51

The world is too much with us, like it or not


 

In Washington, the staff of two presidential candidates are told the situation is getting worse in Afghanistan; that on the ground, it will be like an eternity waiting for Inauguration Day in January; and that whoever wins had better have a recovery plan ready to execute by then, because it will already be very late by then.

When I visited Afghanistan a year ago, we were given a range of optimistic and pessimistic medium-term possible futures. There was a general sense that NATO and the rest of the international community had waited a perilously long time to deal with some fundamentals, like training the police and judiciary, and the smaller number of pessimists spoke with more conviction than the larger number of optimists. But there was still a lot of hope. Since then, much of what we were told could go wrong has gone wrong.

A housekeeping note: comments are open.


 
Filed under:

The world is too much with us, like it or not

  1. I truly hope Obama is good to his word and recommits the Americans to Afghanistan to the extent that he says he will.

    And most importantly, I hope the American people have the political will, after the Iraq disaster, to finish the job in Afghanistan that most Canadians sadly don’t seem to have.

  2. Patience with protracted war is wearing thin in the US even among supporters of the cause. It will be difficult to sell another full scale long term operation on the ground, especially with Reserve troops that have been remobilized again and again.

    That will make it politically difficult for the US to do much more than air strikes which mihgt win battles but lose the war.

  3. “And most importantly, I hope the American people have the political will, after the Iraq disaster, to finish the job in Afghanistan that most Canadians sadly don’t seem to have.”

    John g, what does “finish the job” mean for you?

  4. boudica, it means that young girls are able to go to school without fear of being executed by a bunch of murderous thugs for the crime of merely being a young girl in school. That 10 year old children are not sent out as suicide bombers.

    Basically, that the Taliban are defeated such that there is no chance that the country will ever fall back into their hands again.

  5. “Basically, that the Taliban are defeated such that there is no chance that the country will ever fall back into their hands again.”

    So you are one of those who thinks that there can be a military victory in A’stan?

  6. We may very well prevent the Taliban from becoming the official government of the country. But it will be much harder to eliminate a large degree of sympathy for the groups aims, esp. while the country is being occupied by a western army.

  7. I caught an interview awhile back between Obama’s foreign affairs adviser and a canadian journalist (can’t remember who) anyways … the question to Obama’ advisor : if Obama is elected what about Afghanistan? Answer: significant increases to military personel and misson strategy and then we contact all of our allies and increase support from them. Journalist : Does this include Canada who will be leaving in 2011. Obama’s advisor : All allies including Canada and we would appreciate it greatly if Canada would continue the fighting mission beyond 2011! – Hmmmm …. If I am not misstaken this means the yanks are going to lean on us. In the meantime I am with John on this issue we need to get considerably more assertive as they say in military speak and with considerably more troops a sort of Afghanistan Surge if you will. A very good friend of mine’s son is over there right now and I get some real news from him on occasion – we are pretty good at taking out bad guys see JTF2 – we need a lot more of this and with increased american resources about to come flooding in it looks like it will be turning into a very interesting mission.

  8. boudica, I don’t know. I don’t think it can be ruled out. The Iraq troop surge showed that with enough commitment, anything is possible.

    But the country is at a delicate point, and the goals of the mission are too noble and important to give up because the West is growing politically weary of fighting for what is right and important.

    It’s unfortunate that this war was launched under Bush…had it happened before, under Clinton, I wonder if the world would still be so eager to pack up their tents. I hope Obama’s popularity and commitment to the cause can re-engage global support, but I have my doubts.

  9. “boudica, I don’t know. I don’t think it can be ruled out. The Iraq troop surge showed that with enough commitment, anything is possible.”

    John g, whatever gains may have been made in Iraq, they will be lost the minute the US pulls out. This isn’t WW2 where people gather around a table and one side capitulates.

    You are dreaming in colors if you believe that the Taliban can be “eliminated.”

  10. Not military alone, but military action is an important component. It would be inexcusable for NATO to leave Afghanistan while it is still vulnerable and its democratically elected government wants us there. It’s our mess to clean up. The fact that it is going so poorly is due in equal parts to bad strategy and a shirking of responsibility.

  11. Andrew, clearly, military action is needed but military action alone will not deal with the Taliban in a satisfactory way. If the US, the most sophisticated military force on the planet, couldn’t deal with its foes in Iraq, why would anyone believe that the Taliban can be eliminated?

    They are there to stay. Until the West accepts this, we will keep going in circles in that region.

  12. This war was botched from day 1 and if it’s to be biz as usual, leave ASAP and save blood and cash all around. We – the rich West – should’ve bought the poppy crop, using opium to make morphine and heroin which are used in our hospitals, feeding the farmers money for food, tractors, schools. Given them reason for pride – instead of shaming them with handouts after we bombed them into poverty. Offer them a market for grapes, which used to be Afghanistan’s primary crop before the Soviet invasion, and we’d see Afghanistan wine in the LCBO. Seems no-brainer territory to me, but of course we must fight the War On Drugs which is working so wonderfully on this side of the Atlantic. SNAFU

  13. boudica, they may never be “eliminated”, but they must be neutralized as a threat to both their own people and to ours.

    The fact that they will never be eliminated to me does not lead to the conclusion that the world should walk away and leave Afghanistan (again) to its fate. That mistake has already been made, and we’ve seen the results. It cannot be made again.

  14. Stay the course, the surge is working. Purple fingers!

    *Ewps* Wrong war.

  15. “boudica, they may never be “eliminated”, but they must be neutralized as a threat to both their own people and to ours.”

    Neutralizing them is the whole purpose of this endeavor. The problem is the manner in which this “neutralizing” mission was set up. You have people like Rick “kill the scumbags” Hillier who, with the typical arrogance of a westerner, really believed that military might would force the Taliban to submit themselves. Rejecting all objections and sidelining all advice to the contrary, Canada has now found itself in a military conflict for which it has no idea how to get itself out of.

    Sounds familiar?

  16. You cannot shoot a philosophy once it has taken hold in the minds of the people.

    Military action will not defeat the Taliban. To defeat the Taliban you need to show people there is a better way, not just that you happen to be better at the Taliban way of shooting those who hold other ideas.

  17. Canadian forces are recommending the re-arming of civil militias in the south of Afghanistan. Once the warlords have their guns back they aren’t going to submit to anyone else’s authority, that’s why they want the guns.

    That’s contrary to the goal of establihing a civil society with fair laws, and disciplined law enforcement and military willing to submit to civil authority.

    We’re way over our heads there.

  18. Of what business is it Canada’s, or the Americans, or NATO to tell the people of Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan how to live or who is to govern them.

    Neoimperialism, in either of its rationalizations (preemptive war or “the responsibility-to-protect”) is (almost always) wrong.

    The tribes of Afghanistan and Pakistan have prevailed over foreigners for centuries. It will be no different this time, unless one goes mad and takes the Kurtz’ option from Apocalypse Now.

    To “fix” Afghanistan, one has to “fix” Pakistan first. That is a century long neoimperialist task, at a minimum, with no guarentee of success.

    It would be better to let the economic evolution occuring Asia to “solve” this problem over time.

    For those in the region who want their daughters educated, Canada should have a generous immigration and refugee system.

  19. Yet somehow…. Rick Hillier is still considered a hero and the best thing since slice bread.

  20. The ultimate objective of all military operations is the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces in battle. Decisive defeat breaks the enemy’s will to war and forces him to sue for peace which is the national aim.
    U.S. ARMY FIELD SERVICES REGULATIONS (FM 100.5), 1939

    Boudica, I don’t see where you get off criticizing General Hillier? The trouble with Canadians is that they know almost nothing about the military and there are not enough Canadians in it. The British have a professional army with a minimum 6 year term (or 9 years if you take an education leave). The Americans have nationalism going for them and can use conscription and monetary enticements to retain ranks. Canadians are in the fray in Afghanistan in a colonial capacity (meaning we are there because our two masters Britain and America demand it) and our soldiers are underfunded compared to the others there. They die from a lack of equipment and Canadians don’t even think about the reasons why they die.

    It’s the British who have come up with the money to put in the infrastructure in Afghanistan and the combined forces there have created a sufficient will to peace. What is stalling progress is an intellectual deficit among those in foreign policy and those in academia to coordinate the plans.

  21. Just thought I’d turn off the boldface.

  22. “Neutralizing them is the whole purpose of this endeavor.”

    boudica, check out a Hiller speech from 2006:
    http://www.cda-cdai.ca/CDA_GMs/AGM69/Hillier.pdf

    In particular, pages labelled 5,6 and 7. Specifically I might point to:
    “We’re not there to build an empire. We’re not there to occupy a country. But we
    are there to help Afghan men, women and children rebuild their families”

  23. Boudica : of course Hillier is treated with the respect he deserves. He is without a doubt one of the finest, most intelligent, politically astute and loved by our men and women in the forces comabt generals that we have ever had and frankly your insightful observations and conclusions about him only display the appalling lack of anything remotely resembling reality when it comes to his contributions. Do yourself a favour and find someone in the forces that can fill you in!

  24. Last week the Taliban hijacked a bus and brutally murdered 24 people.

    We should damn well stay until this kind of stuff stops – until we can stop it or until we can help the Afghan people stop it.

    I’m no expert – but I predict it is a combination of military and non-military support. And I’m sorry that Canadians don’t have the political will, and I’m sorry that so many people play politics with both Canadian and allied soldiers lives, as well as those of innocent Afghan civilians.

  25. Alan, I don’t care what Rick “kill the scumbags” Hillier may have said in some speech years ago. That “women and children” line has been used to justify Iraq’s invasion too.

    One doesn’t have to be a decorated general to understand the history of the region and realize that military might would never sufficient to “neutralize” your enemy.

  26. Scissorpaws has the right idea. Military force is the long, slow, currently unsuccessful way of dealing with the situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban have the support of large segments of the population because they are offering ways for people to survive. Our challenge is to give the people BETTER alternatives. Frankly, I don’t see how disrupting people’s livelihoods with fighting and blowing up infrastructure accomplishes that.

  27. “Do yourself a favour and find someone in the forces that can fill you in!”

    Now Wayne, don’t go getting all upset because I do not worship at the feet of your God “kill the scumbags” Hillier. I personally find it quite disturbing that people would applaud the antics of a general who thought it was his right to not only offer commentary on public policy as it pertains to a war but actually had the audacity to contradict his superiors in press conferences.

    Call me old fashion but I believe in that age-old tradition which involves military officials keeping their mouth shut on that subject and doing what they are supposed to do. By that I mean counsel their civilian masters and carrying out orders given to them by their civilian masters. If the said military officials have an issue with those orders, they should do what everyone else does and that is to resign and write a damn book.

    Last time I checked, Canada was not a banana republic.

  28. Alan, I don’t care what Rick “kill the scumbags” Hillier may have said in some speech years ago. That “women and children” line has been used to justify Iraq’s invasion too.

    Wow, where to begin…

    First of all, I agree with you. “Killing” scumbags that send 10 year olds out on suicide bombings and assassinate innocent school children is too good for them. There is no torment evil enough that I can think of to describe what these vile bastards deserve.

    And as to the “women and children have been used to justify Iraq” line, what exactly do you mean…that women and children were not facing abuse at the hands of the Taliban? That they are just a convenient excuse???

    Please tell me you don’t believe that…

  29. Boudica : Tell me something if you knew of a military official who followed your very profound and deep advice and saw something that needed to be done but as you say followed orders and kept his mouth shut resulting in placing our men and women in the forces in harms way – then I call that general a coward and not worth the trust placed in him. Hillier was not only right in what he has done but deserves more medals. The reason we are not a banana republic is because of men and women like him who consider what is right and not just follow the orders like a good little soldier it is a valuable and useful characteristic in our national psyche and maybe you would be well served by reading some of our military history and learn about others like Hillier who though they may not be famous contributed to our country in ways that most of us would be amazed at if we only knew. But Canadians are not known for appreciating their own.

  30. Breathe in…
    Beathe out…

    We’re all calmer now, on all sides, and we’re not going to let this thread turn into a shouting match, right?

    Excellent. Glad to hear.

    Carry on. Thanks everyone!

  31. How on earth did Wayne and I end up on the same side of an argument?! :)

  32. Paul hopefully it is still considered acceptable here to hate the Taliban? I would hope that is something that we can universally agree on…

  33. Paul, while I can’t speak for the others, there are not heavy breathing going on here. I’m chillin’, chewing on some Halloween candy as I’m writing this.

    John G, I absolutely believe that the “women and children” line was a convenient excuse. Next question.

    Wayne, do you know what the penalty is in the military for disobeying a direct order or contradicting a superior… in the press?

    In a democracy, military officials HAVE NO SAY in our policymaking. End of discussion…. At least for me. That is a non-negotiable factor. If Hillier felt that he absolutely had to contradict his superior, he should have resigned in order to do so. Hillier is the reason why O’Connor got sidelined and that is unacceptable to me. Even more unacceptable are the accolades that he received in doing so.

  34. “Paul hopefully it is still considered acceptable here to hate the Taliban? I would hope that is something that we can universally agree on…”

    Here we go… is this the part where I’ll be referred to as Taliban lover?

  35. Boudica, why do you hate America?

  36. Re eliminating the Taliban. My understanding is that Pakistan is the father of the Taliban and the Taliban reside in Pakistan as much as in Afghanistan. So if you want to defeat the Taliban ie kill so many of their combatants and supporters that the survivors give up and cease fighting, then you’d have to invade Pakistan. Can it be done? German Nazis and Japanese militarists were as fanatical and dedicated as can be and even they reached the breaking point. We’ve hardly heard a squeak from them since 1945 but millions of Germans and Japanese were killed and wounded before they quit. I think that invading Pakistan would be extremely costly and bloody beyond belief. Nobody in any western country has the stomach for the death and mayhem that would have to be inflicted.

  37. “Boudica, why do you hate America?”

    Mike T., keep it simple and refer to me as the Taliban lover, please.

  38. Here we go… is this the part where I’ll be referred to as Taliban lover?

    Umm, no. My breathing is still under control. My statements above were directed at the Taliban themselves, not at you. This is Wells’ blog, not the floor of the House of Commons.

    But it saddens me that in the face of overwhelming, uncontested evidence of what women and children in Afghanistan were subjected to at the hands of the Taliban on a daily basis, that you don’t think their plight is worthy of global intervention.

    When a discussion months ago centered on abortion you were very quick to defend the rights of women to choose, which is perfectly fine; but when shown a situation where women (and children) are truly suffering and denied much more basic human rights, you consider it only a convenient excuse to justify a military mission that presumably has some other nefarious purpose.

    It is truly depressing that those who claim to favour the rights of women could turn a blind eye to the suffering of the most oppressed women in the world.

  39. “But it saddens me that in the face of overwhelming, uncontested evidence of what women and children in Afghanistan were subjected to at the hands of the Taliban on a daily basis, that you don’t think their plight is worthy of global intervention.”

    john g, you misunderstand. If I was to use the “women and children” angle, I could probably name about a dozen different “conflicts” where a global intervention would be necessary. The issue here is that I simply do not believe that this was the reason why we went to A’stan.

    That same convenient “woman and children” line can be used for several other policies needing to pushed through by a motivated government.

    The youth offender legislation comes to mind. In fact, that line can be used to justify almost any policy.

  40. The only regime under which Afghani women had an emerging sense of freedom was the old communist puppet.

    The difference between the current regime and the Taliban regime is a matter of degree, not of kind.

    Besides, they all hate our freedoms (all of them).

  41. boudica thank you for clarifying your position. We will obviously never agree on this but I couldn’t leave it at the thought that you were denying the existence of the atrocities being committed.

  42. “That same convenient “woman and children” line…”

    There is no “woman and children” line. If you read the quote, he talks about men, women and children. As in, the people as a whole. This isn’t one of those “Oh won’t someone please think of the children” things.

    Yes, I agree that thinking of men, women and children can be used to justify any policy. Isn’t that the premise of policy? To help the people?

  43. The problem is that the Taliban is not losing. If there is a serious plan to somehow prevent their carrying on the war, let’s hear it! ‘Cause right now they’re untouchable in Pakistan – politically and militarily – and for all intents & purposes pretty much untouchable in Afghanistan too!

    I mean, we win every skirmish with them – esp. us Canadians – but in a guerrilla war like this there will always be ambushes and mines, there will always be intimidation of the locals by the enemy, etc. The only way to “win” or “get the job done” in Afghanistan would be to build some huge Berlin Wall down God knows how many thousands of porous, unguardable Afghanistan-Pakistan fronteir territory (smack dab straight through 25 Pushtun tribes’ territories) – or manage to kill the last Taliban volunteer when he foolishly pushes his head up circa 2058.

    Either that or negotiate with the Taliban, give them lots of territory to rule and be medieval in, and thus save the rest of Afghanistan (including Kabul) from their rule. And they promise not to be friends with Al Qaeda anymore. That would be a great deal at the point.

  44. “boudica thank you for clarifying your position. We will obviously never agree on this but I couldn’t leave it at the thought that you were denying the existence of the atrocities being committed.”

    Glad that we understand each other, john g.

    “Yes, I agree that thinking of men, women and children can be used to justify any policy. Isn’t that the premise of policy? To help the people?”

    And here lies the problem, Alan. Define “help” and you and I will probably disagree on whether it is truly helping “the people” or if we really went there for that reason. I’m sure that “helping the people” is the reason Hillier gave in his speech because “helping the people” is the reason given to justify all conflicts.

    Ask yourself this question. Why did Hillier quit before finishing the mission?

  45. “Why did Hillier quit before finishing the mission?”

    He didn’t quit. The Chief of the Defence Staff traditionally serves for 3 years, which he did. It was never him quitting.

  46. Either that or negotiate with the Taliban, give them lots of territory to rule and be medieval in, and thus save the rest of Afghanistan (including Kabul) from their rule. And they promise not to be friends with Al Qaeda anymore. That would be a great deal at the point.

    The essential flaw with this is that, if the Taliban is as untouchable as you claim they are, they’d have no reason to agree to such generous terms.

    Why would Bob Taliban settle for the crappy half of the country and being told who his friends can be when he knows that, by pushing on a little longer, he can get the whole country as the West’s will collapses? “Reducing his own casualties” is the only possible reason, but when you’re employing suicide bombers as a primary weapon one presumes that isn’t your top priority.

    Second, even if the Taliban did sign this piece of paper, why wouldn’t the Taliban rush into the now-undefended rump Afghanistan a-la Germany after Munich?

    I agree with commentors who say that liberating Afghanistan from oppression wasn’t why we went in. We went in because Jean Chretien saw a chance to score some political points with the Americans and thought (correctly, it turns out) it was a pretty low-risk mission compared to a possible Iraq war. But the question of whether invading Afghanistan was a mistake or not is now purely academic. We’re there now, and we have to make the best of it. Will we do that by keeping up the fight, both militarily and politically, or will we give up and accept the costs in lives and treasure as a sunk cost and the Afghanis as done for in any event?

    Harper seems to be opting for the latter option, to my undying frustration.

  47. Lord Bob, they do seem to be negotiating for the first time, so they must be feeling a bit tired with the war. By “untouchable” (in the mountains) I really mean unconquerable, not invulnerable.

    As to their waltzing back into the rest of Afghanistan, presumably we wouldn’t withdraw completely – or at all; we’d just have a ceasefire line somewhere. And we’ve shown many times that we can kick the Taliban’s ass if they try a stand-up fight.

  48. Jack Mitchell:

    First, I did use “invulnerable” too glibly there. If we can’t conquer them by arms or otherwise they might as well be invulnerable in the grand sense as opposed to the per-soldier meaning of the word, but I should have picked a clearer one.

    Second, regarding negotiations, maybe the Taliban’s mental arithmetic is the same as mine was when I said “Germany post-Munich”. In particular, with the government there in perpetual turmoil, if you wanted to get some free land to continue an offensive from now would be a great time. Historically, though, aside from the whole miracle of the house of Brandenburg not many nations end wars they’re winning when materiel costs aren’t a factor.

    (Why does almost my entire knowledge of modern and semi-modern military history involve the Germans? There’s a lesson there somewhere.)

    Third, if the West’s will to fight is so low that we’re willing to write off as morally unimpeachable a conflict as we’re going to get, how much will is there going to be for a very long-term occupation of a rump Afghanistan with what’ll probably be an uncooperative government, the near-certainty of continuing violence, and parties in both halves of the country calling for unity and denouncing the Western imperialists?

  49. Lord Bob, FWIW, I myself would be happy with the status quo indefinitely; but you can’t ask our soldiers to turn themselves into a permanent police force for Afghanistan. That’s not their mission. I think the longer this stalemate lasts, the more our political morale will weaken, and thus the risk of a hasty withdrawal will increase. The odds of our staying in Afghanistan forever – which seems to be what your argument requires – are zero (even if Harper hadn’t randomly decided to leave in 2011). Thus it would be better to find some diplomatic solution now rather than later.

    I really don’t see the analogy with Munich. Munich gave the Germans a chance to absorb the Czech tanks into their army (the ones that later broke through the Polish and French lines) and it removed the potential threat of Czechoslovakia from Germany’s rear. The Taliban wouldn’t be getting any tanks by taking over Kandahar, and actually non-mountainous territory is a strategic liability for them, since we can beat them hands down in non-guerrilla fighting.

    Also, I think it’s a mistake to view the Taliban as inherently determined to conquer all of Afghanistan if not all the world. That certainly was their approach in the 90’s, when they had the opportunity to do so, and that seems to be the feeling on the ground (judging from Graeme Smith’s interviews with Taliban fighters), but I don’t think that just because they’re a bunch of raving medievalists they wouldn’t take a good deal if it were offered; or that they would risk losing what they’d gained by continuing the jihad after a treaty was signed.

    What makes you think the Karzai government would be more uncooperative after a deal with the Taliban? Why would they be anti-Western?

  50. I have to run to work, it’s late, and nobody’s likely to see a comment in a thread this old anyway, so I’m going to take the most dishonest of debating techniques and cherrypick the argument I can answer quickest. :P

    What makes you think the Karzai government would be more uncooperative after a deal with the Taliban? Why would they be anti-Western?

    Because we just gave away half their country. Seldom produces good feeling.

Sign in to comment.