Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

If only we’d trained Karzai’s assassin into ‘loyalty’

That Hamid Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali “Mr. Kandahar” Karzai, has been killed by the head of his own security forces, is one more violent expression of the single greatest Afghan challenge: getting to grips with loyalty.

Bob Rae and Stephen Harper alike maintain the naive conceit that the Afghan army is largely ineffective because they need our training. The Canadian Forces have some nifty fighting techniques that Afghans simply haven’t thought of or been able to employ. Once we show them how to shoot straight, we can leave the job of national defence to Afghans themselves.

Really? Really now.

I’ve posted this way again and again, but to repeat, Afghanistan is a mercenary landscape. Consolidating loyalties and lasting allegiances in the country is, at once, the greatest challenge to Afghan peace, and also the area in which international forces have the least sway and the least understanding. The suggestion that Karzai’s assassin, Sardar Mohammed, could have been trained out of his true allegiance by the Dutch and Canadians etc. would be laughable, if lives were not at stake.

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The day Sauron cried Uncle

We’ve seen the Conservatives dump reams of documents, only after having been subjected to the furnace-heat of Parliamentary democracy, before. The Afghan detainee files, for example, which ended up looking like this:

An eleventh hour release of budget items totaling two-thirds of a billion dollars, only minutes from being sat before the Commons committee deliberating on charges of contempt, does not an accountable government make. In doing so, they’ve managed to solve none of the arguments that they lack any modicum of transparency or respect for the House, while also fuelling more evidence that they are content to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into ideological trinkets and baubles.

If they’d complied in the first place and released the figures, Harper would only be accused of this “oh-so-lefty” spendthriftism. Now, he’s got that sticky accusation, plus the ever-deepening stain of secrecy before democracy.

And this is the team that’s pushing for a majority?

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Regarding the UAE

I’m not quite gone yet 🙂

Thought I’d highlight one of the WikiLeaks cables in particular, concerning the U.S. relationship with the UAE. It’s a glowing assessment largely, and one that might be used in argument against Ottawa’s dismissiveness regarding the recent utter breakdown of our relations with the Gulf State…

(S/NF) The UAE is one of our closest partners in the Middle East and one of our most useful friends worldwide.

— Al-Dhafra Air Force Base is the high altitude ISR hub for the AOR, and supports 50 percent of aerial refueling in the AOR.

— Ports in Dubai and Fujairah are the logistics backbone for the U.S. Fifth. Jebel Ali (Dubai) is the most frequented USN liberty port after Norfolk.

— Minhad Air Base is a critical hub for Coalition/ISAF partners in Afghanistan, including the Australians, Dutch, Canadians, Brits and Kiwis.

— The UAE is a cash customer with FMS sales in excess of $11 billion. Commercial sales have an equivalent value. An additional $12 billion of FMS cases are in development with approximately the same volume of commercial sales in the works.

Afghanistan: UAE SOF has been quietly deployed as part of OEF since 2003, and the UAE surged its contribution in 2009 adding a combined arms task force. The UAE’s UAV capability has been a much appreciated force multiplier. On the economic development side, the UAE has pledged about $300 M in assistance, and quietly supported the Afghan Reintegration Fund at the recent London Conference. You should thank MbZ for his leadership in being the first Arab country to send troops to Afghanistan.

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Tanks for nothing

The NDP’s Defence Critic Jack Harris takes on Harperian logic in Afghanistan:

What is really needed in Afghanistan, of course, is aid and assistance to have a strong government that has the respect of the people. What do we have instead? We have in Afghanistan a government that the international transparency watch organization, in its corruption perception index, sees as tied for 176 out of 178 countries in the world for corruption. It is a government that is not respected by the people of Afghanistan and cannot have the respect without a significant amount of long-term work being done in that country.


In fact, that government is held in so much disrespect and disdain by the Canadian government that we had the Prime Minister in Lisbon saying that we will not dispense a dime to the Government of Afghanistan unless we are convinced the money will be spent in the way it is intended to be spent.


The irony of this is a bit shocking. We are saying that we do not trust that government with a dime of our money but we are prepared to give them an army. We are prepared to train and develop a force of up to 300,000 combined police and security officers and hand it over to that government that we do not trust with a dime of our money. That is what we are saying. The irony of that should not be lost on the Canadian public, because that is what the government is saying.

One if the things he seems to imply is: Would you train 300,000 bees in the art of stinging without first ensuring they knew you were a friendly beekeeper?

And there’s a point in that. But the greater point to me is of efficacy. Indeed, for all Bob Rae’s relaxed approach to have “soldiers doing humanitarian work” (which is how the Liberals and Conservatives want this new mission to appear), Rae can’t explain exactly what training is going to accomplish that it hasn’t accomplished over the past 10 years of ISAF working with their national forces.

As I’ve said before, unless “training” is going to mean magically convincing Afghan national troops that the Karzai disaster is worth fighting for, or that Karzai’s is a government they can even “respect,” or that turning down opportunities for lucrative mercenary income will result in actual counter-reward from the state, then what is the use?

Afghanistan’s fractiousness is not down to a chronic inability for Afghanistan to organise itself militarily. That should be greeted with a “duh.” But is it right to withdraw militarily when there are actual security challenges to those seeking to do real humanitarian work? That’s a fair question. All the same, a) we’ve been doing that military job for a decade, and it’s torch-passing time, and b) the best route to Kabul taking its own sovereignty seriously and creating an effective national army of its own is by us handing it to them.

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Motion to nowhere

Surprised as I was that Ignatieff said he’d welcome a motion on the new Afghan “behind the wire” deployment, so long as his party didn’t do the actual proposing, I was more surprised that 1) the NDP didn’t take up the gauntlet, and that 2) the Bloc did and did it meekly.

It’s kind of Voltaire in reverse. Instead of “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” we get from the BQ “I disagree with how you say it, but as for what you say, well, I have no strong opinion.”

POGGE has already suggested (with the aptly titled article – Is that all there is?) that the BQ motion is tepid at best. The BQ motion treats the government position a fait d’accompli – no attempt to counteract it, but instead, simply to say the HoC should condemn the fact the decision was made without a vote.

To condemn the voteless nature of the decision is one thing. To disagree with the decision itself is meatier stuff. It shouldn’t be hard. Here’s a motion for you:

Canada should transition to a purely civilian mission from 2011, considering that its Armed Forces has done plenty of good stuff as regards the ISAF mission over the past decade, and a decade is plenty long. In this new decade, we are best able to support the democratic government over there through disabling any *ahem* “potential” dependence it may develop *ahem* “in the future” on NATO. Kabul wants sovereignty, and we think that’s great. The best place to start is by us getting out. Afghan soldiers don’t need training in how to fight, clearly, so our efforts will be directed towards literacy and entrepreneurialism. The Armed Forces will be coming home.

O.K., so that’s a bit of a shitty motion. I’m not actually an MP.

But I’d have expected the NDP (or, I suppose, even the Bloc), to craft a smarter version of the same sentiment. Instead, we get meek criticism of the process of Harper’s/Rae’s decision. Nothing of the decision itself.

Does Parliament really agree in its assembled majority that sleepwalking through three more years in Afghanistan is fine, and that “training soldiers how to shoot” is the best thing Canada can offer?

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On solutions

There’s a bit of discussion going on regarding Canada’s role in Afghanistan post-2011. Now, no one would suggest any similarities between Afghanistan and Vietnam. That would be like comparing a McIntosh to a Granny Smith. Are you crazy?

Nevertheless, here’s une petite blast from the past as the CBC asks high school kids in 1966 what they think might be necessary in reaching a happy conclusion in Vietnam, and what Western leaders should be thinking about.

Where are they now? Not advising Peter Mackay, I guess.

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How do you fire this thing?

It was British Field Marshal Earl Frederick Roberts, after fighting in the Second Anglo-Afghan war of the 1880s, who said:

“I am sure I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us, the less they will dislike us.”

This coming from a man who himself is credited with being “instrumental in promoting the mass training of civilians in rifle shooting skills through membership of shooting clubs.”

Accidental Deliberations has posed the essential question on numbers required for a training extension, and identifies the Conservatives (and Bob Rae’s) long-standing desire to maintain a military presence post-2011. Recent U.S. pressure on Ottawa to stay put has been the twisting of a rubber arm. Ottawa’s ambiguity on the numbers belies an ambiguous, and probably more expansive, military purpose than what we’re being sold.

“Training” sounds benign. We hear assertions from Ottawa of a non-combat role post-2011: a “behind-the-wire” (sigh) type of service, nothing dramatically different from carrying out any other type of humanitarian or developmental activity.

This is pure pig-lipstick. Are Rae and Harper actually convinced that the greatest problem in Afghanistan is a lack of adequate military training? Afghan soldiers, after ten years of working with ISAF (and generations more of repelling every band of conquering heroes who nobly stumbled upon the Hindu Kush), still remain insufficiently knowledgeable in the ways of war?

In any case, military training has been going on for decades. The CIA were very effective in training mujahadeen warriors in the ’80s, of course. That didn’t lead to a very palatable outcome.

Afghanistan’s inability to defend itself is not down to poor military training, but to divided allegiances. Afghan soldiers aren’t yet sufficiently convinced that fighting for the Karzai government is where they want to be. Too many remain poachable in a mercenary landscape of immediate interests. What Canadian training in troop formations and rifle practice is going to do to change that is beyond me, when Karzai’s advanced dependence on NATO has already contributed to his failure to mobilise a self-sufficient and stable central government.

But, hey ho. Call it a training mission, and people might even make the correct mistake of thinking we’ve finally taken a bow on a war that’s got to be ended.

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The ‘cautious nod’ of leadership

Showing up a bit late to the Grand Lodge of the Bleeding Obvious, PM Stephen Harper has given what the G&M calls a cautious nod to the Afghan government entering into some form of negotiation with Taliban forces to end the decade-old anarchic bloodbath over which we help to preside.

Oh, they’ll be relieved.

Even a cautious nod is coming some distance towards acknowledging reality. But is being a latecomer to reality anything we should be proud of? There is no longer any obvious foreign policymaker behind which Harper can hide anymore, thus he’s been dragged kicking and screaming (or cautiously nodding) into the daylight of the contemporary global consensus and the full toll of a decade of fruitless warfare. That’s the style of leadership that got us ignored at the UN last week.

Maybe Taliban Jack ought to have a crack at foreign policy after all?

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Getting it right in the end

By this title, do I mean “getting it correct at the end of the day,” or do I mean “getting a sharp stab directly in the butt-cheek?” With the NDP, I mean both.

Éric at ThreeHundredEight has hashed out some best-case and worst-case scenarios were a federal election held today. I was happily surprised that the NDP’s best-case scenario looks quite rosy, with 42 seats and over 20% of the vote. This looks bizarrely rosy at the moment, but it is the best possible estimate using their current toplines.

The worst-case is worse, as expected, with a projected seat count of 14. This is the imaginary figure (but maybe not so imaginary) that has NDP supporters trembling a bit. Most pundits are blaming the NDP’s ultra-democratic long-gun registry approach, which is understandable. It’s tempting to say that Layton should have whipped the vote and should have declared that the party line was the line caucus must tow. Perhaps it would have stemmed some of the current bleeding. But, I think it was kind of an audaciously democratic move, and one which differentiated the NDP from the Liberals, so I see it in a positive light.

Jack Layton has a proclivity towards taking calculated risks that beget slow-burn benefits. In 2006, he was derided with the epithet Taliban Jack for suggesting that Afghan insurgents would need to come to the negotiating table with NATO, as this all-out war on shadows wasn’t going very well and would simply never end any other way, barring unilateral withdrawal. The position hurt the NDP, as the press and other parties gleefully joined forces in distancing themselves from Layton’s anti-troops lunacy. Why are you against the troops, Jack?

Today, Jack’s position is supported by the U.S. President, the British military leadership, and the Afghan President himself.

It’s one example of the NDP leader knowingly taking the road that is politically landmined, but he trusts that he and his party can survive the journey long enough to be vindicated in the end. As it may be with the LGR, if they can make hay out of the new bill they’re proposing.

Moral vindication does not necessarily lead to electoral success, unfortunately. But if the NDP can begin to draw together a broad picture of themselves as not only the “audaciously progressive party,” but also as the most democratic of the parties, the most constituency-focussed of the parties, and the most daring and insightful party with regards to the long-term policies in Canadians’ interest, then perhaps they’ll reap those elusive dividends in time for the next election. Either that, or I’m more naive than Layton himself.

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War crimes and kangaroo courts

While Naomi Campbell complains about the colour of her blood diamonds at Charles Taylor’s UN SCSL war crimes tribunal, another farce of a trial is taking place elsewhere – and this farce could set horrendous international precedent as well.

In the first war crimes trial under President Obama‘s watch, a former child soldier is being tried by an American military court that hasn’t gained international legitimacy. Never mind the fact that Omar Khadr is Canadian, and the only western, and by far the youngest, tenant still resident at Guantanamo. That’s an embarrassment principally to Canadians, as our government denies any of the responsibility that other Western nations have taken in repatriating their citizens from a prison of felons without charges – indeed, our government helps people to stay in there. So much for protecting our citizens, or standing up for international law.

Where other western countries have successfully lobbied for the return of their nationals from Guantánamo, Canada has refused to intervene despite a recent court ruling that ordered it to remedy its failure to protect Khadr’s rights. The Guardian

The greater farce is that a boy of 15, without any real capacity to choose whether he’d be brought to Afghanistan or not, was incarcerated as a war criminal by sweeping U.S. forces in the earliest stages of the Afghan invasion, and is now being tried in a kangaroo court for crimes he may/may not have committed, using evidence that may/may not have been extracted under torturous duress, subject to a legal framework which isn’t internationally recognised, and which diminishes habeas corpus as well as the moral upper-hand in anything that the U.S. has been up to over the past 10 years in the Middle East.

Sucking up potential combatants and associates (including children) with a giant military vacuum cleaner, locking them up for a decade, and then deciding to press charges and try them in an illegitimate court is teeth-gnashingly wrongheaded for any democratic regime. To press ahead with this trial of a child soldier who’s spent over a quarter of his life in Guantanamo lays bare 1) Obama’s helplessness and 2) Obama’s carelessness. Of course, pressure from Ottawa could have helped, if only Harper would dare!

Charles Taylor’s UN-SCSL trial may have been temporarily dropped in tabloid muck thanks to Naomi Campbell’s airheaded testimony. But at least the United Nations acts as our singular, global agent for convening, designing and upholding international law, and it maintains a globally recognised convention of what a war crime is. The military tribunals for Guantanamo can’t even claim to have that legitimacy.

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