Thursday, January 10, 2008

Staying the Course in Afghanistan

My local rag, the Hamilton Spectator, ran an editorial by one Bob Bergen of the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute. Bergen’s essay supporting our policies in Afghanistan is typical of the frustratingly vague, over-generalized defences of this controversial mission. It’s also full of the distortions and innuendos that pro-war writers feel they need to use to make their case.

Bergen begins by saying that CF and others know that we’re winning in Afghanistan.

Are we winning the battle against the insurgents in Afghanistan?

Almost any Canadian soldier, diplomat or NATO official asked that question invariably answers: Yes, we are, but there is still a long way to go.

If we’re winning, then I’d hate to see what losing looks like. In all the years we’ve been fighting them, the Taliban have increased in numbers and have often increased the area of land under their control. If you hire an exterminator to get rid of mice in your home and five years later there are even more mice, you might question whether the exterminator is "winning" in his battle with the mice.

Bergen then follows up with an insult to critics of the war, describing us as ignorant dupes, ... the victims of simplistic “Canada-centric,” news sources, and unable to comprehend or care about the people of Afghanistan and their needs.

Well, no. I suppose that I'm as guilty as the next person of talking-past my ideological opponents on Afghanistan, but those times when I've actually bothered to read some pro-war writer or watch some patriotic propaganda masquerading as journalism, it's been shallow, vague stuff that constructs a crude strawman for the peace movement's positions. The reasons why ordinary Canadians don't support the mission in Afghanistan, and the reasons informing the active opponents of the war are simple and have been clearly stated for some time now:

  • The war is an imperialistic venture
  • The war was entered into as a means to support the United States
  • The reconstruction of the country has been a failure
  • The drug-eradication program has devastated the lives of Afghan farmers
  • The Karzai government is brutal and corrupt
  • The warlords in the Karzai government are monsters
  • Canadian soldiers are dying
  • Canadian soldiers are turning over prisoners (some of them teenagers) to torturers
  • The airwar has killed more Afghans than has the Taliban
  • The enemy is not always Taliban fundamentalist extremists but victims of the Karzai/Warlord government

To ordinary Canadians, this combination of problems meets up with feel-good stories about bags of candy, primary schools, women's rights, and assertions that we're "winning," produces an overall sense of confusion and a lack of enthusiasm for continued participation in the conflict.

And when defenders of Canada's participation come up with lacklustre, irrelevant arguments, it doesn't increase Canadians' confusion and disillusionment.

Bergen spends much of his article talking about the importance of building up the Afghan armed forces so that they'll be able to fight independently after we've left. We've obviously heard this before, in Vietnam, in Iraq, and now Afghanistan. Time and time again, we construct militaries to defend unpopular puppet governments against an organized, oftentimes popular, resistance, and we wonder why they fail to fight. They generally don't want to fight because they're in the army for a paycheque to support their families, and this entire plan hinges on their staying alive. They don't fight because they're corrupt, and they intend to use their weapons and power for extortion and self-aggrandizement. They don't fight because they don't like their own government or its foreign masters. They don't fight because they're actually with the resistance, and are using their presence to funnel arms and information to the resistance.

Ah, no matter, Bergen can tell us about Operation Tereh Toora:

About a week before Christmas, Canadian and British troops backed by NATO air power supported the Afghan army in Operation Tereh Toora against insurgent pockets in the Zhari District in southern Afghanistan. The importance of that mission, which killed 40 insurgents, was twofold, Laroche explained.

The first was that the NATO and Afghan troops have the initiative and decide where and when they want to go.

Uh-huh. So, great. The Afghan army is becoming an effective fighting force because they assisted in an operation with NATO. And they can decide where and when they want to attack, at least so long as they're with NATO forces and all their mobile resources, which means not a whole heck of a lot at the end of the day. Are they an effective defender of our man in Kabul or not? (And is that even a good thing?)

As well:

The second key point, Laroche said, was that: "We (NATO) are not here to fight the Taliban, the only ones who can defeat the Taliban are the Afghans."

Um, right. And this is relevant to your thesis that we're winning and we have to stay the course, how exactly? Aside from the fact that the Taliban are also Afghans, and aside from the fact that support for the Taliban has increased, not decreased, in the five years that we've been propping up an unpopular government and bombing villages to pieces, ... only the Afghans can fight other Afghans, if our plans to control the country are ever going to succeed. And we will succeed in creating this loyal and effective fighting force because, uh, ... because they've tagged along on missions with us and only they can really defeat their fellow countrymen.

Perhaps sensing that his article was on the short side, Bergen decided to close by quoting at length from one Dr. Mohammad Haider Rez, who oversees the removal of landmines in Afghanistan with the United Nations Mine Action Centre. Supposedly, unless we continue to bomb villages and destroy farmers' poppy crops with no compensation, this work will not be able to continue. Dr. M. Haider Rez is quoted, sometimes with good reason, but generally inexplicably:

As a surgeon, Reza survived the Russian occupation; the mujahedeen resistance; the Taliban and al-Qaeda; the devastating post-9/11 U.S. air strikes and invasion; and now the NATO mission.

"There were nights with my wife and six kids, I didn't know if we were going to wake up in one piece. It's true that we now have these pockets of resistance, but if we compare today with 10 years ago, I'm very positive for a brighter future," he said.

Well, that's something obviously. But speaking as one who didn't like the Taliban before 2001, I'm prepared to concede that life in Afghanistan is a little bit better for most since their downfall. But given that the US-financed wars in Afghanistan created the conditions for the Taliban's seizure of power, lets not pat ourselves on the back too strenuously. The article is about "staying the course," that is, continuing to focus on fighting the resistance, training a client army, and is this working to even the satisfaction of Western imperialists.

What else does Dr. M. Haider Rez have to say?

"Whether it is the British, the Dutch, the Canadians or the Americans, they are very helpful, but being the recipient of aid packages, there is no dignity and pride in that."

Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't sound like it has much to do with Bergen's argument.

"The idea that Afghanistan is the highest producer of opium; it is a sad problem our farmers are faced with. But, we have to take responsibility to get our people out of this crisis. We are ready to sacrifice ourselves. It is important that we do not disappoint you, the international community."

Yes! Obviously! Anyone can see that we're winning now! The Afghan military will soon be able to act independently, because, ... because, ... it's too bad that Afghanistan produces so much opium and because the people of Afghanistan have the responsibility to get themselves out of this crisis. Wha???

Bergen concludes:

Parliamentarians would do well to remember that when they debate whether or not Canada should remain in Afghanistan past February 2009.

To which I can only once again exclaim; Wha??????

No comments: