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.


Blogger Jonathon Narvey said...

Holy smokes. Fire, brimstone and a healthy dose of facts. Love this.

A myriad of excellent talking points here for Wednesday, as well. Hope you can make it.

Very neatly summed up the inability of our side to perceive how much we've actually succeeded. When you put it like this, the other side has been running on fumes for years:

"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."

5:23 PM  
Blogger Louise said...

Does anyone actually read Rick Salutin?

8:07 PM  
Blogger TarekFatah said...


The difference between Noordin Top being killed in Java and the war in Afghanistan is that in Indonesia, it was Indonesian security forces who nabbed him, not American, Canadian or the Dutch.

Similarly, in Pakistan, it is Pakistani troops that are decimating the Taliban, not the Americans.

Unfortunately in Afghanistan, we are being ripped off by hundreds of NGOs, pollsters, mercenaries and profiteers and the Taliban can falsely claim to be the 'resistance'.

Samir Amin is an Arab political scientists (who has left the Arab world to settle down in Senegal and France). He once uttered a profound line that is applicable to all conflicts. He said:

"The Armies of the North can never bring freedom to the people of the South"

We could be in Afghanistan fro 100 years and re-build the whole country, bt we will always be seen as the 'occupier" not the liberator.

4:03 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


You and I share a great deal in the way of analysis, but the conclusion you reach is dead wrong. You are wrong because you ignore the relevant points in play, and allow theory to get in the way of the salient facts.

The crucial difference between Indonesia and Afghanistan is that the Indonesian state has the capacity to hunt down Islamist murderers, and the Afghan state is not yet capable of accomplishing anything of the kind. You also overlook the fact that in Pakistan, it is not just Pakistani troops that have the Taliban on the run, but American drone strikes, intelligence resources and critical military support.

The Taliban will falsely claim to be the 'resistance' in Afghanistan, and the presence of "pollsters," NGOs, or anyone else has nothing to do with it.

Where you make your fatal mistake is that while "we" may be cast as merely the "occupier" by Taliban propagandists and privileged Third Worldists in the rich countries of the world, the Afghan people know better. Not once in all the years since 2001 have the majority of Afghans not supported the UN-sanctioned military and reconstruction efforts underway in their country.

As I have said before, if this were merely about the "west" attempting to impose its will on the Afghan people, then it would not only be proper for the west to withdraw immediately, as you propose, but rather it would be just and fitting for "the west" to be dealt a crushing and humiliating defeat.

Neither is this merely about "the armies of the north" attempting to bring freedom to "the people of the South." This is a state-building project, a work in progress, and it is the most ambitious project in the history of the United Nations. The military component consists of the armies of 41 different countries in ISAF, including armies of the "south," not least Arabs from Jordan and the Emirates, and other Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Bosnia.

Most importantly, this is a liberation struggle, and it is being waged by the Afghan people, against obscurantism, illiteracy, Islamist fascism, disease and barbarism. Look back over the past ten years, and only a fool or a liar would deny that the Afghan people have made enormous gains in that struggle.

The people are winning. The people will win. And I'm counting on you to toughen up on this question, Tarek.

7:06 AM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

Hi Terry: Over at Harry's Place, I'm engaged in a minor war of words with a reactionary U.S. conservative who claims that "liberals" (whatever he means by that) don't are mum on Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Congo, Darfur, etc. etc. Of course I pointed out the idiocy of his position by simply pointing out that the very web site he made his accusation on run by folks who are "liberal" (i.e. decent left). I'm telling you this because you and the articles you consistently post are another great example. Thanks for not letting the bastards on either side get you down.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Thanks, Vildechaye. I do get tired of it. So does Rosie DiManno:

5:55 PM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

Thanks for the link to Rosie DiManno's excellent article. Unfortunately, most of the comments that follow are, sadly, what you might expect. It seems that these Canadians are going to need a much harder and more painful wakeup call to dispel their illusions; i have always hoped it wouldn't come to that, but reading those comments, and others like them on the CBC and Globe and Mail web sites makes me despair.

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with what you say but one thing really worries me that is where you say it is a UN initiative. I have heard of damn few things the UN is involved with or done that I support.

1:09 AM  
Blogger DGH said...

Bob, I'd be cautious about toeing the anti-UN line too tightly: it puts you in some rather, er, awkward company:

11:59 AM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/21/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Conor Foley said...

Good article Terry - and it is indeed the UN that should be supported. Also a good point about the Afghan army - one of the few genuinely popular national institutions in Afghanistan.

The biggest two weaknesses are the judiciary and the police and these should really be the focus of the reform effort. My view remains that the Taliban aren't going to get 'beaten' in the sense of militarily annhilated (although I would revise that view if the Pakistani army did get a grip on the border). However, they can be contained while the state-building that you correctly point out the need for is undertaken.

The scale of that task, though, is huge and it would run directly counter to much of what has been allowed to happen over the last few years. Karzai should not be allowed to steal the election. His warlord allies should be sacked and imprisoned. Those are really difficult tasks and would require a very different approach involving external actors (UN, NGOs, etc.) and civil society groups (traditional elders, but also educated professionals) working together in the name of a rule of law which every day looks more elusive.

I have still got faint bits of optimism left that this strategy could be attempted - although that is mainly because the alternatives are all so awful.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Good to hear from you Conor, and thanks for dropping by.


4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DGH. I promise you everyone and anyone that knows me will never associate me with those Islamic terrorists.

7:24 PM  
Blogger J. L. Krueger said...

Another great piece Terry. It constantly amazes me how most of the media makes the Taliban out to be some sort of invincible and upright army. Then again, the Taliban are only one of several "anti-government" forces at play here, but everyone lumps the entire package into one imaginary coherent insurgency. They are anything but.

However, the bad guys do understand the West's weakness and our dithering media. They play to that, knowing our MSM will work overtime to lose the war for us.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Since the 2008 Asia Foundation survey was mentioned, here's a newer versio:

Asia Foundation. 2009. ‘Afghanistan in 2009: A Survey of the Afghan People’, The findings from The Asia Foundation’s fifth public opinion poll in Afghanistan.

3:10 PM  

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