Monday, September 28, 2009

Where Roadkill Meets the Road

So General Vance is upset that our "model village" - or possibly our Potemkin Village - didn't follow the script.

"A trip by Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan to the model community where troops are implementing a long-term security strategy turned into a lesson on the limits of Canadian tolerance."

Or, it turned into a lesson in reality for Canadian fantasists, much as the Tet Offensive of 1968 turned into a lesson in reality for American fantasists.

You know, there's really no future in saving people from themselves. There is, however, a future in being honest with our troops.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Honesty as an exit strategy

NATO Briefing Paper on Afghanistan

Top Secret

1.We fucked up.
2.Current NATO policy on Afghanistan was established by a delusional American government.
3.None of the NATO allies, including Canada, had the balls to say the emperor had no clothes, or brains.
4.Afghanistan cannot be stabilized, occupied – call it what you will – without a foreign army of at least 500,000.
5.“Training” Afghan security forces is a joke.
6.There is no possible way of raising a NATO occupation force of 500,000.
7.Even if there was such a force in the field, it would destabilize much of central Asia, NATO, and possibly China.
8.It's time to turn out the lights and go home.
9.Afghanistan does not have to be “abandoned”. Spending some of the useless billions now being expended on military hardware would fund the UN mine clearing program forever.
10.We could buy the opium crop. It would be cheaper.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dieppe in Slow Motion (continued)

"Thus the enemy would have a triumph and we would have a disaster, which would be of no good to anyone."

Winston Churchill talking to Stalin at the Kremlin, one week before the Dieppe Raid, August 12, 1942

“Whether the affair [the Dieppe Raid] was in fact the out-and-out failure which many believed it to be, and if it was, how much responsibility should properly be attributed to Mountbatten are questions which can be answered only if one has decided what it was supposed to achieve. Yet this fundamental question proves extraordinarily difficult to answer. Brian McCool, the Principal Military Landing Officer, was interrogated by the Germans for two days after his capture. At the end he was asked: “Look, McCool, it was too big for a raid and too small for an invasion. What was it?’ ’If you can tell me the answer,’ he replied, ‘I would be very grateful.’”

Philip Ziegler, Mountbatten, New York : Harper & Row, 1986, ©1985, pg 186

“Dieppe was a pathetic failure. Sixty years later, it seems obvious that Jubilee was a bizarre operation with no chance of success whatsoever and likely to result in a huge number of casualties. In August 1942, British and Allied officers did not have yet the knowledge and combat experience to make a proper assessment of the risks of such an operation. This catastrophe was useful precisely in providing that knowledge which was later to make victory possible.”

The Juno Beach Centre

And even that usefulness is debatable. A week before the operation (August 12, 1942), Churchill met Stalin at the Kremlin and Stalin bugged Churchill about opening a second front in France to take the heat off the Russians in the east. This was a recurring demand.

And so a week later, they launched the Dieppe Raid, Churchill already having said it would be useless, predicted a disaster, and demonstrated at the same time he had an appreciation of what it would really take to land an army in Normandy, meaning Dieppe wasn’t necessary even as a test run for D- Day, the lessons being known in advance.

At least they got the guys off the beach at Dieppe. Now we’re up to 130 deaths, an unspecified number of wounded in Afghanistan, and at Dieppe the comparable numbers were, 913 killed over about nine hours. So we’re getting there, up to about 14%. Fortunately, in Afghanistan there are no prisoners. Otherwise, except for the time scale, there are horrible similarities: the lack of any clear purpose, the lack of resources, and the known dangers being the most obvious.

However, if we were to draw any conclusions, the obvious would be:

1. Get the guys off the beach (out of Afghanistan).
2. If NATO really wants to occupy Afghanistan, it would take upwards of 500,000 troops.
3. Canada owes it to its troops to be honest about the objective, and if the objective isn’t doable, or if NATO isn’t going to be honest about what it’s doing and contribute the resources necessary, we should pull out.

We didn’t need another Dieppe. But we’ve got one.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Night in Afghanistan

"At the end of Night, the immediate devastation has ended: the war is over, the camps are liberated, the author is alive. But the ongoing devastation has only begun, the devastation that will never end: the devastation imposed by memory, that makes the line between life and death a thin line indeed. The descriptive term imaging the author at the book's end is that of a corpse."

Elie Wiesel
Translated from the French by Stella Rodway
Forward by François Mauriac
Preface for the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition by Robert McAfee Brown
Bantam Books
Toronto. 1960, psge vi

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fisking Christie Blachford

So the Globe and Mail, Canada’s National Newspaper, has an opinion piece on its front page by Christie Blachford, extolling the virtues of the reporter who was kidnapped and freed in Afghanistan


By that standard - I’m just starting in on the ironies - Christie should be a big fan of Robert Fisk, not mentioned in her elegy for journalistic honesty, a guy who was in the Shatila and Sabra refugee camp just after the massacre by Phalangist forces in 1982,who was at the front lines in the Iran-Iraq war, who was in Qana just after the UN post had been shelled by Israelis, documented by Frederick von Kappen, who was in Baghdad on the eve of the 2003 invasion, reporting the details of cruise missiles that killed Iraqi civilians, and was in Afghanistan to interview Osama bin Laden without the need for interpreters – “terps” in Christies’s cool laconic journalist jargon – because he speaks the fucking language.

What’s missing here is simple honesty – journalistic intellectual integrity – which somehow gets lost in the purple prose Christie uses for crime reporting. If somebody was interested in the civilian casualties caused by NATO shelling, they’d go back to the previously documented hit on May 4, 2009:

 “While this investigation assesses approximately 26 civilian casualties based on information from various sources and on new graves in the Gerani area in early May, no one will ever be able conclusively to determine the number of civilian casualties that occurred on Mary 4, 2009.  This investigation does not discount the possibility that more than 26 civilians were killed in this engagement.  Additionally, the investigative tam notes that the report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, published on May 26, 2009, represents a balanced, thorough investigation into the incident, citing as many as 86 civilian casualties, with appropriate lessons learned for all involved in the fighting on May 4th – U.S. Afghan, and Taliban.”

That report concluded that as many as 86 civilians had been killed.  There has been no follow-up.

If somebody wanted to back out into the field, using methodology developed during the investigations by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there would be truth enough for journalists without risking their lives for “eyes on the ground”. What we really need is “eyes on history”, a perspective noticeably lacking in Christie Blachford’s approach to reality in Afghanistan,and ISAF's approach to Farah, which is to pretend it didn't happen.

What we need particularly is somebody in Brussels asking hard questions of NATO and its fractious dishonest members, questions like:

1. What risk does Afghanistan pose to NATO?

2. Why is NATO?

3. Why can’t NATO’s discussions about Afghanistan occur in “open court”?