
The Afghan situation is a very difficult issue.
People are dying,Canadian kids are dying.
The history of Afghanistan does not make it easy for one to have much faith in the likelihood of this latest intervention succeeding.
There are very creditable reasons for doubt and questioning.
Questions that have yet to be adequately explored or answered.
The action of Pakistan for instance,are not being addressed.
What chance is there of success if the Taliban can escape across the border only to reappear some where else.This was also pointed out by Farie,who also added that the Pakistan problem has the ability or potential to affect the outcome.
What of the many many Afghan recruits who fight with the Taliban due to the fact the Taliban are the only ones offering them a "wage" or means of being able to feed their families.Also pointed out at the debate by Farie,there are two Taliban,the hardcore and those just looking for a means of subsistence.
Despite 5 years,the over whelming use of monies spent have been on the military part of the mission.
Where is the reconstruction?
Why can 't or won't the government show how much is being spent on reconstruction?Indeed,on exactly what has been accomplished.
These are all valid concerns,I believe it is quite reasonable for many to have doubts about our participation.

Due to the history of Afghanistan and the region,the way the mission is being handled,the lack of participation by the other members of NATO,the makeup of the Afghan government etc, etc...

6:03 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

By the way, Ellis: For NDP members who are Euston Manifesto signatories, and who favour of a ramped up effort in Afghanistan, see:

Dirk: "The history of Afghanistan does not make it easy for one to have much faith in the likelihood of this latest intervention succeeding."

Actually, the history of the past five years alone makes it very, very easy to believe - because of a mountain of overwhelming evidence - that "this latest intervention" has succeeded, is succeeding, and will succeed (so long as we keep at it) in bringing about enormous changes to the great benefit of the majority of the people of Afghanistan, especially the women and girls of Afghanistan.

I think you owe yourself better than to compare the NATO/ISAF mission to imperialist expeditions in Afghanistan of bygone days. We are not engaged in an imperialist venture. We are not an invading power. We are not an army of occupation.

We have a long way to go and much to do. Agreed.

You're right, NATO/ISAF will have to deal with Pakistan - or more specifically, the Pashtoon and tribal belt. This is why we should be consulting with the Pakhtunkwa.

You raise valid concerns. I could add more of my own. The point is they don't add up to "withdraw," and it's no use raising these concerns at all unless they're intended for a constructive contribution to an improved, more effective and more efficient discharge of our duty to the Afghan people, for whom Canadians have already given their lives and shed much blood.

10:14 PM  
Blogger dirk604 said...

I was not comparing this "intervention" with any other,but I can see how you might make that interpretation(I should have used quotes around intervention).
But I can not help but have doubts about the likelihood of success.
I hope I am wrong,just for the sake of all those Cnd families who have lost sons and daughters.So as their deaths would not have been in vain.
It would be great if this mission succeeds.Not only for the people of Afghanistan but also for Canada's reputation.
But like I said I have doubts many many doubts.
Malalai Joya MP in the Afghan Parliament,seems to have a very critical outlook on the progress as well as serious doubts if the government is even capable of democracy.Given the makeup of the government,and past history...

1:18 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Dirk: "It would be great if this mission succeeds."

What do you mean by "succeeds"? Seriously. What is your definition of "success"?

I've already pointed to volumes of evidence to support the case that we have already succeeded, and we continue to succeed. And although we have much yet to win, we on the "left" in Canada will remain mired in incoherence so long as we continue to tolerate reactionary and counter-revolutionary politics tarted up in a self-righteous "anti-war" cloak. We should keep our focus on what's best for Afghanistan, and there's nothing progressive or left-wing about the "troops out" position. Nothing.

And while you're considering what your definition of "success" in Afghanistan is, keep in mind what Jennifer Jackman of the Feminist Majority has pointed out: "This is a place where giving a girl a book and a pencil is revolutionary."

Yours for books and pencils,


8:13 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

PS I'll be on "The World Tonight" (CHQR Calgary) with Rob Breakinridge , shortly after 7, to talk about these and related issues.

12:18 PM  
Blogger dirk604 said...

Success will be achieved when Canada and NATO pulls out and the Afghan people stand on their own two feet,defending what they value.
As long as NATO and Canada are doing all the fighting and pumping in billions how can one possible talk about success.
I just do not think Canada or NATO will stay for the time "needed".It seems to me the Taliban is stronger and getting stronger.
Anyway only time will tell...
In the meantime I will have to defer to people like,Malalai Joya (MP in the Afghan Parliament)for example.
She is in the thick of it,she has access to more info than any reporter,she is Afghan,she speaks the language,she understands her people,her country
This does not mean I want to see the Taliban "win",nor that I hate the west.
Do I have doubts for sure,do I distrust some Western government for sure,do I believe I have all the answers no,but I believe I have more than enough "info" that makes my doubts,a very reasonable position.
I take no joy in war or the death of kids.Nor do I have much faith in military solutions in regards to Afghanistan's many problems.
Why is info on reconstruction so hard to come by?why can not the government point to one major project of reconstruction?why is the vast majority of monies being spent on the military part of the mission?
Why do so many other Afghans,thats Afghans,paint a quite different picture?
but again only time will tell...

3:21 PM  
Blogger dirk604 said...

In the meantime good luck on your secret mission.


3:22 PM  

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