‘There’s a lot of spit and vitriol and anger’ - Macleans.ca

‘There’s a lot of spit and vitriol and anger’

Maclean’s Podcast: Paul Wells in conversation with Graeme Smith


“I always find myself kind of the downer in the room,” Graeme Smith said the other morning over coffee in a hotel café near Parliament Hill, when conversation turned to book touring. Smith’s bestselling memoir, The Dogs Are Eating Them Now, takes its title from the fate of some dead Taliban fighter NATO troops left to lure other insurgents during the Afghanistan war. It didn’t work. Not a lot did.

Smith recently left the Globe and Mail, where he built a reputation as a deeply committed and apparently fearless war reporter, to work for the International Crisis Group in Kabul. The Dogs Are Eating Them Now is his account of his experiences in Afghanistan as the country went to hell, or started in hell and wound up somewhere worse. Its tone is captured in the first line: “We lost the war in southern Afghanistan and it broke my heart.”

“The book is just me barfing out some of my crazy experiences,” he told me. “There’s a lot of spit and vitriol and anger, so it’s just therapy in some ways. If there is an argument, it’s just the first line of the book: that we lost the war. We had certain aims, and those aims — certainly the most important ones, peace, stability and — you can argue about democracy, but peace and stability were not achieved.”

Smith in person is much like the voice in his book: world-weary at a young age, often quite funny, plainly despondent about what happened in a country so many Canadians tried so hard to help. Here is my recording of our conversation.


‘There’s a lot of spit and vitriol and anger’

  1. “You have the watches, we have the time.”

    We can’t say they didn’t warn us. Not to get all superior and hindsighty, but i told you so. No, seriously, not just people like me of course, but how could we think we could even wrestle these guys to a draw, much less beat them or get some change that didn’t just get burned up next season, or when we left, with out good meaningful intelligence? Knowing their culture inside out. At least put someone like that closer to the levers of real power or influence. I mean for cripe’s sake we have archives of this stuff stretching to the moon on how not to lose an insurgency…Malaya, Kenya, Northern Ireland, all of SE Asia[ didn’t the Americans lose 50,000 men and women there?] What did we learn? What do they teach at west point and Sandhurst these days.We have some the smartest men and women on the planet on speed dial to the pentagon. Some days i think one of my literary heroes, Steinbeck [or maybe it was Ed Ricketts ] was spot on – human beings don’t learn from their mistakes, they learn absolutely nothing for longer then an election cycle.
    Hey hoe, on to Syria next then.

    • Sigh. It’s “You have the watches, we have the time”. Getting that wrong weakens your argument a little bit.

      • Oops…big goof. Thanks.Fixed.

  2. Canada’s/Chretien’s only aim for going to war in Afghanistan was to placate the Americans for NOT officially endorsing the Iraq War (even while providing more actual support than many actual countries who officially supported the War)

    i.e. Canada allowed its officers to remain embedded with American units. And our navy fully participated in supporting the war effort at sea.

    If “winning” is achieving the political aims of the war, Canada won the war in Afghanistan, by not getting the Americans too mad at us, which was Canada’s main goal.

    On a side note:

    Neo-imperialism from the neoconservative right AND/OR from the progressive R2P left is stupid.

    Many centuries of human history have demonstrated that foreigners invading Afghanistan is about the dumbest thing an imperialist can do, and yet they keep trying to do it over and over again.

    • With respect you need to check your facts it was NOT Chretien who made the decision about Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. It was Paul Martin. Mr. Chretien would have had more sense as demonstrated by his decision on Iraq.

      • Sorry but you are wrong. Chretien , on Oct. 7, 2001 announced that Canada would join the US in Afghanistan.

  3. The other thing I find surprising from the interview is the naivete. These types of NGO’s basically are the deep intelligence tentacles of the US neo-imperialist machine. Guys like Smith go into the field and the information they provide gives the US intelligence forces and military a better idea of who will collaborate and who won’t, so Obama knows who to drop a drone missile on.

    i.e. Consider Will Hunting’s rant in Good Will Hunting.

  4. nice blog nice post

  5. Thanks for this, Mr. Wells and Mr. Smith. It’s very important for voters and decision-makers to read accounts like this and learn about what happened on a personal level. Too many are content to ignore what goes on “over there” or even just “out there.” A friend of my father’s made a point that’s surely been made many times before: only someone who has fought in a war should be able to order a war. I would amend that to read that only someone who has been there or who can empathize with someone who has been there and understand what it’s like to be there can give that order. Hopefully Mr. Smith makes a great many people qualified to make that call. That way, war will become a rarer thing.