Monday, March 12, 2012

"They deserved better than this. So did the Afghans."

I have a lot of respect for Matthew Fisher. He's been there, he's done that, and he's stuck with our soldiers in Afghanistan longer than any other Canadian journalist. He's always been "among the evolving mission's strongest backers," as he puts it. This also puts Fisher with the Afghan people who support the NATO mission, and "despite what many commentators have said, it has long been a solid majority of the population."

In light of recent events, not least yesterday's news about an American psychopath who just went on a killing spree in Panjwaii, the brutal cost-benefit calculus of Canadian soldiers' continued engagement in Afghanistan has caused Fisher to argue that "the Harper government and senior military commanders must urgently review the increased risks those Canadians may now face, and weigh them carefully against what Canada's trainers might still be able to achieve in Afghanistan before their advisory mission ends in March 2014."

Fair play to Fisher. I've been there too, I've been called “one of Canada’s leading voices in support of our Afghanistan campaign” (and worse) and I too harbour grave doubts about what the Canadian Forces' troop trainers can reasonably hope to achieve now. But for different reasons.

Fisher: "What cannot be quantified is how quickly the slow, incremental gains that Canadian combat troops achieved in Kandahar, during rotations that began early in 2006 and ended last summer, are being squandered by the inhumanity and selfishness of a few renegade Americans."

When Fisher refers to "the inhumanity and selfishness of a few renegade Americans" he cites the American psycho in Panjwaii along with the American idiots who burned those korans at the Baghram airbase a while back and the American soldiers who murdered three Afghans in the vicinity of Panjwaii in 2010. But when I hear words like "the inhumanity and selfishness of a few renegade Americans," the first names that come to my mind are Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Only slightly lower on my list: Newt Gingrich.

Barack Obama is the greatest American catastrophe to befall Afghanistan since Jimmy Carter. Another dirty little secret American Democrats don't want anyone remembering right now is that it was Jimmy Carter who started it all. Afghanistan was at peace and was progressing well into modernity and toleration when Carter started funding Islamist lunatics in that country. Long before the Soviet invasion, and long before Ronald Reagan - the guy who conventionally gets either the blame or the credit, depending on your "politics" - it was Jimmy Carter whose geostrategic genius was the act of rape that produced the savage offspring that Afghans have had to put up with ever since.

From the moment Barack Obama walked into the Oval Office he has run the American project in Afghanistan along the lines of his own elegantly brutal binary calculus. A. Give me a stage with a wind machine fluttering an American flag in the background and the text of a speech with the words "victory" in it just in time for the 2012 elections. B. Barring that, give me a "narrative" that presents Afghanistan as a hopeless quagmire and the "War in Afghanistan" as the hideous warmongering legacy of the hated George Bush, from which I have bravely exerted my charms to extricate the long-suffering American taxpayer.

For the crime of honestly proceeding in the knowledge that Plan A was never going to be possible and that only a slow and steady accumulation of Afghan-led victories would be worth America's time and trouble in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal was thrown into the grinding gears of the White House spin machine in the summer of 2010. Here's how daft Americans can be: almost all of them still believe that Obama fired McChrystal because of some intemperate things McChrystal and his staffers said to one another, and which a sleazy Rolling Stone writer scribbled in his notebook, during a session at a pub in Paris.

It's worth recalling those ostensibly outrageous remarks now. "Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says with a laugh. "Who's that?""Biden?" suggests a top adviser. "Did you say: Bite Me?" Well, bite me, because after McChrystal's cashiering came a series of Pentagon career-enders and State Department demotions and White House defenestrations until all that was left was Joe Biden and a stratagem that would make Henry Kissinger blush. It's either in spite of it or because Biden is the dumbest vice-president to come along since Dan Quayle that Option B was Biden's preference all along. In any case this is what the American "policy" has come to: Screw the Afghans. Who in America cares about the Afghans' pathetic yearnings for a democratic and sovereign republic anyway?

There's no American "Left" that will cause any trouble. There are Republicans to defeat and a White House to hold. The whole sorry mess can be conveniently blamed on that lowbrow Texan president and all his Republican friends. Every Afghan calamity is a good thing. Every Afghan disaster can only justify the rush to get the hell out of there just as soon as decent appearances will allow.

If that doesn't count as "inhumanity and selfishness" and a squandering of all the slow and incremental gains that Canadian soldiers achieved in Kandahar, then I don't know what does.

The entire UN International Security Assistance Force project in Afghanistan was never more than an effort to open up just enough space for Afghans to entrench democratic institutions in their country - like free elections, for starters. It was never more than an effort to buy just enough time for Afghans to rebuild the work they had begun before the peacenik Democrat Jimmy Carter came along and improved things so much all those years ago.

Canadian soldiers and their families have every reason to be proud of the great sacrifices and the enormous contributions they have invested in that gallant cause. Between 2006 and 2011, a mere 2,800 Canadian soldiers almost single-handedly kept the Taliban at bay and prevented Kandahar from falling back into the Taliban orbit of the United States' more influential friends among the generals of Rawalpindi and the bribe lords of Islamabad.

Our soldiers are still hard at work in Afghanistan, and that's something Canadians can be proud of no matter the moral abyss to which the Obama administration has led the NATO enterprise in that war-broken country. The thing is, now that the comical U.S. presidential election cycle is amusing us all and keeping all those CNN hologram artists hard at work, there isn't likely to be a NATO leader (I wouldn't count on Stephen Harper; a better outside long shot bet would be Angela Merkel) who will want to wipe the grin off Biden's face or do anything to slow Obama's swagger.

I mean, seriously. To whose benefit? The greasy serial philanderer Newt Gingrich? Rick Santorum, a half-baked neo-papist who fancies himself to be a Roman Catholic? That creepy jackmormon Mitt Romney? Lined up against that lot John McCain looks like Sun Tzu and Sarah Palin comes off like Carl von Clausewitz.

If you imagine Barack Obama to be some sort of truly progressive internationalist, or Afghans to be irredeemably backward and tribal religious fanatics, or Canada's participation in the UN's ISAF effort in Afghanistan to be merely the ladies-auxiliary function of an ugly Rumsfeldian project of U.S. imperialism, then the painfully obvious won't even occur to you. The important questions won't even cross your mind.

Here's just one: Why it is that what all the clever Canadians still say is now and was always "not the right mission for Canada" remains the right mission for Tonga, Mongolia, Ireland, Luxembourg, Singapore, Turkey and Lithuania, among a total of 46 countries with soldiers still in Afghanistan?

Get the "us" and the "them" wrong in all this and what will also be lost on you is the depth of the "inhumanity and selfishness" involved in the American discourse that is playing out right now in the wake of a demented American soldier's random killing spree that piled 16 innocent and harmless Afghans, most of them children, in a corpse heap in Panjwaii. All you have to do is read the headlines: Afghan Massacre: How Rising Tensions Could Cost Obama Politically. Bring The Troops Home Now From Afghanistan. White House: Afghanistan Killings Unlikely to Alter Withdrawal Plan. Afghanistan Massacre Blows Hole In GOP War Support.

Of all grotesquely emblematic places, the massacre occurred in Panjwaii. In the summer of 2006, it was Canada that took Panjwaii from the Taliban. Panjwaii was Afghanistan's Stalingrad. Canadian soldiers won the Battle of Panjwaii, the most important confrontation of the entire 10-year NATO effort in Afghanistan. It was only last summer that the Royal 22nd Regiment handed command of Panjwaii to a US Stryker brigade from Alaska.

We lost Captain Nichola Goddard in Panjwaii. We lost
Sergeant Craig Gillam and Corporal Robert Mitchell in Panjwaii. We lost the medic Private Colin Wilmot there. Read the names. Look at where they died. Canada lost dozens of soldiers in and around Panjwaii.

Now ask yourself whether it's possible to speak any of those soldiers' names aloud in the same breath as the names Barack Obama or Joe Biden or Newt Gingrich without it sounding like you've muttered an obscenity. Then ask yourselves who the "us" is in all this, and who we mean, exactly, when we talk about the "War in Afghanistan," when we talk about "them".


Blogger kellie said...

Ahmad Shuja on How the US is Still Getting Afghanistan Wrong.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Frank Bedek said...

Where do you get your polling information about Afghans' feelings about the occupation from?

6:22 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Frank: Here's a wealth of resources. Not quite up to date - you could look up like the most recent Asia Foundation poll - but it's got most of the polling over the past ten years in one place:



7:14 AM  

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