Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Remembering Sergio and all the others

Today marks the fifth aniversary of the murder of Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 other internationals in Baghdad - a castrophe that doomed the United Nations' efforts to supplant the Anglo-American mission in Iraq with a multilateral, UN-led operation.

Today's anniversary comes hard on the heels of last week's Taliban slaughter of humanitarian aid workers Shirley Case, Nicole Dial, Jackie Kirk and Mohammad Aimal. Also today, a suicide bomber slaughtered at least 43 people, mostly young police recruits, in Algeria, where Al Qaeda in the Magreb has massacred more than 170 people over the past 18 months, including the suicide-bomb murder of 17 UN staff at the UN offices in Algiers. Last month, Osman Ali Ahmed, the head of the UN Development Program in Somalia, was murdered as he was leaving a mosque in Mogadishu. And only yesterday, also in Somalia, extremists killed Abdulkadir Diad Mohamed, a senior official with the UN's World Food Program, which is trying to get food to 2.4 million Somalis over the next four months.

After what happened in Baghdad five years ago, and after all the carnage that has claimed the lives of so many humanitarians and innocent civilians ever since, you'd think that one good thing that might have come from all this is the death of a certain kind of delusion. You'd think that it would fairly evident by now that there are some kinds of enemies who will want to kill you no matter whether you're wearing a blue helmet or a brown one, or whether you're just a brave, unarmed woman, trying to help disabled children get an education.

You'd think it would be clear by now that enemies of this kind will want to kill you whether you are an infidel or not, and whether you are a foreigner or not: Case, Kirk, Dial and Aimal were working for the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan, where all but 10 of the IRC's 600 workers are Afghans, and Muslims.

But the delusion persists, as is most vividly demonstrated by the likes of NDP rising star Michael Byers: "In Afghanistan, it's time to move from a combat-oriented approach to one that focuses on negotiation, peacemaking and nation-building. . . It's time to move NATO troops out, and UN peacekeepers in." And this: "NATO troops should be replaced with UN peacekeepers."

And from NDP leader Jack Layton himself: "The first thing is to make clear that we are taking our troops out. No one takes you seriously unless you're willing to take that step."

In fact, the reason nobody takes the NDP seriously on these questions is precisely because its so-called "anti-war" position is delusional. Nevermind that "NATO Out, UN In" ignores the fact that NATO, leading the International Security Assistance Force, is in Afghanistan at the behest of the UN, and nevermind that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, reflecting on the savagery of the Taliban, says this: "Almost more dismaying is the response of some outside Afghanistan, who react by calling for a disengagement or the full withdrawal of international forces. This would be a misjudgment of historic proportions - the repetition of a mistake that has already had terrible consequences."

Remembering Sergio de Mello in the New York Times today, Samantha Power necessarily points out the obvious: "We cannot return to a pre-8/19 world any more than we can return to a pre-9/11 one. Neither the blue flag nor the red cross is enough to protect humanitarians in an age of terror."

You need soldiers, in other words. Even if the NDP is sincerely and honestly ignorant of that fact and of so many other plain facts of recent history, the vast majority of the Afghan people are not, as the journalist-humanitarian Sarak Chayes, writing from Kandahar, patiently explains to readers of the Globe and Mail last week. The enemy we're up against will hang a 16-year old boy for the crime of working as an apprentice to a driver of a truck that carries humanitarian wheat to Kandahar, for starters. "The Afghans do not support this so-called insurgency. They are its primary targets, Chayes writes.

"Neither the forces fighting the Afghan government, nor ordinary people, make any distinction between international humanitarian workers, the Afghan government, and international military forces. All are seen as part of the same system," Chayes writes. "The vast majority of regular folk desire the presence of these interlocking groups. Anti-government forces, however, are just as hostile to aid workers as they are to soldiers or government officials. The only place as dangerous to be as a NATO military convoy is a clearly marked humanitarian vehicle."

Why, then, does the delusion persist?

In a recent interview, Democratiya editor Alan Johnson put the question to Paul Berman, in this way: "Why do liberals insist on treating pathological mass movements as normal rational political movements with grievances that can be negotiated?"

Read Berman's answer to that and other questions here.


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