Friday, March 30, 2012

Curioser and curioser.

Those Vancouver uber-landlords, the billionaire Kwok brothers, have been arrested in Hong Kong on corruption charges. The people of Hong Kong, meanwhile, are putting up more of a fight than the people of Vancouver are. "Increasing numbers of people are taking to the streets in protest, not just for greater democracy, a common goal in the past, but other issues, especially the fast growing income divide and ballooning property prices."

Elsewhere, Iran is helping Syria sell its oil to China via Zhuhai Zhenrong, the Iranian oil trader to the Enbridge pipeline backer Sinopec that was busted two months ago after getting caught selling gasoline worth more than $500 million back into Iran.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Canada Just Dodged A Bullet.

Bill to Ramp Up Sanctions Fails in U.S. Senate: here. It was close: Reid Tries to Push Through Iran Sanctions Bill. Why it mattered to Canada: here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How's That "Peace Talks" Racket Working Out?

According to the International Crisis Group, it's not working out all that well. Let me rephrase that.

It's not working at all:

"Bargains are being cut with any and all comers, regardless of their political relevance or ability to influence outcomes. Far from being Afghan-led, the negotiating agenda has been dominated by Washington’s desire to obtain a decent interval between the planned U.S. troop drawdown and the possibility of another bloody chapter in the conflict. The material effect of international support for negotiations so far has been to increase the incentives for spoilers, who include insurgents, government officials and war profiteers of all backgrounds and who now recognise that the international community’s most urgent priority is to exit Afghanistan with or without a settlement."

The ICG's alternative would consist of 1. A "sequenced roadmap" with an emphasis on domestic reconciliation, 2. Political reform and 3. A "multilateral meditation effort" overseen by the United Nations. That would be immeasurably better than the enterprise in capitulation and abandonment the White House is currently running, which the ICG calls "a market-bazaar" policy. Even if Number 3 proved a disaster - which I'd expect would likely be the case - everyone would still be ahead of the game so long as 1 & 2 got some traction.

The problem with any "meditation" or negotiation effort involving the Taliban is that from its very beginnings the Taliban leadership has never found cause to enter into any agreement except for the purpose of breaking it, and every single agreement the Talibs have ever signed - they have agreed to countless regional power-sharing and ceasefire bargains in Pakistan - they have broken.

To get a sense of what we're dealing with here, this is the way these nutters resolve minor points of religious difference and turf-sharing amongst themselves: In a rivalry between the major Pakistani branch of Mullah Omar's Quetta Taliban and Lashkar-e-Islam - a related jihadist outfit that recruits bedlamers to the Afghan jihad from across the border in Khyber - a suicide bomber was sent into a mosque in the Tirah Valley the other day. He detonated himself and killed five people. Earlier this month a Taliban Movement of Pakistan suicide bomber blew himself up in another Lashkar-e-Islam mosque, killing 22 people.

This has left Canadian soldiers to do what they do best: soldier on. And so they should.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Get Real or Go Home.

Michael Gerson in WaPo: "At nearly every stage of Obama’s Afghan war, he has surrounded even reasonable decisions with a fog of ambivalence. His initial Afghan policy review was a botched mess of vicious infighting, leaked classified material and mixed messages. His decision to pursue the Afghan surge seemed more of a reluctant concession than the expression of a firm conviction. His public statements on the war and its aims are rare — mainly made in response to reporters’ questions."

Nothing ambivalent from Al Qaida crime boss Ayman al-Zawahiri: "Honorable Afghans, the way is clear! It is either to stand by the banner of Islam to fight and support the Mujahideen using your hand, tongue, money and heart," the al Qaeda leader says. "Or you will be humiliated in this life and be punished in the hereafter."

Ahmed Rashid is a writer I much admire, even though his contributions lately are notable mostly as the pleadings of a Pakistani patriot with a broken heart: "People are saying that the American presence in Afghanistan is causing all of this, which I think is a very simplistic explanation. But there's a lot of criticism of the United States and partly it's being sponsored by the government, by the army, by the right-wing fundamentalist parties. Because they find it easier to blame someone outside rather than look inwards and look at Pakistan's own problems and weaknesses and try and resolve them. ... The failure of Pakistanis to look inward into themselves and ask themselves the right questions rather than blaming constantly India, America or Israel — as Pakistan tends to do — is not resolving anything."

Well said. But Rashid is becoming increasingly frantic in his insistence on a triangular rapprochement between Pakistan, the United States and the Taliban. The tragedy of that is that it's merely the vain hope for a magic elixir to cure what ails his own country. For Rashid, some sort of deal with the Taliban with the signatures of Pakistani generals on it is the last chance to keep Pakistan from sinking into full bore failed-state bedlam. So Rashid deserves sympathy.

But Afghans would pay the full price of this straw-grasping, and Pakistan's collapse in one form or another is almost certainly unavoidable anyway. Pakistan is a sinkhole that the United States continues to pretend is just a pothole. It's a degenerated military-industrial complex masquerading as a UN member state, a petri dish filled with the most toxic forms of bacteria that for too long have been allowed to circulate throughout a portion of the earth that contains a fifth of humanity. Pakistan is threatening to drag the entire region down into the abyss of its own deepening barbarism. Pakistan's generals know this, they like it this way, and they exploit the threat to their every advantage.

Sorry, but Afghanistan has suffered from this obscene arrangement long enough - more than 30 years - and so has every country that has put its shoulder to the wheel of Afghan reconstruction since 2001. India especially, with its 1.2 billion people, should not be expected to be held hostage much longer to a Beijing-guaranteed ransom stream that pleases "war weary" Americans who want a quiet life for themselves. Tolerance of the Pakistani ruling elites, with all their cunning sabotage, backstabbing duplicity and racketeering, has served only to ensure that "American interests" in the region are more easily managed, at everyone else's expense. Enough, I reckon.

In Rawalpindi, Islamabad, and Washington, they all have to be told that the jig is up.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dear Jim Flaherty: About "Rights and Democracy." Kill The Thing, Please.

You’d think there would be nothing new to say about the scandal-ridden GONGO (Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organization) that calls itself the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development but which is otherwise known as Rights and Democracy. Sadly, there is, and I have some things to report in my Ottawa Citizen column today.

Its about the key chapter in the story that has embroiled the agency in such wild histrionics since 2008 — R&D’s involvement, or not, in the April 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva, the disastrous spectacle otherwise known as the UN World Conference on Racism. R&D wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with the “Durban II” conference because Canada was among the 10 countries that had decided to boycott the whole thing.

This is an exchange between New Democratic Party MP Paul Dewar — R&D’s most strident defender — and [the late and roundly lamented Remy] Beauregard’s successor, Gérard Latulippe, during a hearing of the House Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of February 9 last year. Dewar: “There was this Durban 2 conspiracy. That’s a dud, from what you’re showing in the document here. I’ll say it’s a dud. You can say there was nothing there.” Latulippe: “What I did is I’m giving you all the facts.”

A conspiracy? A dud? All the facts?

Not according to an R&D staffer who was directly involved in a senior position with the UN Human Rights Council’s Durban preparations panel. The former staffer does not want to be identified, and I’m content to leave the person’s name out of it. The R&D employee’s involvement in planning the Durban conference was made known to R&D management at the time. It’s all set out in two reports that have come into my possession that the staffer filed with R&D management, from Geneva, dated October 30 and December 22, 2008. . .

. . .It should tell you something that more than $500,000 in public funds has been spent over the past three years or so on investigations and deliberations involving R&D, including its Geneva operation, and that one staffer’s reports haven’t come up. A measly amount, you could say, and R&D’s $11 million annual cost to taxpayers is a drop in the federal budget’s bucket, too.

But Rights and Democracy’s mission — which is to assist in the global advance of universal human rights and democratic development — is more critically necessary now than it has been at any time in the agency’s 24-year history. And R&D is broken. It’s time to start over with something that works.

Deeper background here.

From Canada to Afghanistan to China and Back Again.

Here's me giving out about how I ended up writing a book about Afghanistan, the implications for that poor bedraggled country in light of recent and radical policy shifts in Washington, the manipulations of the Pakistani ISI and its ramped-up collaborations with the regime in Beijing, right round to Canada's weird new "gateway to prosperity" in China, via bitumen pipelines and oil tankers. At the Fraser Institute of all places:

Put Out More Flags.

The repetition of colonial historiography in the US media has far less to do with what is actually happening in Afghanistan and what Afghans think; and far more to do with how the United States and its allies perceive a war of which they have become weary. Every time, say, a U.S. soldier goes mad and kills 16 Afghans, we will see an increase in references in the U.S. media to how Afghanistan has always been ungovernable, to Brydon, to the “graveyard of empires”, to ”tribal tradition” or to how primitive the people are.

So Myra MacDonald confidently predicts, and I wouldn't bet against her. It's like Praveen Swami set out yesterday: "Blaming Afghans for a fate they did not choose isn't legitimate debate — it is deeply racist libel."

The Pakistani elites, echoing their "troops out" counterparts in the NATO capitals, tell themselves similarly comforting and equally bigoted fairytales about Afghans all the time. It's of the same disorder as the hysterics about drones that Farhat Taj has properly rubbished: “What we read and hear in the print and electronic media of Pakistan about drone attacks as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty or resulting in killing innocent civilians is not true so far as the people of Waziristan are concerned. According to them, al Qaeda and the TTP (the Pakistani Taliban) are dead scared of drone attacks and their leadership spends sleepless nights. This is a cause of pleasure for the tormented people of Waziristan.”

And if you want to know something about the politics involved in the Washington-Kabul relationship and the degeneration of leadership in and around Karzai's palace, here's one story that's worth 100 know-it-all op-eds. At the very least it'll give you a sense of the sinister influence that Hezb-e-Islami is wielding at the very centres of power in Kabul. It was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb that had its fingerprints all over the koran riots last month, but the "primitive" and "ungovernable" Afghan people got blamed for all that, too.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The West's Troops-Out Polemics Rely On 'A Deeply Racist Libel' - Praveen Swami.

Like every other crisis on our planet today, the roots of the war in Afghanistan lie in modernity: the battles for empire of the 19th century; the Cold War; secularisation against faith.

There are entirely legitimate debates to be conducted on when the West should leave Afghanistan, and how the war there should be fought. The truth, though, is this: the world chose not to commit the resources, and blood, needed to build a modern nation-state from the ruins of the Cold War. Blaming Afghans for a fate they did not choose isn't legitimate debate — it is deeply racist libel.

Praveen's essay is one of the sharpest analyses I have read on the subject of the dominant Euro-American incoherence about the thing everybody likes to call the War in Afghanistan. And I say that not just because Praveen's perspective accords exactly with my own findings.

Do read the whole thing.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

In The Days After Saint Patrick.

Further to this post and this essay in yesterday's Vancouver Sun, the thing to do is just get yourself out to the ragged coasts of Kerry’s Dingle and Iveragh peninsulas and West Cork’s Beare Peninsula, Sheep’s Head, Mizen Head and Roaringwater Bay. If you fly into Cork City, all the better.

From Dingle, a car ferry will connect you to Valentia Island, which is also accessible by road and bridge at the end of a couple of hours’ drive around the emerging surfing paradise of Dingle Bay and through some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful countryside in the world. Either way, put yourself on the mainland side of the Valentia Island bridge in the village of Portmagee, home to several excursion-boat charters out to Skelling Michael (best information source:

Good sea legs and calf muscles will come in handy for the trip out to the island and the hike up to the monastic site. I met a 70-year-old nun at the top once, but she was seriously fit. There’s a surfeit of B&Bs in Portmagee so here’s a tip: Try to get lodgings at The Moorings. At the very least you’ll want to stick around in the evenings for the Moorings pub’s all-local traditional music sessions.

From Portmagee, you could spend half your life or half a day getting to Baltimore in West Cork for the whale-watching boats and ferries to the islands of Roaringwater Bay. En route, the ancient world breathes out of the very ground in thousands of standing stones, megalithic tombs, famine-era ruins, ring forts, boulder burials, raths, early Christian monastic sites and stone circles.

Baltimore is a grand town, besides, but from Baltimore there are regular ferries to several islands, occupied and otherwise. Apart from Sherkin and Cape Clear Island, there’s Inis Ui Drisceoil, also known as Hare, also known as Heir, which is splendid for day hikes, cycling and kayaking. A good internet resource is Baltimore’s own website: Even if you prefer just roving about the southwest back country on foot, the person to know is John Ahern at Southwest Walks Ireland (

Saturday, March 17, 2012

In The Days Before Saint Patrick.

For Feile Padraig in the Vancouver Sun I have an essay about the ancient islands of Ireland's west coast, beginning with Oileán Chléire,where I start out at Ciaran Danny Mike Sean Eireamhain O'Driscoll's, the southernmost pub in all Ireland, to discuss life's mysteries and the comings and goings of the storm petrels and the fin whales. There are about 100 islanders. They speak Gaeilge, but among the many things they will be happy to tell you in English is that Saint Ciarán was born there in the 5th century, before Saint Patrick's time. He wore sealskin robes and preached to the seabirds.

If you find yourself out walking with Mary O'Driscoll, the wife and boss of Ciaran Danny Mike, you will come to know that you have not gone out to Cape Clear Island, which is what blow-ins call Oileán Chléire, at all. You have "gone into" it. Another thing: the O'Driscolls are more properly called the O'Drisceoil, and they were respectable ship's pilots and not the savage pirate lords of the Celtic Sea that the townies talk about back on the mainland.

From the old port town of Baltimore it can take less than an hour to reach Oileán Chléire, depending on the weather, but it is only a few minutes to Inis Earcáin, otherwise known as Sherkin Island. There, the ferry puts in just below the ruins of a Franciscan friary that was sacked by an army that the merchants of Waterford raised against the islanders in 1537 to avenge the O'Driscolls' capture and plunder of a Waterford-bound Portuguese ship that was laden with fine wines. Or so they claim in Waterford, anyway.

But today is not Saint Ciarán's Day. That was two weeks ago (March 5), and by the way Saint Ciarán of Oileán Chléire is not to be confused with Saint Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, whose feast day is September 9 and who is coincidentally associated with Hare Island (otherwise known as Heir Island, otherwise known as Inis Uí Dhrisceoil), another lovely island I visited only a couple of days after my stay out in Cape Clear. Just to be clear.

And to clear up the stories you hear about Saint Patrick, what follows is the story as told by a young girl whose name is lost to us even though it was only in the 1960s that her recounting was recorded by her teacher Peig Cunningham of Donegal at Rutland Street primary school in working-class North Dublin. The child's telling of the story of Patrick was among several stories told by schoolchildren on an old tape recording discovered in the 1990s by a certain Father Brian D'Arcy, and the tape came into the hands of the genius animator Cathal Gaffney, whose film based on the recordings ended up nominated for an Oscar.

The voice of Peig Cunningham at the beginning is that of the actor Maria McDermottroe. The child's voice is the original. Give Up Yer Aul Sins:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Blame George Bush All You Want. The Democrats Have No One To Blame But Obama.

A synthesis of Barack Obama's deliberate sabotage of Afghanistan:

"Obama had to do this 18-month surge just to demonstrate, in effect, that it couldn't be done," says Douglas E. Lute, senior coordinator for Afghanistan on the National Security Council. "This is a house of cards."

"I can't lose all the Democratic Party," says Barack Obama. Vice President Joe Biden was "more convinced than ever that Afghanistan was a version of Vietnam." Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry: "Basically we're screwed." Richard Holbrook, the senior White house specialist on Afghanistan and Pakistan: "It can't work."

(When I say Joe biden is the dumbest vice-president since Dan Quayle, even Osama bin Laden noticed that. Osama wanted Obama whacked because Biden would assume the presidency, and Biden was "totally unprepared" for the job.)

By the autumn of 2009, Obama had come to agree with Biden. He reversed American policy and revived the most sinister elements of Donald Rumsfeld's disastrous approach: "[Obama] seems to have settled for a strategy in Afghanistan which is entirely oriented on US and not on Afghan goals, as he states in his 29 November 2009 'Final Orders for Afghanistan Pakistan Strategy, or Terms Sheet’ (published in Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars): ‘not fully resourced COIN or nation building, but a narrower approach tied more tightly to the core goal of disrupting, dismantling and eventually defeating al Qaida and preventing al Qaida’s return to safe haven in Afghanistan and Pakistan’. Not a word about human rights, democracy or such."

By then, there was absolutely nothing on the "Left" in the United States to stand in the way, and the Republican Party was no less a bedlam of the senile and the deranged.

That's what I meant here: Ever since Barack Obama was elected in 2008, everything the White House has done has had a smell about it that can easily be mistaken for the reek of sabotage and capitulation. And it's what I meant here: Barack Obama is the greatest American catastrophe to befall Afghanistan since Jimmy Carter.

Obama's most fervent supporters know this to be true. They know they can't hide it anymore. They just try to softsoap it.

Here's the Editorial Board of the Washington Post, just this week: "As they watch these moves, Afghans, the Taliban and neighbors such as Pakistan can reasonably conclude that the United States, rather than trying to win the war, is racing to implement an exit strategy in which the interests of Afghans and their government are slighted. . . If it’s evident that the president won’t defend the war, and is focused on 'winding down' rather than winning, why should anyone else support it?"

Pulitzer-winning Steve Coll, author of the indispensable Ghost Wars, in this week's New Yorker: "It can be tragic to be wrong; it isn’t shameful. What is shameful is to possess the capacity to recognize and fix mistakes but to fail to do so, out of pride, politics, or indifference to the suffering of others—in this case, the potential suffering of Afghans if NATO leaves behind another Somalia."

That is what Barack Obama is doing to Afghanistan.

I was in Kabul when Obama was elected. I hooked up with a gang of young Americans in the wee hours of the morning to watch the results come in on CNN. There were all utterly ecstatic.

It was hard not to get caught up in the moment and its historic resonance. America had just elected its first Black president in the largest Democratic Party landslide since the 1964 triumph of Lyndon Johnson, the year of the bloody voter-registration drive in Mississippi. Thousands of young Afghan voter-registration workers were at that moment starting their day, fanning out across the provinces of Kunduz, Faryab, Balkh and Baghlan, in just one more small movement forward for Afghanistan’s embryonic democracy. And at long last, America would assert some credible leadership in helping to build a healthy Afghan democracy.

It was nice to savour the moment while it lasted.

Ahmad Shuja: "It is now too late for the US and its NATO allies to change policies and come up with a panacea. The best – and the least – they could do is avoid further damage by a hasty, thoughtless pullout."

Monday, March 12, 2012

"We are going to fight to victory or to death.”

“The regime is rotting from the inside,” Muhammad Zuka, the Syrian revolutionary who coordinates the Free Syrian Army’s Popular Resistance Bloc, tells my comrade Michael Weiss.

What I find striking about Zuka's assessment is how similar it is to the analysis of Afghans who observe that the Pakistani ISI is intervening in Afghanistan, as is the Khomeinist regime in Tehran, so if it's "intervention" that worries the NATO powers so much they could bloody well at least stand in the way of the unwanted interventionists. There's intervention, and then there's intervention.

“Why should foreign intervention be wrong when people demand it?” Muhammed asked Weiss. “Russia, Iran, Hezbollah all support the regime. That’s a form of intervention, isn’t it? We are not fighting just the regime, we are fighting foreign states that stand behind it. So make this an equal battle for us. We can take care of ourselves.” Further: “If the US wants to bomb the Fourth Division, then great! But there is now an understanding that the international community is not serious. Turkey has been blowing hot air about a buffer zone for months. Why should we wait for the Arab League or this or that country to veto something at the UN?”

Zuka sides with a growing body of opinion among Syrian revolutionaries that regards the Istanbul-based Syrian National Council (which enjoys support from Canada, the UK and France, for starters) is mostly a "vanity project" for Syrian exiles. “No one represents us,” Zuka said. When Weiss asks why the disaffected Syrian revolutionaries aren't drawing up their own program, here's Zuka: “You want a petition? Every day is a petition – look at our banners and pictures. We named four Fridays in a row ‘Foreign Intervention Friday.’ After that it was ‘The FSA Protects Us Friday’, then ‘No Fly-Zone Friday.’ Last week was ‘Arm the FSA Friday.’ How much clearer can we be?”

There is no possibility of a reconciliation with the regime of Bashar al Assad. Not any more. “Negotiations aren’t possible. We are going to fight to victory or to death.”

"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".

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Importance Of Being Nicky Larkin.

The anti-Israel hysteria that has lately entrenched itself in Ireland - which may be waning at last, but which last year the bold Jesuit sociologist Micheál MacGréil demonstrated to be directly linked to an alarming rise in grotesque and unadulterated antisemitism - is the subject of an important essay in Sunday's Irish Independent by the Irish artist and film-maker Nicky Larkin.

I have an essay on the subject with some useful background context just now posted over at the Propagandist. Do please read it.

There are a number of reasons why I find all of this especially disturbing. It's a family thing, for starters. My mother has a deeply personal stake in this sort of thing and my late father would have his particular reasons for being pleased with Larkin's bravery and pluck; dad having been an Irish republican of distinctly anti-fascist tendency whose youthful underground mischief involved mainly bringing as much calamity upon the Blueshirts as he could manage.

Dad took great pride in pointing out that the Liberator Daniel O'Connell saw to it that Judaism was included in the Catholic emancipation law of the 1850s, in the final repeal of the Penal Laws. In family memory there were Jewish merchants fondly recollected for their selfless kindnesses during the famine time. There was great shame in the knowledge that Sinn Fein founder Arthur Griffith was an unapologetic antisemite, but pride in the Land Leaguer Michael Davitt who was ever alert to the poisons of antisemitism and was an historian and authority on the persecution of Russia's Jews.

To be a Cork republican back in the day was to claim entitlement to boast that the small Lithuanian Jewish settlement that fled the "Limerick pogrom" in the first years of the 20th century was welcomed with open arms and taken into the homes of Cork people. The Limerick incidents were whipped up by a creepy Redemptorist demagogue who was always banging on about Freemasons as well.

Most everyone regarded the affair as shameful and scandalous; the vexatious windbag of a priest was banished from Ireland and one of the Limerick children (Gerry Goldberg) was eventually elected mayor of Cork. Until the Limerick incident the Irish could (and did) claim that Ireland was the only country in Europe without a history of antisemitic violence.

The Irish Jews are a small but ancient minority that did fairly well for themselves without raising armies and stealing people's land and outlawing the locals' religion like a certain other shall we say immigrant community I could mention (can we keep a sense of humour please?). The people of Youghal in Rebel Cork were electing Jewish mayors (from a community that had fled pogroms in Portugal) in the 1500s. And the Briscoes of Dublin, father and son, were mayors of that city. There's a story that Briscoe Senior was sometimes asked by his supporters: Been meaning to ask, are ye a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew? I suspect it's made up but I get a laugh out of it anyway.

Here's a fine little story.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"No one needs Jason Russell’s novelty bracelets."

Everything that's wrong with "activism" in one short sweet Michael Petrou column:

"Anytime someone says their organization aims to 'raise awareness' or something similar, don’t give them your money. Suffering people need help, not sympathy. . . None of this will make a scrap of difference in Central Africa. Joseph Kony needs a drone missile dropped on his perverted, evil ass."

Friday, March 09, 2012

Absurdistan: Where it's at and where it's going.

Giving out on the subject. You should buy the book. It will do us both good.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Happy International Women's Apartheid Day.

From my Ottawa Citizen column today:

. . . If you can resist the hegemonist and patriarchal urges of homonationalism, you will correctly avoid taking any pride to notice that Israeli Apartheid Week is a distinctly Canadian contribution to these giddy eruptions of the global avant-garde. It all began in Toronto in 2005. It continues to spread its toxic mumbo jumbo, every year sucking greater volumes of oxygen out of all the spaces where a robust Israeli-Palestinian solidarity movement might otherwise be.

You’d think the Arab Spring never happened. You’d think the Khomeinists in Tehran were not still jailing and torturing and disappearing Iranian democracy activists and feminists and journalists, and that Bashar al Assad’s Baathists were not continuing their slaughter of thousands of Syrians even as I write this. It is as though the very rights and liberties that millions of young Arabs have been fighting and dying for from Algeria to Amman were not already guaranteed, uniquely in the Middle East, by Israel. . .

To my missus, my ma, and my daughter: Always. To my sisters and aunties everywhere, especially in Afghanistan and Iran: Hambestagi. You will win.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Sharon Shannon, Eion O'Neill, Mary Custy.

The Road to Ballymac, Andy McGann's, The Congress.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Koran-Burning Hysterics: More Rich White People Than Afghans.

Seriously. There comes a point when you really have to wonder why Afghans are getting slagged off as the freakout-prone lunatics in the latest koran-burning rumpus, but not North American windbags across the spectrum from the hard-right to the pseudo-left.

“It’s happening a lot, and it’s really putting a lie to the idea that just being there training Afghans is somehow safe,” [the comical stoppist whiner Derrick] O’Keefe said. “It also, I think, indicates that overall the foreign presence is not wanted anymore and is resented.” In a pitch-perfect echo, here's American Republican Gargoyle Newt Gingrich: “I would not risk the life of a single American. . . in a country whose religious fanatics are trying to kill us and whose government seems to be on the side of the fanatics.”

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon has actually (shock!) asked Afghan women what they think about the hullabaloo:

“Most people are more angry at the protesters than at the U.S. troops who did it,” said Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women. “One person actually said, ‘When the Taliban are blowing up schools or mosques, aren’t they burning the Quran? Mosques are filled with hundreds of copies of the Quran. How come no one is saying anything about this?’”

Here's Wazhma Frogh of the Afghan Women's Network: “Deeply sad for loss of ISAF and Afghan lives. All being done by enemies to make us abandoned again." Here's Afghan parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi: “I condemn the fact that there was a disrespect to my religion and to the Holy Quran, but I condemn also those who misuse and try to politicize any emotional feeling of my people. . . A few hundred people in the streets does not represent the Afghan nation.”

Here's Abdul Ali Faiq, with the European Campaign for Human Rights in Afghanistan: “What happened at Baghram, this is not a concern for the 29 million people of Afghanistan. . . Most Afghans have their minds on other things. They say, why should we care?”

In the most recent Asia Foundation poll on Afghan public opinion, "foreign interference" is ranked at the very bottom of problems that worry Afghans: 1. Insecurity (38%) 2. Unemployment (23%) 3. Corruption (21%) 4. Poverty (12%), 5. Poor economy (10%), 6. Lack of education (10%), 7. The Taliban (8%), 8. Suicide attacks (8%) 9. Foreign interference (7%).

Most of Afghanistan is at peace. Afghan support for equal rights regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion is at 82%, and for equal educational opportunities for women it's 85%. I would not be prepared to bet that support is that high among Canada's so-called "anti-war" constituency, or in Newt Gingrich's weird corner of the Republican Party.

Steve Coll, the Pulitzer-winning Washington Post journalist whose work on Afghanistan is indispensable, explains just how screwed up the Obama "exit strategy" is. Very much worth listening to: