Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Some Hard Questions And Overdue Answers About Afghanistan.

In today's Globe and Mail, historian Jack Granatstein raises a series of necessary questions that Canadians should be asking themselves about how this country might move forward in its commitments to the United Nations, NATO and the people of Afghanistan. His first question: "Can we not replicate the Manley commission to help us prepare the plan for the post-2011 years?"

I think that would be a good idea. In today's National Post, I look back on the reasons why Canada's political parties have been running away from these necessary questions ever since the Manley panel tabled its report in January, 2008.

Elsewhere, the untold story of the Afghan "rape law" is explored in exhausting detail by my colleague at the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, Lauryn Oates. In her investigation for the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit - A Closer Look: The Policy and Law-Making Process Behind The Shiite Personal Status Law (pdf here) - Lauryn exposes the story that the news media in the "west" sometimes just got wrong, but mostly just didn't notice. It's a story of the subversion of Afghanistan's parliament by the Iranian-backed mullah Asif Mohseni and his bullies. It's a story about the bravery of Afghans - activists and parliamentarians, women and men, Shia and Sunni - as they fought to overturn the law. It's also a story of the laziness and timidity of the "international community" in coming to the aid of Afghans who rallied to resist the imposition of the law.

While we're on the subject of useless "international community" mandarins, I see that the most senior American bigshot in Afghanistan has finally got the heave-ho: The United Nations secretary-general has fired the top U.S. official serving in the U.N. mission to Afghanistan, following reports of a dispute over how to handle election fraud allegations.

Good riddance to him. Hissy fits aren't allowed. Slow and steady wins the race.

But back to where we left off, with John Manley's findings. Watch this, and then ask yourself where the hell Canadians have been at on the Afghan question over the past 20 months. All that time, wasted:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Bridge To Somewhere.

The Koksilah River Trestle, built by local loggers and farmers in 1920, is said to be the tallest free-standing wood structure in the Commonwealth. Whether it is or not, it is a work of great beauty and a monument to engineering brilliance. The federal, provincial and local governments are kicking in about $4 million to restore it. Western Forest Products has offered to supply the timbers, and the woodworkers' union is offering the skilled labour of its members.

In favour.

Tom Hawthorn tells the story.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Calais: Thousands Are Sailing Again Across The Ocean.

Not a single trafficker was among the 141 adults and 135 children arrested as the camp was evacuated.

Not for one moment would I claim to know an easy way out of this.

This year alone several hundred people have drowned off Somalia and another 200 off the coast of Libya in a single incident in March; 73 died last month stranded right off the Italian coast and another 60 in Morocco just a few days ago.

The "No One Is Illegal" position strikes me as a fashionable abdication from the duty of actually proposing solutions and a weird concurrence with the far-right proposition that market forces alone should determine immigration policy. The barbaric "Just Keep Them Out" posture similarly surrenders to unreason. But it is the muddling European non-policy that created the jungles of Calais in the first place.

Bodies sometimes wash ashore at daybreak. Human traffickers ply the waters off the coast. Patrol boats set off in pursuit of dinghies crammed with desperate migrants.

It's complicated. All I know for certain is that the Afghans, Eritreans, Iraqis, Iranians, and all the other navvies of Calais are my people, and have always been my people, and always will be, and anyone who would counsel a policy that does not afford each of them the deepest respect and care, or would otherwise not assure them of all the dignity that is their due, is my enemy, and has always been my enemy, and always will be, and can go to hell.

So here's a tune. Listen to it, but scroll back up and look at that boy's face as you do.

Friday, September 25, 2009

That's How The Light Gets In.

In his Concert for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace, Leonard Cohen sang for 47,000 people at the Ramat Gan stadium in Tel Aviv today, donating the $1.5-$2 million in proceeds to coexistence projects that defy the bullying of the "Boycott Israel" movement. Cohen had planned a concert in the West Bank city of Ramallah, to raise money for a Palestinian prisoners' charity. But "Boycott Israel" campaigners scotched the event.

Two years ago, our own Bryan Adams ran into the same sort of difficulties. He'd planned two fundraising concerts for One Voice, in Tel Aviv and in the West Bank city of Jericho, but the Jericho concert had to be called off because of "security" concerns. Pro-boycott activists also threatened to blow up the Palestinian One Voice offices if the Jericho concert went ahead. The Tel Aviv concert was then cancelled by the Israeli planners in solidarity with their Palestinian comrades.

One of the beneficiaries of Cohen's concert is the Parents' Circle, a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis dedicated to reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge. A fine CBC portrait of the Parents' circle is here. For proper international solidarity, there is also Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine. And there is also surfing.

Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in. That's how the light gets in.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Give This Guy A Medal.

Warned that the high-strung townies of Washington, D.C. would be frightened by firecracker-type noises, Canadian embassy bigshots have decided to scotch a brilliant exercise in guerilla theatre devised by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel (pronounced "leftenant," for my Yankee readers) Doug Martin.

You'd think we were finally getting around to implementing Buster Brown's Defence Scheme Number One or something.

Canadian Attack On Downtown D.C. Foiled: The Canadian military attaché wanted to set up a mock Afghan village in front of the Canadian embassy in downtown DC. There would be simulated IED blasts, armed soldiers, and Afghan actors faking critical wounds. And the blasts would first go off in the middle of the day, just in time for lunch. “I came up with it on my own,” Martin said.

No Mock Battle Scenes Allowed: "Canadians approach things a little bit differently than Americans, but the fact of the matter is the problems are the same and we can learn from each other to maybe make our work overseas more effective," Martin said. "We're a quieter country, but we're a fierce country, and when our soldiers are put into a position where they've got to fight, they don't lose."

It's not like we were going to burn down their dang White House or something: Once inside, the soldiers found the dining hall set for a dinner for 40 people. After eating all the food, they took souvenirs (e.g., one of the president's hats) and then set the building on fire.

A few bangs and they call it "a series of Hollywood-style pyrotechnic explosions."


Rolling Stones Legend Keith Richards Addresses UN General Assembly.

The Israelis were behind the JFK assassination. Martin Luther King's assassination was a plot, too. Probably the same guys who made swine flu before it escaped from the laboratory. Reopen the files! If Afghans want to fight each other, let them. Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9-11. Nobody but Spaniards were involved in the Spanish Civil War. You are all devils. Here is a white book. I will now throw it at a wall.

Some kind of performance art, I guess. It would have been funny except he was way too high.

UPDATE: After struggling to turn Khadafy’s insane ramblings at the UN into English for 75 minutes, the Libyan dictator’s personal interpreter got lost in translation. "I just can’t take it any more," Khadafy’s interpreter shouted into the live microphone – in Arabic.

At that point, the U.N.’s Arabic section chief, Rasha Ajalyaqeen, took over and translated the final 20 minutes of the speech. "His interpreter just collapsed – this is the first time I have seen this in 25 years," another U.N. Arabic interpreter told The Post.

UPDATE II: No Screech For Him.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

True North.

Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon led a Canadian walkout as Iran's president began speaking to the United Nations Wednesday night, a boycott that was followed by diplomats from the United States and other countries.


UPDATE: Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon explains.

Free Maziar Bahari.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

And A Pleasant Allahu Akbar To You, Too, Mr. Layton.

Tarek Fatah is not always right. When he's wrong, the giveaway is he's being miserable about the thing. When he's right, you can almost always tell because he's having fun. Today, he's having some fun at the expense of NDP leader Jack Layton: "Might I ask, what has Omar Khadr got to do with Eid or Ramadan or with Muslims?" Tarek is dead right: "Far too many politicians are today bending over backward to solicit votes from the Muslim Canadian community and in doing so naively believing that we Muslims take our political cues from men in beards and women in burkas."

I highly recommend Tarek's Chasing A Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, and along the same lines I also happily recommend Bruce Bawer's provocative and saucy book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom. Last week I had the pleasure of shambling around Ottawa with Bruce and friends and I was pleased to join Bruce in this panel discussion, at the National Archives, with Marc Lebuis of Point de Bascule and David Harris, former director of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service:

Link: Bruce B Q&A4

And speaking of books, here's Ehor Boyanowsky's tribute to the poet Ted Hughes, Savage Gods, Silver Ghosts: In the Wild with Ted Hughes. Here what I have to say about the book, on its dustjacket:

Ted Hughes' flyfishing sojourns on Canada's west coast are the stuff of legend. Rumours of his whereabouts would spread from river to river and camp to camp. Was he here? Is it true? Hughes was known to keep his quiet counsel among the most eccentric sect of anglers, the steelhead flyfishermen. He shared in their secrets, their campfires, their obsessions, and he moved through the mountains in their stories and their whispers. With this book, Ehor Boyanowsky has captured his beloved companion in the same way a proper fisherman takes a steelhead salmon. He raises Hughes from the shadows and into the light of day, for the world to behold, and then returns him to the river, and to his dreams.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Guns, butter, words, deeds and Afghanistan: Talk sense or shut up, go deep or go home.

It is most heartening to see that the 20-month-old consensus of silence that has united Canada's political leaders on the question of Afghanistan is at long last receiving some public notice. It is a very good thing, even if that attention has to come in such forms as Senator Colin Kenny's ahistorical gibberish about Vietnam, which he now justifies with an exercise in retroactive self-exculpation with the argument that he was just trying to get attention.

The sounds of crickets is all we've heard since the January, 2008 release of the sobering and no-nonsense report of the John Manley panel, which should have provided the basis for a proper public debate about what Canada's role might be at the 2011 term-end of the Afghanistan Compact. Instead, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democrats used the opportunity as a convenient excuse to keep shtum about the whole thing. Even during the last federal election, the politicians were loathe to even mention the name of the country where so many of our soldiers are dying. The question is: Why?

The silence of the New Democrats is easy to understand. Much to the dismay of the NDP's few members who have remained true to the bedrock principles of progressive internationalism, the NDP's "troops out" posture is an abject abdication to the senility of American counterculture pieties. It relies almost wholly on an imperviousness to reality, a pacifism of the objectively pro-fascist kind and an inexcuseable bigotry about the mythically incorrigible, anti-democratic nature of Afghan culture, all propped up by leftish conspiracy theories of the "it's all about oil" variety. Nothing the NDP says to justify itself will withstand even the slightest scrutiny. So, fair play to the New Democrats. Best be quiet about it.

The silence of the Liberal Party is attributable to the most pedestrian sort of cunning. It's all about what the polls say, and the knowledge that Afghanistan is best left alone unless it presents a fleeting opportunity to make a quick hit in the form of aggro, gotcha points or calumny heaped upon the governing Conservatives. This requires hay-making and moving on right quick, lest some cheeky journalist linger on the subject long enough to ask who the imposter is and how long the Liberals intend to keep the cruise-missile intellectual formerly known as Michael Ignatieff hidden away in that secret Ottawa dungeon where he's bound and gagged and chained to a wall.

Prime Minister Harper, meanwhile. is routinely and roundly rebuked, most wickedly and astutely by Conservative Party members and supporters, for his stunning failure to "sell" the mission. That he has failed utterly in this obligation is a true thing, so far as it goes. But the critique usually rests on three dubious assumptions: that there is anything in it for him to do so, that it would make any difference in the press no matter how hard he tried, and that it is with any fervour that he really believes in a "mission" he inherited from the Liberals in the first place.

You don't have to parse everything Harper has ever said on the subject to notice that he doesn't speak only as a Conservative, but as the prime minister of a big, rich country that shouldn't be troubled by such an embarrassing question as whether its soldiers should even be in Afghanistan. After all, the United Nations wants us there, the Afghan government wants us there, and the Afghan people want us there. With soldiers from such countries as Lithuania, Albania, Luxembourg and Estonia in the game, it would be rather too shy-making for a Canadian prime minister to have to say, sorry, but we're a bit squeamish about playing in your league, so we'll just cuddle in our blankies up here in the bleachers if it's all the same to you.

The main problem Harper will have in any attempt to "sell" the Afghan mission is that it requires him to speak in a language with which conservatives of his tendencies are mostly unfamiliar. Foreign-policy neoconservatives are eloquently conversant in a dialect of it, and with its lottery windfall acquisition of Christopher Alexander, the Conservative Party might soon hear a variant of the language spoken more clearly from its own ranks, in a distinctly Canadian accent. But it hasn't been in the habits of Tories to articulate the righteousness of liberation struggles in faraway places, or to argue for national sacrifice in the cause of the emancipation of a distant people from the grip of violent misogyny, illiteracy and religious tyranny. They just don't speak the language.

So I cut the Tories some tiny bit of slack here, and notice that for now, it is at least heartening that Governor-General Michaëlle Jean speaks the language so fluently and gracefully. It's also the language that John Manley spoke when he released his report in January, 2008: Our presence in Afghanistan is fully justified whether considered from the point of view of international law, humanitarian needs, or Canadian and global interests in security. If we're not willing to lend our military resources when asked to so by the United Nations, in a mission coordinated by NATO, in a country whose democratically elected government wants us, and whose citizens desperately need us, then we wonder: where and when would Canada do so?

Where and when indeed, and while Canadian politicians are too timid to talk about Afghanistan, lately the Americans appear incapable of talking about anything else. Today it's all about General Stanley McChrystal's 66-page assessment of the prospects in Afghanistan, leaked to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward. McChrystal expands upon the radical shift in military policy that he has already directed ISAF to adopt, and unsurprisingly, he calls for more troops. And as for language and words, McChrystal also suggests that it would be a good idea for ISAF brass to learn a bit of Pashto and Dari. But here's where he gets to the heart of the matter: "A perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents."

When it comes to the best way for Canada to make some use of itself to the Afghan people in their long march back from barbarism and savagery, this is more important than bread or roses, or guns, or butter. It's all about language, and words. It is the one thing that struck me as the pivot point for victory during all my visits and interviews in Afghanistan last year. It's right there in front of our noses. It's so close we don't see it.

Among Afghans, the big fear isn't the spectre of Taliban militias rolling across the landscape and recapturing Kabul. It's the stink of a looming betrayal that emanates from the defeatism abroad in rich countries like Canada. It forces a fatal feedback loop into play. It entraps the bravest Afghans - if it's all coming to an end, there's no point in sticking one's neck out. It also fuels the "corruption" that plagues the country - if this isn't going to last, then you might as well get it while the getting's good.

We have no cause to doubt the resolve of the Afghan people. It's our own resolve that's the problem, and while peace in Afghanistan may require more soldiers and firepower, not less, all the troops in the world will do no greater service to the Afghan people and their cause than plain words, spoken in plain language: We will not betray you. We will not abandon you. We will not surrender. We will not retreat.

Any Canadian politician who is not capable of speaking these words clearly and plainly should do the country and the world a favour and just shut the hell up.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Peter, Paul and Mary, and Salutin, and Fatah, and Noordin Top.

Last month, the International Republican Institute released the results of a survey of Afghan opinion that showed a mood of heightened optimism about security, the Afghan economy, and the country's prospects for the future. But it isn't until you get to the last paragraph of the IRI's findings index [pdf] that you encounter this:

"When asked which organizations, groups or countries they view favorably, the ANA ranked number one at 67 percent favorable, followed by the United Nations at 58 percent and the United States at 28 percent. Iran ranked at minus 10 percent followed by the Taliban and Pakistan at minus 49 and minus 50 percent respectively."

That sums up my own views almost exactly. I'm beginning to feel a bit warmer about the Americans, though. They've recently made a clear and final break with the "We don't do nation-building" idiocy that encumbered the previous American administration for so long. Moreover, the American who now heads up the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan is General Stanley McChrystal. This is someone who finally gets it.

The "war" in Afghanistan is a liberation struggle, and should be waged as a people's war. In the words of McChrystal's own Counterinsurgency Guidance document, you fight like this: "Embrace the people. . . earn their trust. . .seek out the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, the disaffected. . . work with the children and students. . .shield the people from harm. . . live and train together. . . plan and operate together. . . be a positive force in the community. . . confront corrupt officials. . . listen and learn from our Afghan colleagues. . . improve daily."

This is nothing like conventional warfare, because we've already won that war. As a conventional fighting force, the Taliban were thoroughly and utterly crushed, years ago. It is worth remembering that in June, 2001, the Taliban massed 25,000 heavily armed fighters and another 10,000 Arabs, Chechens and other foreign mercenaries against the Northern Alliance. They couldn't try anything like that now.

"Assymetrical warfare" doesn't quite capture the current state of affairs. The Taliban are arrayed against the Afghan people (among whom perhaps four per cent are Taliban supporters), the Afghan National Army, the United Nations, an embryonic Afghan state, and soldiers from 41 ISAF countries. But all it takes is maybe $2,500 and four or five mentally-retarded 11-year-olds in order to carry out a wave of suicide bombings that can be counted on to set off an eruption of defeatist panic and hand-wringing hysteria in pretty well every English-language newspaper on earth.

Typical of the establishment sentiment in Canada is the plaintive reverie emanating today from Rick Salutin, who resorts to Peter, Paul and Mary's Where Have All The Flowers Gone? in order to attempt some kind of argument for retreat. All that results is the spectacle of an otherwise serious newspaper pandering to the bourgeois vanity of its aging readers with a contemplation of Canada's role in Afghanistan that is inspired by what is quite possibly the most maudlin excretion of moral exhibitionism in the history of popular nursery rhymes.

Salutin wants to know where all the flowers went, and he doesn't want "Islamism" as an answer: "How come the 'other' side there seems to run an effective military and an efficient court system while 'our' Afghans, despite endless training, never seem ready to go into battle alone, and the legal system is corrupt and despised? What does Islamism have to do with any of that?"

The second question is actually answered by the first.

By placing parentheses around "the 'other' side," Salutin plucks loudly enough on his ukelele that his dull readers won't likely notice that the "effective military" the other side is running has been reduced to the gallantry of roadside bombs. Its "efficient court system" consists of beheadings, lynchings, and the lash for any woman who would want to know how to write her own name or walk to the bazaar unsupervised by a man. Islamism has everything to do with that.

Salutin can also sneer about the battle-readiness of "our" Afghans so long as he leaves it unsaid that there wasn't even a regular Afghan army five years ago. Islamism had rather a lot to do with that, too, and as for the business about Afghans despising their legal system, in fact they would appear to have no less charitable a view of their courts than Canadians have of theirs: Here's another poll that's worth reading. Among other things, the poll shows that Afghans are rather more enthusiastic about democracy than is stylish among Canadians of the kind that would take Salutin seriously. When asked, three in four Afghans agreed with the statement: “Democracy may have its problems, but it is better than any other form of government”.

I suspect the Afghans' unpleasant experiences with Islamism may have put that idea into their heads, too.

Tarek Fatah, for whom it's all Islamism, all the time, reckons that the folk-pop ditziness that has become the preferred method of coming to terms with Islamic fascism has so enfeebled us all that it's already too late, and we should withdraw our troops now: "If we and our American-British allies do not have the spine to challenge the Islamist doctrines, send our soldiers home. To fight malaria, we need to drain the swamp, not kill individual mosquitoes, one at a time. Our young men and women must not be gun fodder for the profiteers who befriend the Saudis, but bomb the Afghans while trading with the Iranian ayatollahs."

And so, by disagreeing with Salutin, Fatah ends up agreeing with him, in the way that convoluted arguments always defeat themselves. And while we're all amusing ourselves in this way, and the Italians are wetting their trousers, the Canadian soldiers doing the fighting know good and well what the real story is. Col. Jean-Marc Lanthier explains: "If we were not successful, we would be marginalized. [The Taliban] would ignore us. Because we're having success, we're bringing stability. We're showing to the Afghans that democracy is possible, that security is possible. They, therefore, have to take action in order to break that perception of security."

And they, therefore, must be hunted to the ends of the earth, and the struggle must be waged for as long as it takes.

The hunt for the mastermind of the Bali bombings lasted seven years, but it ended yesterday: Noordin Top was all ready to escape when police got to him. He was carrying a backpack with a laptop and documents, and had a gun and bullets in his pocket. His body was found in the bathroom of the bullet-riddled house in Solo.

That's how it's done, and it's not over until they're gone to graveyards, every last one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The High Lonesome Sound

A wiry and weathered man, aged forty-seven, Roscoe Halcomb walked toward the house. A manual laborer and former miner, Halcomb lived at the very end of the hollow in Daisy. After some cursory introductions, Halcomb played a song for Cohen called "Across the Rocky Mountain." "My hair stood up on end," Cohen later remembered. "I couldn't tell whether I was hearing something ancient, like a Gregorian Chant, or something very contemporary and avant-garde." The combination of pulse-like rhythm, coupled with the high, tight singing, and the insistent droning notes of the guitar had its effect. "It was the most moving, touching, dynamic, powerful song I'd ever experienced . . . not the song itself but they way he sang it was just astounding. And I said, 'Can I come back and hear you some more?'

Remembering The High Lonesome.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

"We are hurtling toward a Vietnam ending."

Eight years since the horror in New York and Washington forced the civilized world to face up to its obligations in Afghanistan, a recurring and predictable pessimism is abroad in the world's comfortable classes, coinciding, as it absurdly and routinely does, with a revival of pluck and optimism among ordinary Afghans.

The Americans, who appear to be paying attention, are engaged in an elaborate exercise in enumerating and evaluating "metrics of success." The Europeans are looking at benchmarks and timelines. All good.

In Ottawa, the whimpering is the thing, and it's ably represented in Liberal Senator Colin Kenny's widely noticed opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen. Kenny is the long-time chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, which is why we're supposed to take him seriously. It doesn't help that Kenny's committee is "a dysfunctional public spectacle" that he convenes whenever his committee adversaries aren't available, and if they find a way to show up he calls them "names that can't be repeated." But let's take him seriously.

The gist of Kenny's argument is basically this: The British empire couldn't hold Afghanistan, the Russian empire couldn't hold Afghanistan, the "western world" has been horribly let down by Karzai because he's failed to capture the "hearts and minds" of the Afghan people and besides, he's a corrupt auld slag, so we should skedaddle elsewhere to "countries where we are wanted." So, time to talk retreat.

Well, no, it isn't.

Firstly, if this were merely about the "west" colluding with Hamid Karzai to impose its imperial designs upon a people who do not want us around, then we would not merely deserve to lose. We would deserve to suffer the most ignominious and bloody defeat, and politicians like Kenny, who wait for a convenient moment to plead that really, they were "wary" about the enterprise all along, should have their heads on pikes.

This is not merely a "western" project. The countries that devised the Afghanistan Compact and the Bonn Agreement in the first place include several Islamic republics, along with western democracies. This is a United Nations mission, and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan includes soldiers from such places as Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey. That's who "we" are.

And "we" are not there to prop up Karzai. We never were. We are there to build from scratch and savagery a nation-state where there was none. We would not have to be doing this now had it not been so stylish in "the west" to mince and primp around for all those years prior to 2001, just as Kenny preens and flatters himself now in a show of moral exhibitionism masquerading as an exercise in sober analysis.

Worse, it would be one thing for some bloke in the street to think that "we" are not wanted in Afghanistan. But Kenny is the chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. Here's something Kenny should read: Global Poll Finds Widespread Belief That Afghans Want NATO Forces Out. They don't, they never have, and Kenny should pay particular attention to the findings that show that this widespread misapprehension - which Kenny himself harbours and counsels on the rest of us - is a key reason people get it wrong and end up thinking that "we" should "retreat."

Quite properly, everyone of good will is watching and hoping for the best and cleanest result from the horribly bollocksed Afghan presidential elections, not least the millions of brave Afghans who defied Taliban threats and voted. But can we at least agree to avoid juvenile comparisons with the recent Iranian sham? We might take the time to remember what Iran is, and what it is not. We might also remember what Afghanistan was eight years ago, and what it is now.

In the days before September 11, 2001, Pakistan's ISI was still sending convoys of free supplies and armaments to Taliban training camps, which regularly produced thousands of jihadist mercenaries for assignment to the Maghreb, the Caucusus, Central Asia and Kashmir - Arabs, Algerians, Chechens, Filipinos, the lot. Al Qaida was operating openly, flush will Arab oil money, and Osama Bin Laden was celebrating the success of his agents' assassination of Ahmed Shah Mahsood, the last great hope for unifying the Afghan resistance under progressive leadership.

Several million Afghans were refugees, wandering the far corners of the world or rotting in refugee camps. Roughly two million Afghans had already been slaughtered in the country's abbatoir of war, and by the summer of 2001, five million Afghans were on the brink of starvation. In the northern provinces, people were reduced to eating grass and rats. Women were slaves. Music was banned. Even kite-flying was banned. The Taliban had shut down the UN's polio immunization program. Aid workers, foreign doctors and UN food program officials were routinely harrassed and arrested on charges of spreading Christianity or consorting with Afghan women.

Eight years later, millions of girls are in school. The country has a constitutional government that reserves a quarter of its parliament to women. There are a dozen universities, several dozen newspapers, radio stations and television stations, and one in six Afghans owns a cellular phone. Five million refugees have returned. More than 80 per cent of the people have access to basic medical services. Almost all children have been immunized against polio and childhood diseases. The big debate in Afghanistan these days is whether the incumbent president, who was elected peacefully four years ago, has earned enough votes in a scandal-plagued run for a second term to avoid a runoff against his nearest rival.

Somehow, none of this sounds like "a Vietnam ending" to me. It certainly isn't evidence for an argument to "retreat."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Seventy Years Ago Today: Canada Goes To War

A week after the British, and two years before the Americans: Parliament had to decide and on Sept. 9, Parliament did, almost with unanimity. The next day, the king declared war.

First things first. We emigrated to Canada when I was a baby, in 1957. About 45,000 Canadians were killed in the Second World War, and another 55,000 were wounded; Ireland was officially neutral.

My parents' families were not. After Britain declared war, my auld fella, a fierce Irish republican and a sworn enemy of the Blueshirts, crossed the Irish sea and joined the Royal Air Force. He returned for a brief visit to his hometown in Midleton, County Cork just to "walk down the high street in the uniform of the enemy," which was his way of publicly renouncing Ireland's official disinterest in the anti-fascist war. It was the last time he called Ireland his home.

Dad was among roughly 100,000 Irishmen and Irishwomen, many of whom were republicans like him, who sucked it up, put past disagreements aside, and put first things first. In Britain, he met my ma, whose family were Clare people. She was in the RAF, too. Her brother, my uncle Patrick, was killed by the Nazis in the Netherlands. Which makes me merely one of several million Canadians who can count relatives who died in the Second World War.

Now, as then, Canadians are distinguishing themselves in the fight against fascism. Now, as then, first things first.

No Pasarán.

(Regards to The Torch).

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean: "If you only knew how proud I am."

Our Governor General and Commander-in-Chief addresses the troops:

I was born in a country where for many years, the uniform had come to symbolize brutality, horror and tyranny.

I have come a long way from that child who grew up under a regime of terror, in Haiti, to become the woman who stands before you now.

Since the beginning of my mandate, I have worked alongside you every day. I have visited your places of work. I have seen you in action.

If you only knew how proud I am of you as I look out at you today; how proud I am to be your commander-in-chief. You have forever changed my perception of the men and women who don the uniform, and for that, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sayed Is Free. Lubna Al-Hussein Is Not. Plus: Who "Deserves" to Be Raped?

When I was in Afghanistan last fall, Jafar Rasuli, a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai, told me that one way or another, Karzai would see to it that Sayed Parvez Kambaksh would be free. Rasuli said that Karzai had assured him that he wouldn't have the young journalist rotting in prison for the rest of his life any more than he'd allow one of his own children to suffer such a fate.

As things turned out, Karzai quietly pardoned Kambaksh some weeks ago.

This is happy-making, but it's not bloody well good enough. Kambaksh was illegally arrested, illegally tried, and illegally imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit. You don't build a free press by leaving it to the whims of your president: "Both the judiciary and the Afghan government must realize that if they are to fully succeed in bringing democracy to the country they must acknowledge the right of journalists to seek, receive and impart information in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Ditto Gambia.

Meanwhile, in Sudan, the journalist Lubna Al-Hussein has refused to kowtow to an offer that she could pay a fine rather than face the lash for the crime of wearing trousers. Al-Hussein had already resigned from her U.N. media job to waive her immunity as an international worker, and continues to stand her ground. Dozens of brave Sudanese withstood tear gas and police batons to muster a rally to support her yesterday. Scores were injured and 47 women are reported to have been arrested. It's all really about interference by "the west," of course. After all, it's always somebody else's fault.

Meanwhile, there are a few people here for whom I would have to be convinced to lift a finger if they were rotting their lives away in some Afghan dungeon. One does have to be possessed of an tremendous equanimity in these matters, but there can come a point when all that's left to say is: Hell, you won't be able to count on me to turn the other cheek this time, I'm afraid, I've got more important things to do.

Is this wrong? Maybe. Which brings us to today's mystery question. Who said this?

"We all have to go one day, but pray God let it not be over Afghanistan. An unspeakable country filled with unspeakable people, sheepshaggers and smugglers … I yield to none in my sympathy to those prostrate beneath the Russian jackboot, but if ever a country deserved rape it's Afghanistan.'"

No peeking.

Monday, September 07, 2009

"Now I Have My Own Canadian Death Panel Telling Me When I'm Going To Die."

For Pete's sakes, Yanks. Calm the hell down.

"I had a horrible dream I was surrounded by socialists trying to kill me with their free medicine."

Sunday, September 06, 2009

First, We Take Fargo, Then We Take Wichita: You Yanks Have Maybe Two Months Left.

I warned all you Americans last January. But did you listen? No. Well, now the clock is ticking faster. By the estimates of the Russian political scientist Igor Panarin, dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's diplomacy academy, you've got until November. If you're lucky. Surrender peacefully and you will not be harmed.

As Professor Panarin has revealed, our Trotskyist fifth-columnists at the centres of American power, such as agent Rice and agent Cheney, have done their work well. Face it. Resistance is futile: "There are two groups in the US authorities. The first one may be called the globalists, or the Trotskyites. . .the key persons of the globalists are Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney." Then you made the mistake of electing Barack Obama. Some of your brighter intelligence analysts, such as Sean Hannity, saw it coming. But did you listen? No. Instead, you mocked him.

Do not panic. I am sure you will have many questions about what life will be like under Canadian dominion. You can find most of the answers here. One of the most common questions we get is, Why are you possibly compromising your plans by exposing them on the internet, like Kelly McParland did the other day? Answer: "We are drunk with power and consider ourselves invincible."

I'm often asked a rather impudent question, along the lines of, Why is this so personally important to you? The answer involves the Pig War, which resulted in the shameless and unforgivable annexation of the Southern Gulf Islands into the American empire, back in 1872. It started on July 15, 1859, when that dang Lyman Cutler shot one of our pigs. I've been bitter about it ever since.

It's why I'm not going to settle for annexing the American-occupied territory as forecast by the map that dang Russian Panarin has gone and published. Our Trotskyist comrades south of the border have done more damage than anyone knows. We're going for the whole thing:

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Liberal Relativists Inherited 'A Blind Eye To Misogyny' From Their Imperialist Ancestors.

In a particularly bracing essay about the way the fashionable punditti have greeted Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom's latest book, Does God Hate Women?, my comrade Nick Cohen concludes that "what the world needs now is an uncompromisingly militant feminist movement."

Nick observes:

"It is deplorable but unsurprising that the past 20 years have seen a cooling of a belief in the need for universal emancipation. Most women at the top of society are dependent on cheap and usually foreign labour. So, too, are their partners, who enjoy the benefits of a dual income. In these circumstances, going along with the belief that culture condemns certain women to servitude is a domestic convenience, the more so when speaking out against it is dangerous.

"For at the root of the weird twists in liberal opinion I have been arguing against lies physical fear: the fear of provoking accusation of racial or religious prejudice; the fear of provoking trouble; the fear of provoking violent retribution. Generally, people do not own up to cowardice. They prefer to dress up it up in fine clothes and call it 'respect for difference' or 'a celebration of diversity'. . . They smugly declare that ‘we haven't got the right to impose our values on another culture' and think themselves liberal when they do it."

A tremendous essay. Every last sentence of it.

I've long admired Benson and Stangroom. I suspect that what they observe about the "postmodernist" left - its indifference to evidence, its "relativism", its imperviousness to reasoned, fact-grounded argument - goes a long way to explain how the most delusional, bourgeois posture on the Afghanistan question can become the most stylish, presentable, "progressive" position.

Here, Peter Bergen relates some useful facts about what we are all constantly berated to sneer at as a failed "imperialist" adventure: You were more likely to be murdered in the United States in 1991 than an Afghan civilian is to be killed in the war today; More than five million refugees have returned home since the fall of the Taliban - one of the most substantial refugee repatriations in history, and little noticed, mainly because it has gone so smoothly; One in six Afghans now has a cell phone, while under the Taliban there was no phone system; Millions of kids are now in school, including millions of girls, when under the Taliban girls were not allowed to be educated; Etc. etc.

Here, meanwhile, Bergen shreds Stephen "The Israel Lobby" Walt's attempts at constructing an argument to support the fashionable "troops out" position. Troops out? Scale back? We tried these things before, Bergen points out:

"Twice. In 1989 the U.S. closed its embassy in Kabul and then effectively zeroed out aid to one of the poorest countries in the world; meanwhile Afghanistan was racked by a civil war, which spawned the Taliban who then gave safe haven to al Qaeda.Then in the winter of 2001 the Bush administration overthrew the Taliban, and because of its aversion to nation-building rebuilt the country on the cheap and quickly got distracted by the war in Iraq. . . . So the U.S. has already tried the Do Nothing approach and the Do It Light approach in Afghanistan, the results of which are well known. The Obama administration is now attempting a Do It Seriously approach, which has a real chance of success."

I'm convinced that Bergen is right. Obama's new approach is cause for much optimism, especially now that Stanley McChrystal in ISAF's wheelhouse. The main obstacle is not the Taliban, though. The big problem isn't even in Afghanistan. It is what Cohen calls "a cooling of a belief in the need for universal emancipation" in the rich countries of the world.

"There are dozens of arguments against the bad idea of cultural relativism, but 'women in Iran and in Saudi don't like being stoned to death' can serve for them all. And yet the bad idea persists, undented and dominant, because of a deep selfishness in advanced societies. It comes in three forms, moral, economic and physical. People on the receiving end of repression notice the air of moral superiority as soon as Western liberals refuse them their support out of 'respect' for the culture which intimidates them. Liberal relativists are in this respect the true successors of their imperialist ancestors. Where once Westerners denied rights to lesser breeds without the law who were racially unsuited to enjoy liberty, now they deny them to diverse breeds without the culture who are unsuited by accidents of history and geography to exercise the freedoms white Westerners take for granted or handle the complex arguments white Westerners take in their stride."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

"We should not presume to question Afghans' aspirations for democracy"

You stick by your friends, particularly in times of trouble:

"Sour voices from off-stage are pointing out that Afghanistan's poll was flawed, that elections do not make a democracy and that the West is fixated on elections as a measure of progress. In reality preparations for the election reflected the ad hoc and inadequate international commitment to reform. For example, the consistent failure to build the capacity of Afghanistan's Electoral Commission greatly contributed to the voter fraud seen during the election. We should not glibly despair that such failings are inevitable but instead robustly question why we have provided such limited resources for such achievable tasks.

"It might be a tall order to create a model state in Afghanistan. But we should not presume to question Afghans' aspirations to this end. The single biggest flaw of the Nato engagement has been the tendency to presume to know what Afghans want and need. State-building efforts must leave enough room for local variation. But they must not slide into a relativism that harks back to a colonial mind-set of dismissing Afghans' suitability for modern politics."

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New Evidence Confirms Protocols of the Learned Elders of Kilkenny

They're on to us now, lads: "Lost Tomb of Obama Found In Ireland." A centuries-old map, a hidden vault, the painstaking decipherment of Latin on hundreds of tombs, the whole schmeer. Underneath this place:

The jig is up. We're done for. It's already headed for the courts.

The Afghan Election: At History's Crossroads Stands A Single Canadian Traffic Cop

Momentous shifts in the course of human history can sometimes come down to some small drama unfolding in a far-off corner of the world. In this way, the weight of historical forces end up turning on chance events, luck, and the actions of lone individuals.

Grant Kippen is the head of Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission, and whether he likes it or not, his name is about to go down in the annals of Afghan history. As the Times put it just yesterday, "the country’s future now lies largely in his hands." So does the fate of the most worthwhile cause that Canada has undertaken in decades, the most ambitious undertaking in the history of the United Nations, the viability of NATO, the movement of the front line in a global Islamist war against modernity, and the cornerstone in the foreign policy of a new American president, Barack Obama, at a critical juncture in America's disillusioned and dreary sense of its place in the world.

Not to pile on the pressure or anything, but it just so happens that this is the way things have turned out. Lucky for us, Grant Kippen is a dedicated partisan in the struggle for global democracy, and a good friend of the Afghan people.

He's a University of Ottawa MBA grad whose brief vocation as a mandarin began in the PMO when Pierre Trudeau was the boss. He went on to serve as the Liberal Party's national director of organizing, but his commitment to the advance of democracy quickly led him to more grand horizons. Kippen, a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queens University, has worked for the National Democratic Institute in Washington, D.C., and he's worked as an elections analyst, monitor and advisor in Algeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, East Timor, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Ukraine. He's been busy mainly in Afghanistan in recent years. He knows his stuff.

Allegations of vote-rigging and widespread, wholesale fraud continue to mount in the wake of the recent presidential elections in Afghanistan, casting a dark pall of doubt and despair over the whole enterprise. Nevertheless, Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan's new ambassador to Canada, is quite right to admonish everybody to calm the hell down: "Any wholesale dismissal of the Aug. 20 election as failed or fraudulent would, at the very least, be an affront to the dignity of the millions who cast genuine ballots, not to mention the memory of the many security personnel, both Afghan and non-Afghan, who gave their lives to secure the election process."

In a similar vein, Michael O'Halleran and Bruce Reidel, whose analyses are as critical to the architecture of Obama's Afghan policy as you can get, point out that there was actually a lot to like about the recent elections, and there's a lot right about Afghanistan, besides. That there was a spirited and fractious election campaign among competent candidates at all is just shy of miraculous. The Afghan army is finally beefing up. So is the Afghan National Police. Afghans are not incorrigibly anti-American and backward-looking. Americans should take a damn pill and take the long view while they're at it:

"There is frankly too much talk of Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires, as land of a xenophobic and backward people who will always resist efforts to enter the modern world. Afghans fought against the British in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th century because these imperialist powers were pursuing their own agendas. Today, Afghans consistently show a desire for progress, and their support for the Taliban hovers just above 6%, according to an ABC News/BBC/ARD poll taken in February; support is essentially zero among the non-Pashtun majority of the population."

The British, the French and the Germans are positively aching for a runoff poll between the incumbent Hamid Karzai and his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, and that would be a good thing, given everything that's happened. But it's what the Afghan people want that counts, and in all likelihood, the question will not turn on whether Karzai has enough counted votes to pass the necessary 50-per-cent threshhold, but whether he has enough demonstrably clean and uncontested votes to do so.

And that's starting to look unlikely. Which puts Grant Kibben in the hotseat. So which way will he go?

He's already answered the question. Last fall, the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit commissioned Kippen to draw up an analysis on the prospects for the development of Afghan democracy, and specifically to look ahead to the contextual and technical challenges that would be posed by the elections that are just now causing everyone to set their hair on fire.

Kippen's analysis was necessarily dense and rarified in spots, but the key passages were these:

"These elections can only be considered 'successful' if they are perceived as such by the Afghan population. Only then will this electoral cycle contribute significantly to the strengthening of democracy in Afghanistan."

"Measuring success through technical, Western standards will not be enough. Rather, the outcomes of these elections must be judged according to an Afghan perspective of legitimacy and credibility. It is vital that all parts of the country are given the opportunity to participate equally in the elections process; that candidates are provided with an equal opportunity to campaign for office; and that no stakeholder group can claim that they were not provided with the opportunity to participate."

"Only if these standards are met will the 2009 and 2010 elections mark a credible milestone in Afghanistan’s democratic transition. The international community has the opportunity to renew its commitment to a successful electoral process, and to support the momentum this process will bring to the ongoing democratisation efforts. While Afghans must take responsibility and accountability for the democratic transition processes now underway, the international community must remain a fully committed partner for many years to come."

"Afghanistan after one, and soon to be two, election cycles is a long way from a fully functional, representative democracy. It will take many more iterations, and committed leadership and engagement, to ensure that the complex democratisation process now underway succeeds."

Slow and steady wins the race. The people will win.

Elsewhere, Damian Brooks looks back on the way the Afghanistan "debate" in Canada has been confounded by mediocrity, adolescent partisanship and bloodymindedness, and wonders how it might have been:

"The Afghan mission should have represented the perfect opportunity to meld the compassionate idealism of the political left with the hard-nosed practicality of the security-conscious political right and stand firm in our commitment – to our own national interests, and to the people of Afghanistan. This should have been the one mission we could all agree upon. That support for such a potentially bi-partisan effort has been allowed to slowly decompose to such embarrassingly meagre levels is an indictment of Canadian leadership across the political spectrum."

All in favour signify by saying aye.


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On Afghanistan: Stop Wasting Time, Stop Whining.

John Manley: Courageous Afghan Voters Deserve Better From Us:

"Canadians have paid dearly in both lives and treasure over the past eight years for a good cause in a country far away, little known to us, where our direct interests are not at all clear. If this sacrifice is not to be wasted, the next Afghan government, whether led by Mr. Karzai or rival Abdullah Abdullah, must be held to a much higher standard of competence and integrity. ISAF forces cannot continue to provide support for a government that is flagrant in its disdain for its own people. Corrupt governors and warlords can and must be replaced by competent technocrats. And a new approach by Washington and its allies, stressing economic development and improved governance, must be vigorously pursued in addition to training up Afghan security forces. No more time can be wasted."

Nigel Hannaford Talks To The Taliban:

"Nation-building is painfully slow, but thanks to western intervention, Kabul is well on the way to an effective, battle-ready army with looser rules of engagement than NATO. And while you have bloodied NATO, what western governments find it indelicate to point out is nevertheless true: you have lost far more men than they have, and America has the battlefield edge. There can be no successful set piece engagement with NATO forces, as you learned from the Canadians a few years ago. Therefore there can be no triumphant march on Kabul, only more bombings in an attempt to shake western resolve to stay long enough to give the central government the tools it needs to maintain power."

I am so sick of the whining in this country. By Gross Domestic Product, Canada ranks as the 11th richest country in the world. Our debt burden is the lowest in the G8. Mark Collins is correct.

ISAF Commander Stanley McChrystal understands how to win: "Embrace the people. . . earn their trust. . .seek out the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, the disaffected. . .work with the children and students. . .shield the people from harm. . .live and train together. . .plan and operate together. . .be a positive force in the community. . .confront corrupt officials. . .listen and learn from our Afghan colleagues. . . improve daily."

That's from his new Counterinsurgency Guidance document.

It's how you win a people's war: "Obey orders in all your actions. Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses. Turn in everything captured. Speak politely. Pay fairly for what you buy. Return everything you borrow. Pay for anything you damage. Do not hit or swear at people. Do not damage crops. Do not take liberties with women. Do not ill-treat captives."

That's from Mao Tse-tung's directions to the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, standardized by the People's Liberation Army in 1947.

As for any stoppist whiners whose comments I delete here, you have nothing to complain about.