Friday, January 29, 2010

If Jack Layton Wants Credit For This, By All Means, Let Him Have It.

Of course it would be both a farce and an irony of the most absurd kind, but what the hell. Now that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is pouring his old appeasement wine into a new bottle he calls "peace at any cost" and Afghanistan's feminists, secularists, human rights activists and democrats are once again overcome by that sickly sensation of having knives thrust into their backs, some people have become absolutely giddy with the idea that we should all thank Jack Layton for what has happened.

Over at Macleans, under the headline Ahead Of His Time, Paul Wells writes: "Kudos to the NDP leader." Wells recommends his readers to his colleague Aaron Wherry, who has strung together a bunch of quotations from people in such a way as to imply that everyone had been far too beastly when they mocked 'Taliban Jack' in response to Layton's September, 2006 remark: “A comprehensive peace process has to bring all the combatants to the table.” The headline on Wherry's quote collection: And You All Laughed.

Well, some people certainly did laugh, but can you blame them? Only days before, Layton's NDP had broken with every serious political party in the western hemisphere by adopting as its core Afghanistan policy: Support Our Troops, Bring 'em home. No one would stop laughing, so Layton tried to salvage things by doubling down with the notion that after an NDP government had spit in the face of the United Nations, Canada's envoys would be welcomed back to Afghanistan with their diplomatic pouches stuffed with patchouli oil, flipcharts, old Joan Baez records and instructions to subvert the authority of the embryonic Afghan republic by setting off into the hills in search of Taliban mullahs with whom to begin negotiations.

Not everyone laughed, though. Personally, I saw the grisly spectacle of a party that claimed to be all splendidly leftish and woman-friendly and progressive taking as its cue the most outrageously lame, reactionary and cynical version of exactly what the most lurid, extreme-right parties in Afghanistan were demanding of us. It was an even more sinister version of the very approach that Hamid Karzai himself had long publicly counseled, and had indeed already implemented, by bringing to his bosom all the ghastly and gynophobic warlords who still lurk at the edges of his regime.

Much to his dismay, Karzai failed in his entreaties to even tempt the Taliban to tea, and the NDP's weird formula was disastrous for the party. But paradoxically, there was a perfectly sensible iteration of it in place long before Layton first claimed the idea as his own. It was a plan that the Liberals had already helped bankroll, and it had allowed Karzai to talk down from the hills about 50,000 mercenaries (the "moderate Taliban" of silly contemporary euphemism). It had run its course long before Layton purported to discover it as a bold new idea. That's the faint-hope aspect of the approach that the pathetically "war weary" west is getting all excited about again, and there may well be some profit in it yet, now that the Taliban leadership can feel the noose closing around its neck, owing only to precisely the same nasty "war-fighting" that Layton has wanted to stop since 2006.

And indeed, in spite of the excitements in London this week, all along, Afghan-led "reconciliation" has persisted as one of Canada's six priorities for its engagement in Afghanistan. I
f some wag wants to give Jack credit for that, too, then fine by me. Jack may well take it. It wouldn't be the first time. Two years ago, on the campaign trail, Layton was offered the opportunity to claim title to the patent on a Taliban-peace-talks notion that was inaccurately reported to have bubbled up inside the brains of Britain's senior military commander in Afghanistan. Layton happily obliged: “The New Democrats came out very early with this view," he said.

Last March, Layton set out the case that pretty well all the good things that have happened in Afghanistan were all his idea, or at least a consequence of everyone having at last come around to his way of thinking. But more than just another I-told-you-so, Layton presented even more elaborate formulae for peace negotiations in Afghanistan than the first time round. He made a convincing case that everyone would think it was so cool that Canada could even get itself "a seat on the Security Council in 2010, by demonstrating our maturity and skill in resolving conflicts."

And you know what? It is not a stretch to say that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with his vision for a Canadian military role in Afghanistan reduced to maybe just an odd guard guarding an embassy, has kind of come around to Layton's way of thinking. But what is the result? How was Canada doing this week at the London conference, where the world got its first glimpses of Karzai's latest plan for "peace at any cost"? Anybody offer us a seat on the Security Council?

"Canada's role in Afghanistan, it seemed, was too minor to be mocked," the Globe and Mail's indispensable Doug Saunders reports. "In short, Canada is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the Afghanistan debate."

I am not going to be so beastly as to blame Jack Layton for this. But if there are some people at Macleans who will want to, that's okay too. I promise I will try not to laugh.

8 Comments:

Blogger Jonathan Colvin said...

Talk to the enemy? What a traitor. That would be like talking to the IRA, a bunch of evil bastards who blow up women and children in department stores, and innocent civilians having a beer down the pub. We'll never get peace in Northern Ireland talking to those animals. Anyone suggesting such a thing should be pilloried.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

Taliban Jack is still Taliban Jack.

His devotion to Peace at any Price, as long as someone else does the paying and suffers the brutal consequences, puts Whacko-Jacko high atop the Appeasement Pyramid of Shame.

A disgusting display of me-me-me morality and the media experts like Paul Wells should be ashamed of their "put mouth in gear before thinking" approach to journalism.

I'd bet Jacko would sing a far different tune if he was the the head of the Afghani NDP and lived in Kabul.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"The Leadership Council of the Islamic Emirate, on the basis of its previous legitimate stance, refutes the rumors in some media reports, about negotiation between representatives of the Islamic Emirate and, UN Special Envoy, Kei Ide.

"The Leadership Council considers this mere futile and baseless rumors, being a machination against Jihad and Mujahideen who are waging Jihad against the invaders. The Leadership Council once again emphasizes continuation of Islamic Jihad against all invaders as a mean to frustrate these conspiracies.

"In fact, the decisive stance of the Islamic Emirate regarding the London Conference, was a crushing blow dealt at the American and other invaders. Now the enemy wants to launch such propaganda campaign in order to compensate for that. But the Leadership Council and the sacrificing Mujahideen, with the help of the Almighty Allah, will defeat the futile efforts, conspiracies and collusions of the enemies of Jihad and they will face infamy, if Allah willing."

8:38 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Jonathan: If you're looking for someone who would have or did oppose negotiations between the British and the IRA, you've come to the wrong place. If you're looking for someone so stupid as to compare the IRA to the Taliban, or who would be so idiotic as to compare Irish republicanism with clerical-fascist jihadism, you've come to the wrong place.

Sinn Fein represents and represented a distinct and legitimate constituency in Ulster with demands that were negotiable and comprehensible to the British and were also well within the bounds of rational compromise and comprehension.

If you think the Taliban are any of these things, you're a fool. The Taliban are not the IRA. The Taliban are not the Viet Cong. The Taliban are not the Tupamaros, nor the emissaries of the Dalai Lama, nor the guerilleros of the Sierra Madre.

Get over it.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Colvin said...

According to Sonia Verma in today's Globe, "According to an unclassified report by Task Force Kandahar, only 30 per cent of insurgents fight for money. The rest take up arms because of tribal allegiances or for “other reasons,” an amorphous category that encompasses everything from revenge to land disputes. Just 10 per cent fight for religious reasons, according the analysis." So perhaps 10% of the Taliban are "clerical-fascist jihadis". What about the rest?

11:33 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Colvin said...

You are correct that the Taliban are not the Viet Kong or the IRA. They are more akin to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq....large parts of which were successfully splintered off into the political process through negotiation, payoffs and other means...rather like what is proposed for the Taliban.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

I'm not sure why anyone would need an unclassified report to be aware of this guesswork. Conjecture along these lines is a public parlour game at KAF. Sonia's story is otherwise very good.

I have never opposed the idea of attempting negotiations, buying off the so-called "moderate" Taliban, or even offering some kind of deal to the Taliban leadership that does not require their suicide. I don't even know anyone who has opposed these things, certainly not the Yanks. That's not the point.

The point is to recognize folly when you see it, and duplicity, and ever-present threat of a sellout. For me and my colleagues at the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, and for Afghan progressives, democrats and feminists, that is what is worrisome about London. The point is to hold on to the gains we have all made in opening up democratic space and the advance of human progress - we don't think that's being naive or overly ambitious - so we will be acutely alert to the dangers of any deal that is suited to some cynical or merely cost-saving or face-saving purpose of the "west." That is where Mr. Layton's various formulae situate themselves. Read Thomas Walkom in the Star if you want to get a sense of the make-believe world the "troops out, talk to the Taliban" crowd is required to inhabit in order to conceal the folly and bankruptcy of their position.

Our Afghan friends live in the real world, and don't have such luxuries.

What Verma's article shows - how is this even 'news' anymore? - is that the clerical-fascist jihadist leadership and cadre are beyond the reach of reason and peace talks. But just as the "insurgency" has many levels and strata and is made of command lines and individuals with varying motives, so are the forces that find themselves on the side of the "counterinsurgency."

The terminology is a big part of the problem, but you would be wrong to think "clerical-fascist jihadists" is merely a term of abuse. It is a precise term, and it is precisely the thing that is the implacable enemy of the Afghan people, especially our friends in that country. I have no time for self-proclaimed "progressives" in the tony districts of Toronto and Vancouver who are afraid of using precise terms, preferring general and meaningless catageories, lest their reactionary and cynical purposes be exposed. I have no time for overpaid newspaper columnists who are only too happy to sell out our Afghan friends and gloat with "I told you so" glee at every setback in the struggle against clerical fascism in Afghanistan. I am not on their side, and if you want to resort to a term of abuse to describe me, try "neoconservative warmonger." That seems to be a favorite with the "troops out" set.

10:33 AM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/01/2010 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

8:36 AM  

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