Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mayhem On Feroshgah Street: More 'Propaganda Of The Deed' From The Taliban

This was the scene I came upon this morning at the Ministry of Information and Culture headquarters here in Kabul. I took this photograph about an hour after the bombing, and it was still a madhouse.

Local radio initially reported that five workers and a police officer were killed after two suicide bombers charged the building, shot the cop, and burst their way inside. One of the bombers detonated his vest, but the other was shot, and was arrested and hauled off. An hour or so later, reports were that three were dead. Last I checked, it's one dead, and several injured. I'd be surprised if the toll stays that low, because it was one hell of a blast (although this report looks reliable). UPDATE: Looks like the initial reports were right. Five innocents dead.

At the time of the bombing I was a few minutes away, having tea with Fatana Gilani, head of the Afghanistan Women's Council. Gilani was trying to contain her fury about the ticking of the Afghanistan sell-out clock, which will likely inch a few seconds closer to midnight because of today's blast.

The ticking is commonly accompanied by the tinkling sounds of revisionist sanctimonium, amplified by half-assed journalism. Gilani's first point was that it is a good thing that Canada has long supported Afghan efforts at reconciliation, and last June (Mr. Layton should take note), Canada identified an "Afghan-led, internationally supported reconciliation process" as one of the six strategic objectives Canadian efforts will concentrate on.

Gilani's main point: The recent hullabaloo about the prospects for truce talks with the Taliban should be understood as a harbinger of something horrible, and no friend of the Afghan people should be happy with it. Foreign powers cannot be trusted to "negotiate" with the Taliban, and neither can President Karzai, who's been pleading for talks ever since he was elected. The Afghan people have been abandoned before, and quite enough thugs and gangsters have been accommodated by backroom deals in recent years. If there's any talking to do, it should be led by the masses of the Afghan people, she said, with a strong phalanx of Afghan women at the helm.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Down and Out With Mahboob Shah and His People: There Are No Foreigners Here

KABUL -Here's a photo of some the people I was hanging out with yesterday. And here's the sort of story everyone else in the world has been reading about this city. Apparently, it's "as dangerous as Baghdad at its worst."

There are more than four million people in Kabul - nobody knows for sure. I've been rambling around the backstreets for several days now, buying apples and bananas at the bazaars, getting invited in for tea in mud houses and collapsed buildings and old tarp-and-canvas hovels, and filling up my notebooks.

The poverty here is absolutely savage. But for a foreigner like me, it's much safer to be visiting among the poor of this city than it is to be rolling around in a swish Toyota in the swanker parts of town, with armed guards.

Funny, that. Works the same way, all over the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On Maranjan Hill

Spent the morning at an orphanage and the afternoon at a women's collective, and Shujah-jan thought Lauryn Oates and I might like a look-see from up here, near the tomb of King Zahir Shah, overlooking Kabul, where we met these wee ones. The hillsides are honeycombed with holes from excavated landmines, but Maranjan affords a breathtaking view of the city, and it's a place where Kabulis come in droves on weekends, to fly kites.

It's been full-bore since I arrived, roaring around town, down dusty, rock-strewn alleys. The city's all armed compounds and fortresses, shell-pocked ruins, razor wire and blast walls, teeming bazaars and beggars, soldiers and security platoons and AK47s as ubiquitous as donkey carts and bicycles. The place is seething with warm and generous and hospitable people.

I'll check in when I can.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why Nir Rosen Isn't To Be Trusted

One of the most sensational installments in the Afghanistan Sell-Out series that has flooded the pages of western newspapers and magazines over the past few weeks is Nir Rosen's new Rolling Stone essay, to which the usual "anti-war" windbags have flocked like blackflies to carrion.

In the hands of a decent editor and rewrite specialist, Rosen's raw notes might have been useful for the purposes of constructing a fairly vivid picture of the banditry, mercenary violence and internecine gang warfare that is enveloping in the Afghan province of Ghazni. But there's nothing newsworthy about that, and as analytical journalism informed by the facts, Rosen's essay fails utterly.

Worse, it serves no purpose beyond the propaganda his Taliban hosts intended. Rosen's conclusions are exactly what the Taliban want you to believe about Afghanistan's prospects: "The Islamic Emirate wants to make it clear that the only solution and the most successful path for resolving the Afghanistan problem is for the foreign forces to leave Afghanistan unconditionally and to respect Afghanistan's national independence and Islamic faith." Can''t tell whether that's Rosen or the Taliban talking? Don't be hard on yourself. They're saying the same thing.

In his zeal to cast the whole story as a case of western imperialist villainy, Rosen can't even get his basic facts right: "This year, according to the United Nations, 1,445 Afghan civilians were killed by coalition forces through August — two-thirds of them in airstrikes."

In fact, the UN blames most of those deaths (800 people) on the Taliban and other insurgent groups, almost double the number these gangsters killed in the first seven months of last year. The UN attributes the remainder of the civilian death toll to Afghan soldiers, coalition ground forces, airstrikes, and undetermined "crossfire" mortalities. This calculation does not take into account the 700-or-so Afghan police officers murdered by "insurgents" in the first few months of 2008, either.

Despite what you might have heard, the Taliban are actually just engaged in a "battle against the American invaders and their allies in the Afghan security forces." It's all George Bush's fault, of course. If it wasn't for George Bush, the Taliban would have remained "an isolated and impoverished group of religious students who knew little about the rest of the world and cared only about liberating their country from oppressive warlords." What got the Taliban into such trouble was their impeccably gracious manners. It was "the Pashtun code of hospitality" that prevented them from turning over Osama bin Laden to the Americans after September 11.

Sure, the Taliban were bad, but they're not so bad now, Rosen writes. They're "prepared to move forward with a greater degree of flexibility and pragmatism than they have shown in the past." They are "not as doctrinaire as they were during their seven years of rule." Hell, "the Taliban have grown more tolerant."

Well then. Let's just get on with an "exit strategy," then, shall we?

Believe Rosen all you want. The last time he got his 15 minutes of fame, it was for this: “Iraq Does Not Exist Anymore: How the U.S. Invasion of Iraq Has Led to Ethnic Cleansing, a Worsening Refugee Crisis and the Destabilization of the Middle East." He's also the author of “In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq.”

That's some triumph you've got there, comrade. It seems Iraq does exist, after all.

In today's Globe: The Mystery of the Vanishing Bees

What I'm on about:

The calamity has been blamed on globalization, pollution, pesticides, crop monoculture, UFOs, viruses, mites, bacteria, global warming and a fungus. Most beekeepers blame the pesticide Imidacloprid, but hardly any scientists do. There are even some oddball Christians who say it's a sign of the end times, foretold in Revelations.

The French call it Mad Bee Disease. It's commonly called Colony Collapse Disorder, and it's not even certain when or where the trouble began.

I'll be doing some vanishing of my own tonight. By next Tuesday I hope to be shaking off the jet lag in digs just down the street from this place, and then who knows where.

I'll post from time to time.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

McCain hires Joe the Plumber, Obama admits to having huge ears.

“There was a point in my life when I started palling around with a pretty ugly crowd, I’ve got to be honest. These guys were serious deadbeats; they were lowlifes; they were unrepentant no-good punks. That’s right: I’ve been a member of theUnited States Senate."

- Barack Obama.

"Even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats, I can’t shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me. . . I’m delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary.”

- John McCain.

Badda-bing, tish.

Meanwhile, it turns out Joe the Plumber isn't a plumber after all: “I’m kind of like Britney Spears having a headache.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In This Month's Seed Magazine: "In Defence of Difference"

In Seed Magazine ("Science is Culture"), Maywa Montenegro and I survey an emerging paradigm that defies the "environmentalist" bifurcations of nature and culture, the wild and the tamed, artificial selection and natural selection, the town and the country, and so on. Our essay, In Defence of Difference, situates biological diversity within the same realm as diversity of the cultural and linguistic sort, and presents the case for protecting and defending both.

Once you come around to this way of thinking, what you find is that all these things are related:

This past January, at the St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska, friends and relatives gathered to bid their last farewell to Marie Smith Jones, a beloved matriarch of her community. At 89 years old, she was the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language. In May 2007 a cavalry of the Janjaweed - the notorious Sudanese militia responsible for the ongoing genocide of the indigenous people of Darfur - made its way across the border into neighboring Chad. They were hunting for 1.5 tons of confiscated ivory, worth nearly $1.5 million, locked in a storeroom in Zakouma National Park. Around the same time, a wave of mysterious frog disappearances that had been confounding herpetologists worldwide spread to the US Pacific Northwest. It was soon discovered that Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a deadly fungus native to southern Africa, had found its way via such routes as the overseas trade in frog's legs to Central America, South America, Australia, and now the United States. One year later, food riots broke out across the island nation of Haiti, leaving at least five people dead; as food prices soared, similar violence erupted in Mexico, Bangladesh, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia.

You could say that the culprit animating these catastrophes is globalization, but that would be oversimplifying things. Lines of cause and effect run in several different directions, and neither global human progress nor universal values need be impaired or circumscribed in order to maintain ecological functioning and protect defensible cultural traditions. The emerging field of resilience theory, based solidly in the methodologies of empiricism, offers voluminous evidence that demonstrates why this is so.

It's all here. The central idea was also the subject of my most recent book.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Fork In The Road Ahead

It's done. The absurdities of Canada's antiquated electoral system aside, the Bloc went nowhere, the Greens went nowhere, the New Democratic Party went nowhere (okay, a dismal two-per-cent [correction - less than one per cent] gain in the popular vote over 2006 - wow), so it's up to the Liberals to make their move:

Merge with or pillage the NDP:

I believe very strongly, as do a majority in the House of Commons, that we should do as we did during the Vietnam War. - Bob Rae, September, 2008.

Marginalize and scatter the NDP:

. . . you also have to remember that the most bitter fights in modern politics are actually between liberals and anybody to the left.

- Michael Ignatieff, August, 2006.

The NDP and the Greens have only one important question to confront: Do you want to be beautiful losers, or do you believe the things you say sincerely enough to actually want to win?

A coalition might work, but better for everyone (including Conservatives) would be to rejuvenate the movement to scrap the first past the post system, and replace it with, say, a single transferable vote system, like they have in proper democracies.

The Disgruntled Worker Ant

From the Canadian Wilderness Bureau:

For more about the disgruntled worker ant, see Andrew Struthers, First Church of Christ, Filmmaker.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Exterminate Jew Power"

As election-day draws closer in both Canada and Americaland, a certain amount of scraping at the bottom of barrels is bound to happen, but my heart really goes out to the Yanks on this one.

Last night, Fox News pundoid Sean Hannity, in a delirium of Obama-Is-Like-Way-Too-Scary fever, scraped the barrel bottom clear through and down beyond the topsoil to the bedrock sewer-pipe lunacy of rumour-monger and professional litigant Andrew Martin, a guy who's afraid of "crooked, slimy Jew" judges, and who once ran on a slogan of eliminating "Jew power" from Americaland. No kidding.

Sweet Holy Weeping Blessed Virgin Mother of Baby Damn Jesus but will these batshit crazy bastards ever just calm the hell down?

Meanwhile, who has the Macmillan USA Encyclopedia commissioned to write its entry on Zionism? Our comrade Ben Cohen points out that they picked Israel-hating, Israel-Shamir-admiring, lunatic-ideas-having Noel Ignatiev, that's who. For an encyclopedia, no less. Lost their damn minds, is what.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

In The Vancouver Sun: All The Fishes In The Sea

For all our smugness on environmental issues, we Canadians have looted almost every source of renewable marine protein we were blessed with when we came together as a country in 1867.

This has been the case from the vast diversity and abundance of Pacific salmon runs to the once-spectacular wealth engine of the North Atlantic cod fishery. We like to blame foreign fleets, but it was Canada that killed the cod, which for nearly five centuries supported the largest pelagic fishery in human history.

That's what I'm on about today. Four books that help explain the fine kettle of fish we're in.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rick Salutin: Urbane, Sophisticated, Genteel, Vacuous, Wrong.

Slippery, too, so much so that one does not know quite where to start. But it's where it ends up, in Salutin's subtle, fashionably passive-aggressive way, that matters: The Conservatives are engaged in a dark plot to underfund and undermine Canada's "beloved social programs" by blowing the treasury on military spending, "a superb way to tilt an economy away from social goals."

If you can think of a better example of the addled, bourgeois, sanctimonious rot that has eaten away at the intellectual life of the Canadian "left," by all means, send in your suggestions.

The rot spreads, I am now convinced, owing to the substitution of what used to be called "class analysis" with a form of ideology that regards the illusion of relative power as the only criterion upon which to choose sides ("We now identify with the big guys, against the little scumbags," Salutin laments), and which rests entirely and completely on the unexamined presumption that facts simply don't matter.

Thus unhinged from the hard ground of objective reality, you should not expect that anyone among the legions of activists, aesthetes and pseudo-intellectuals that constitute Salutin's peers will be bothered in the slightest that he can get away with this libel against the Afghan people: "Sixty per cent want foreign troops out."

For a dozen Afghan public opinion polls, focus group surveys and analyses that demonstrate the disgraceful depths of that persistent lie, see the appendix to this document. The most recent Environics poll (pdf) shows that 43 per cent of Afghans want foreign troops to remain in their country "however long it takes" to defeat the Taliban and restore order, 15 per cent want foreign troops to remain for three to five years, 12 per cent say two years, and 11 per cent said another year should do the trick.

In sum, the Afghans who support the presence of foreign troops (which, in another deliberate distortion, Salutin calls "the Afghan occupation") outnumber those who don't by about five to one.

As for his obligatory utterance of that other comforting lie ("Social progress has been minimal") that Canada's misnamed "anti-war" crowd ritually repeats to itself, over and over and over, here's how untrue that is, just in Kandahar, where progress has been slower than anywhere else in the country.

Meanwhile, as Salutin enjoys every benefit that the comfortable sinecure the Conservative-supporting Globe and Mail affords him, the little scumbags that he so fervently wishes Canada would not be so beastly about are redoubling their efforts to deny the Afghan masses the right to elect their own leaders:

Afghanistan began registering voters Monday for next year's presidential polls, an election likely to be the most dangerous and challenging since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.

Sorry, Rick, but you really should be more careful. Sooner or later, the people will win.

FURTHER to the point I've been making (here and here, for instance) about the delusions necessary to sustain both the "politics" and the "journalism" Salutin typifies, Rosie DiManno notices: "There's really no excuse, in these days of instant reporting verification, to misquote or misrepresent a quote. Unless, of course, the intention is to manipulate and deceive."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Journalists So Daft They Are Incapable Of Noticing Their Own Impenetrable Daftness

Of all the non-news idiocies of the federal election campaign so far, this gets first prize with bells and ribbons.

The Star: WINNIPEG–Conservative leader Stephen Harper emerged shortly after a broadcast interview aired showing Liberal leader Stéphane Dion struggling in English to grasp a simple economic question, suggesting his answers showed he was unfit to lead the country.

The CBC: Stephen Harper pounced on Stéphane Dion after an English-language interview in which he asked repeatedly for clarification on a question about the economy, saying it's a sign the Liberals don't have a plan.

Dion's supporters are coming to his defence, saying it's because Dion suffers from a "hearing problem," I see. But there's more than a hearing problem at work here, and it's not about a "simple economic question," and it's certainly not about Dion "struggling in English," either.

The problem begins with the journalist doing the interview, Steve Murphy, who struggles in his own native English to such a degree as to betray an inexcusable inadequacy to the task of basic competence in the construction of questions in plain language. And he's supposed to be an English-language journalist, remember.

Here's what Murphy asked: "If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?"

Now look at the horrible, tense-bent interrogative mess Murphy makes of that sentence. What the hell is it supposed to mean, for mercy's sake? Look at it closely: If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?"

Absent the subordinate clause, the idea is pretty straightforward, so it would have made some sense, sort of: What would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done? Chucking in that redundant hypothetical case, in a different tense form "If you were prime minister now" makes a dog's breakfast of the whole idea, and it's precisely what Dion has the decency to gently inquire about, trying to contain his frustration all the while. A less polite person might have asked: What in damn hell are you carrying on about, you stupid boy?

Now, the otherwise-sensible Norman Spector is spinning the take-two, can-we-try-again interregnum as something that would have constituted a breach of journalistic ethics had it not been broadcast, because it would have done Dion the favour of cutting him undeserved slack. In fact, the greater ethics breach here is CTV's decision to offer an unprofessional undertaking to Dion's staff ('we won't broadcast the mess') and then to renege on that undertaking (and we wonder why mainstream journalists aren't trusted), and then having the brass balls to publicly confess to this, as though CTV managers had suffered some last-minute crisis of conscience.

Further, the re-take itself ends up serving as an undeserved favour to Murphy and CTV - certainly not to Dion - because it allowed Murphy to try again, although he manages to screw things up even more (first, "What would you have already done" and then "If you were the prime minister during this time, already. . .") and it allowed one of Dion's aides to make an effort at translating the mercilessly butchered syntax of Murphy's attempt at a comprehensible question.

If you can watch this and not feel at least a twinge of sympathy for Dion's predicament here, you're either a partisan hack, or you're just cold, damn cold:

UPDATE: Andrew Coyne makes sense:

"That Dion was unable at first to offer an answer has nothing to do with any hearing problem, and I would judge is only marginally to do with English being his second language. It’s mostly a matter of over-thinking the question. So, okay, he has an embarrassing moment. Who cares? Why is this news? Show it bottom of the newscast, as a “whoops” story, maybe. But convening a panel of MPs to analyze it? Reading all sorts of deep significance into it? Lordy. . . it's hardly news."

UPDATE II: Warren Kinsella notices the important part:

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Owen & Eaves: "How the Left Is Killing Progressivism"

Confronted with parties whose politics, policies and priorities are perceived as out of touch and ineffective, many of our friends and colleagues have opted out. Few even vote.

But they are engaged. They start non-governmental organizations, work internationally, create social enterprises, start businesses or advocate outside of organized politics. Among our peers, the progressive spirit is strong, but progressive politics just does not resonate. How did this happen? The answer is surprising.

It is not a vast right-wing conspiracy that is killing progressivism. It is the left.

Taylor Owen and David Eaves have been doing some serious thinking. The result is in the Literary Review of Canada.

Make of it what you will, but their essay makes particular sense as a contribution to a conversation that has been unfolding for some time in such places as the Eustonian-toned Democratiya, and among our friends over at Platypus 1917 (On Zombies and Sectarians: The Left is Dead), and also, in a roundabout way, in the pages of Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can't Be Jammed, by Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath (see Soaked in the Blood of Jerry Garcia.)

It was via Potter I noticed it in the first place.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sooner Or Later.

What's done in the dark will brought to the light.

"I will continue to do what I can to help this individual maintain his sanity, but in my opinion we're working with borrowed time," an unidentified Navy brig official wrote of prisoner Yaser Esam Hamdi in 2002. In the case of Kahlah Al-Marri:

Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, was a legal resident studying for a master's degree in Illinois when he was arrested in December 2001 by the FBI as a material witness to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was charged with credit card fraud in 2002. A month before his trial in 2003, President Bush declared him an enemy combatant and al-Marri was transferred to the consolidated naval brig in Charleston. There he was held in isolation for 16 months, denied shoes and socks for two years, and was not allowed any contact with his family for five years. He remains in the military brig but is appealing his detention to the Supreme Court.

-AP Exclusve: Documents say detainee near insanity.

Monday, October 06, 2008

"It is important to be clear on what Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said."

Finally: After several days of anti-journalism, defeatist sensationalism and vulgar political opportunism, the Globe and Mail gets it right.

1. NDP leader Jack Layton can go ahead and feel "heartened" by the prospect of defeat at the hands of the Taliban, but: "Mr. Layton is wrong, however, that the Brigadier's realism is in line with his own defeatism."

2. Carleton-Smith did not say the Afghan mission is doomed: "He did not say Britain, Canada, the United States and the rest of the NATO and non-NATO countries fighting in Afghanistan should withdraw, or that a secure Afghanistan is no longer vitally important to the West."

3. What Carleton-Smith said wasn't even particularly newsworthy: "It echoes what a panel headed by John Manley, the former Liberal MP, told the Canadian government in a report commissioned by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 'In the end,' the Manley panel wrote in January, 'the counterinsurgency war will have to won by Afghans.' "

4. Carleton-Smith did not say we should just chuck it in and get kissy-face with the Taliban: "Brig. Carleton-Smith also spoke of negotiations, saying, 'If the Taliban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that's precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this.' It's a big if, as long as the Taliban demand that all foreign armies leave as a precondition for talks. It's also a big if, as long as the Taliban remain committed to a form of Islamic law incompatible with civilized norms, which include the right of girls to go to school."

(It's actually a rather bigger "if" than all that, because the Taliban aren't even interested in negotiations in the first place.)

Still, thank you, Globe editorial writers, whoever you are.

UPDATE: The excellent Nushin Arbabzadah provides some helpful insight into the way Afghans greet the west's enthusiasm for selling them out.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Jack Layton and Afghanistan: The Latest Dispatches From A Parallel Universe

NDP Leader Jack Layton says he is “heartened” that a British commander believes that the war in Afghanistan is not winnable and that there should be a dialogue with the Taliban.

Setting aside the moral vacuum one would have to inhabit to be "heartened" to hear that the Afghan struggle is not winnable, there are two immediate problems with that sentence. The first is that the British commander in question, Brig.-Gen. Carleton-Smith, did not say the war is not winnable. The second is that he did not say, as the sentence necessarily implies, that we should leave off the "war" stuff and just negotiate with the Taliban.

I know we're all supposed to tolerate the dumbing-down of election-campaign news "in this era of Googles," but I'm sorry, this is absolutely ridiculous. Carleton-Smith didn't even say anything newsworthy.

As is evident from the second paragraph of the Times of London article where Carleton-Smith's comments first appeared, what's happening here is that the Times is trying to extricate itself from the embarrassment of having taken seriously a "parody" of a second-hand report from a French diplomat about an opinion a British diplomat denies he ever expressed in a rumpus that originally appeared in an obscure French satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné.

And now, the Times' efforts to dig itself out of that hole by digging itself deeper into it are sending such tremors through the news wires that Jack Layton has taken the opportunity to enlist some deadline-harried campaign reporters in his claim that he's been right about Afghanistan all along, and is thus heartened that some British general has finally seen the light and agrees with him.

Unfortunately for all concerned, when you get through the spins, all that's left is a guy named Carleton-Smith has reiterated the Karzai government's long-standing approach to the Taliban "insurgency," and has reiterated the long-standing approach underlying the purpose of the UN-sanctioned International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan - an approach Jack Layton loudly and irrationally opposes.

If Layton no longer opposes the UN-ISAF strategy, then that would be big news. If Carleton-Smith really agrees with Jack Layton, that would be huge news. But for either of these things to be true, you'd have to be living in a parallel universe.

Nobody has ever said there was a "military solution" to the problems that beset Afghanistan, and in this way, the Globe story is just another in a long line of free passes the news media has handed Layton on the question. But this one is particularly absurd.

It's not just because Layton is being allowed to get away with the rubbish about a British general agreeing with him. It's because Layton is now suggesting that the NDP's position is merely that "the prosecution of the continued war effort has got to be changed." In fact, for more than two years, rather than counsel some change in the way the "war" is prosecuted (which could be the basis of a respectable and useful left-wing critique, if the NDP could actually get around to formulating one), the NDP has opted instead for hippie sloganeering. It's all "George Bush's war," support our troops, bring them home.

All along, the UN-sanctioned ISAF mission in Afghanistan has been carrying out the explicit and detailed instructions enumerated in the Afghanistan Compact - a covenant between the Afghan government and 60 donor nations. All along, it has been about building up a functioning state sufficient to hold its own, militarily, against warlordism, banditry, and Islamist terror. That's the approach Carleton-Smith is explaining here. That is precisely the approach Layton most noticeably and foolishly opposes.

Layton would truly have something to be "heartened" about had Carleton-Smith said that we should all renege on our commitments under the Afghanistan Compact, and that Canada should renege on its commitments to the UN, and to the beleaguered Afghan government, and just sit down with the Taliban and cut the quickest deal to get the 39-member ISAF coalition out of there. That is, after all, exactly what Layton has counseled. But that is not what Carleton-Smith is saying. Not even close.

And let's not forget that the Taliban isn't interested in negotiations, and they've made that clear, but still, Carleton-Smith quite reasonably hopes and expects that eventually, the Taliban leadership will be crushed to the point at which its only choice is to negotiate or die. Let's also not forget that this is a prospect that isn't even possible to contemplate under Layton's approach, which requires that the Taliban's international adversaries should first withdraw their troops, and then disarm themselves, and then return with some sort of list of demands.

Carleton-Smith makes it clear that ISAF's military role is to keep hammering at the Taliban, "reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.” This is not what Layton has called for. Layton has called for the opposite. What Carelton-Smith calls for is the good sense of an approach that Layton has churlishly dismissed as a "George Bush-style seek and kill mission."

So, if there is some news here, it's either that Layton has had some astonishing change of heart, or he's been lying to us all along, which would mean, either way, that the Globe and Mail and the CBC and the rest just missed the biggest story of the campaign so far, if not the biggest story in Jack Layton's entire career. More likely, there is no real news here at all.

More likely, this is a non-story about a non-event arising from something Jack Layton says he happily agrees with in what a British brigadier-general did not in fact say, and it all started with the bad news judgment involved in taking seriously a translation of a report in a French satirical magazine about a second-hand account by a French diplomat, which is merely a disputed version of a statement a British envoy denies ever having made in the first place.

But that is what we call political "journalism" these days. It's supposed to help us make our decisions when we go to the polls.

Good luck with it.

UPDATE: Bob Rae talks some sense.

UPDATE II: Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, in a statement that exposes the folly of Jack Layton's proclamations, but closely echoes Carleton-Smith's observation, says: The war will be won by political, economic and military means.

UPDATE III: For any of you who still think that the "progressive" way forward in Afghanistan is to withdraw our troops and then return with complimentary Raffi CDs and offers to facilitate love-ins among the warring factions, here's something you might not have noticed: A senior Taliban officer is spurning calls for negotiation from Afghanistan's government, calling President Hamid Karzai a U.S. "puppet" amid rumblings that peace talks could be in the offing.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Arash Abadpour: The Valiant Canadian Free-Speech Fighter You've Never Heard Of

Robert Jago is to be congratulated for his efforts in assembling a defensible and current list of Canada's top 25 political blogs, among which, noticeably, are several blogs that take free-speech issues in this country very seriously.

Bloggers are unquestionably leading the charge in Canada's free-speech debates, and fair play to them. But when people make efforts to enlist me in free-speech campaigns against the creeping jurisdiction of Canada's human rights tribunals, I've developed what must appear to be an annoying habit of banging on about the importance of remembering our comrades abroad. I carry on a lot about journalists, bloggers, writers and artists who face real persecution, in truly authoritarian regimes. They're not just asked silly questions by human rights bureaucrats. They're harrassed, their books are banned, their blogs are censored, they're tossed in prison, and they're killed.

I'm sometimes taken to task for this, with the question: Well, that's all well and good, but here in Canada, what can we do about that? This a question that deserves a proper answer. There are obvious answers, of course: Support Reporters without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Index on Censorship, and so on. But what can a Canadian blogger do?

I'd like you to meet a Canadian blogger who has done far more for the cause of free speech, in places where it really counts, than any other blogger in this country. You've probably never heard of him, so please let me introduce you to Arash Abadpour and his blog, Kamangir, The Archer.

Arash Abadpour is a soft-spoken, 29-year-old student at the University of Manitoba. While his blog is properly absent from Jago's list of Canada's top political blogs, Kamangir's Persian-language mirror is now so popular in Iran - where the struggle for free speech is a life-and-death matter - that it shows up among the top 20 blogs in the entire Persian blogosphere.

I first encountered Arash when I was researching a column about the Western Left's embarrassing abdication of its duty to demonstrate solidarity with pro-democracy Iranians, here. At the time, Arash observed: "It makes a lot of difference to people in Iran when they see that people outside Iran are trying to help with protests and demonstrations, but there is also a lot of text and lots of images coming out of Iran every day. . . It's important for people outside Iran to know what ordinary Iranians think."

Here's a snippet from Kamangir's credo:

I am an agnostic, raised in an Islamic country. Since childhood, one of my greatest challenges has been to explain to Muslims how obvious they think their ideas are and how ignorantly they force others to live as they do. Obviously, this blog follows the same path. However, when I talk about the words “Islam” and “Muslim”, I mean the mainstream Islam and Muslimism. To my understanding, people have the right to worship whatever they want to however they want to and this is none of anyone’s business. However, when people force children to recite books or take ideology courses, or collapse twin buildings, for that matter, in the name of Allah, I find no reason to remain silent.

To my understanding, Iran and what is seen today in the news about “Iran”, are two very distinct issues. However, I am not a fan of conspiracy theories or “Jews rule the world” fantasies. I will use the name Islamic Republic (IR) to refer to the Iranian political system. To my understanding, Iran and the IR are like a body and an infection. You will not kill ill people. You will not sleep with them, either.

While I have all the reasons to criticize the Islamic Republic, I will remain objective. I am not a member of any Iranian political party in or outside Iran. Having said that, I do respect any movement which is pro democracy and human rights.

In Kamangir, no lie has ever been told, neither will it be in the future. If you catch me telling a lie, I will send you a $1,000 check (not for mistakes, though!). . .

Read the rest here if you like. But do add Kamangir to your links.

Khayli mamnoon, Arash. And keep up the great work.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Still Crazy After All These Years

Canadian Dimension offers progressive Canadians a rare forum for open political debate. Four words: thoughtful, persistent, challenging, unflinching.

- New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton.

In today's Canadian Dimension, the recently-ousted Liberal candidate Lesley Hughes attempts to mount a defence of her lunacy and only manages to score several spectacular own-goals in the process. She pleads that her only transgression was to examine "evidence" that the 2001 American-led overthrow of the Taliban regime "may have been motivated by the drive for oil and drug profits." She then goes on to report some of the wilder claims of 911-Truth conspiracy theory as though they were fact. She actually concludes by accusing her detractors of hysteria.

To understand how Hughes can carry on like this with a straight face, you need to know something of the milieu in which she toils. To give you an idea:

One of her colleagues on the Canadian Dimension collective, James Petras, is the author of such classic texts as The Power of Israel and Rulers and Ruled in the U.S. Empire: Bankers, Zionists, Militants. Petras claims that Jewish bankers run American foreign policy, and tricked America into invading Iraq, and the culprits behind the "Mohammed cartoons" eruption of embassy-burnings and riots that left at least 139 people dead were actually Mossad agents.

Another of Hughes' Canadian Dimension colleagues is fellow editorial collective member Barrie Zwicker, Canada's high priest of 911 conspiracy theory, with whom Jack Layton routinely professes a longstanding friendship.

Thoughtful, persistent, challenging, unflinching, indeed.