Saturday, September 30, 2006

There's Reality and Then There's Reality

Jonathan Landy, right

A couple of days ago I had a chance to get some information about Afghanistan from Jonathan Landay, freshly back from that hellhole. Landay has been covering Afghanistan since 1985. How many people do you think could have even found the place on a map back then? The guy seems to know what he's talking about. He's not some lame 'embed' gushing with orgasmic patriotism and holding forth about this 'decisive victory' and that 'crushing defeat.'

Here are a few of Landay's observations about the real state of affairs in Afghanistan:

"Corruption is on an epidemic scale and many local officials are in cahoots with the Taliban. They play both sides of the fence waiting to see which one wins. I dont know how Panjwai began, but the idea that the Taliban were defeated there is nonsense. They did suffer serious losses, but they also knew when to melt away. Classic guerilla tactics. Based on daily Air Force reports, it looks like they have began to resurface further north and east, in Zabul and Ghazni provinces.

"The insurgents are not fighting out of fixed, fortified positions. They set up in dense orchards and vineyards. Because the country is so parched, farmers dig extremely deep irrigation ditches. These make extremely good slit trenches. They span the entire region. So do ravines, wadis and caves. Guerillas could not ask for better terrain. They dont need to build fortified positions. So the B1Bs, F-16s, F-18s and the like have to keep bombing the same places, over and over and over. That creates more civilian casualties as well, fueling the insurgency. If you read my story, it says that there were no more than 3,000 US troops deployed in the Taliban's southern heartland until ISAF took it over Aug 1. We're talking 77,000 square miles. And 2,000 of those US personnel were assigned as support staff at Kandahar Air Base. They were not groundpounders. Even now, there are only 8,000 NATO-led combat forces in the sector. This and Pakistan's support are major reasons for the resurgence."

Landay was asked to comment on the changes he witnessed on his latest visit:

"I was most surprised by three things. The first was the extent to which anti-American sentiment had spread in the year since I last visited. At no time since I first visited Kabul in 1987 have I ever felt disdain by ordinary Afghans . . . until this trip. Almost every Afghan I spoke with, from intellectuals to Kabul University students to farmers said much the same thing: the United States had not only failed to make good on its promises of aid and security, but it is actually intent on remaining in Afghanistan as part of a war against Islam. There was enormous sympathy for the Palestinians and Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah and Iran, and anger over Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and U.S. policy toward Iraq. The second surprise was the extent to which the insurgency had spread over the past year. Last year, most of the fighting was confined to the Taliban's remote mountain sanctuaries because U.S. troops were taking the fight to them. The rebels avoided set-piece battles because they kept losing and operated in small bands. But this year, some of the worst fighting has been taking place around the main highway, some 30 miles east of the second largest city of Kandahar. And the rebels have been operating in large combat formations _ thanks to lessons learned from al Qaida and Iraqi insurgents _ with a ferocity that has surprised US and ISAF generals and exhausted their troops. The third major surprise was the main highway between Kabul and Kandahar, rebuilt with millions of US dollars, has become too unsafe for foreigners to drive in the past year."

That's about as unvarnished as you can get it.

Hail to the Chief

Canada, like more than 30 other countries, is involved in the Global War Without End on Terror. We tend to think of our involvement in Afghanistan in isolation. We see what our forces are doing, or trying to do, but don't see much else unless it makes the headlines. For example, other than perhaps Britain, we've lost sight of the other NATO nations with troops in Afghanistan.

We've also lost sight of who is really running this show. When it's all stripped away the boss is George Bush. His decisions (he is after all The Decider) pretty much decide what everyone else does. That goes for NATO too where the top general is, as always, American.

The war we're waging in Afghanistan now has been made immeasurably more difficult, more dangerous by decisions taken by The Decider four years ago. Canadians are dying because of this goof.

Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, has just written a new book, "State of Denial", in which he gives us a glimpse of the man who would be Commander in Chief of the free world. The New York Times reviewed this book today:

"In Bob Woodward’s highly anticipated new book, “State of Denial,” President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war. It’s a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in “Bush at War,” his 2002 book, which depicted the president — in terms that the White House press office itself has purveyed — as a judicious, resolute leader, blessed with the “vision thing” his father was accused of lacking and firmly in control of the ship of state.

"As this new book’s title indicates, Mr. Woodward now sees Mr. Bush as a president who lives in a state of willful denial about the worsening situation in Iraq, a president who insists he won’t withdraw troops, even “if Laura and Barney are the only ones who support me.” (Barney is Mr. Bush’s Scottish terrier.) "

This isn't the type of leader we need. The history books are full of his type of wartime commander and their names are inevitably associated with fiasco and disaster.

Now, of course, Bush is turning on his own people again, hoping that by fanning the embers of their fears he can herd them back one more time into the Republican corral for the mid-term congressional elections. Once again he's impugning the patriotism of any who criticize him. Again he's taking the damning intelligence against him and trying to spin it so hard that he can claim it supports him.

This man is a failure deserving nothing beyond our contempt.

Economic Miracles, Environmental Disasters

Just when we're beginning to pay attention to our candle that, for too long, has been burning at both ends, we may now be about to put a blowtorch to it.

The two most populous nations on earth, India and China, are poised to become the world's next economic superpowers. Each has more than a billion people, most of them by western standards pretty backward folks. You get two advantages out of that: cheap labour and a pent-up market for consumer goods. That's the gasoline and the match.

A real problem, for them and eventually for the rest of us, is that China and India didn't break into the billion club without a lot of environmental degradation along the way. The very prosperity that seems to have arrived on their doorsteps could be a very mixed blessing.

China has a good lead on India in terms of industrial development. The Chinese government has already recognized that pollution poses not just a serious health threat to its people but a bottleneck to further development. The government has been motivated, out of self interest (is there any better motivation) to pass stringent environmental protection measures but it may be too little, too late.

According to "The Economist", 600-million Chinese are left to rely on contaminated water. A recent survey found that 70 per cent of five of China's seven major river systems was "unfit for human contact." Forget about drinking it, just touching it is dangerous.

A lack of safe fresh water is compounded by severe air pollution. This isn't particularly surprising in a country where most of its electricity is generated by coal-fired plants and many homes are heated with coal. The Chinese government's own Environmental Protection Administration found that fully two-thirds of the 300 cities it surveyed fail to meet World Health Organization minimum standards.

Yet another looming ecological crisis is desertification, a term that refers to the exhaustion of once fertile, farmland and its transformation into desert. This is a problem that besets China, some other parts of Asia and quite a bit of Africa. The advancing desert and the sandstorms that this creates has already had officials pondering whether they might have to relocate the capital, Beijing.

Farmland to Desert

Peasant farmers are being hard hit by all of this. Their produce doesn't grow properly, sometimes at all, and, due to the pollution of sources of irrigation, the end product is, itself, contaminated. A recent article from the Knight Ridder news service noted these environmental problems are now so serious. "...they've begun to generate social instability."

"Choking on vile air, sickened by toxic water, citizens in some corners of this vast nation are rising up to protest the high environmental cost of China's economic boom.

"In one recent incident, villagers in this hilly coastal region grew so exasperated by contamination from nearby chemical plants that they overturned and smashed dozens of vehicles and beat up police officers who arrived to quell what was essentially an environmental riot.

"'We had to do it. We can't grow our vegetables here anymore,' said Li Sanye, a 60-year-old farmer. 'Young women are giving birth to stillborn babies.'

"Across China, entire rivers run foul or have dried up altogether. Nearly a third of cities don't treat their sewage, flushing it into waterways."

Across the Himalayas in India, the situation isn't much better. India's current population stands at between 1.1 and 1.2-billion and increases by 42,000 every day. It's population growth rate suggests that India's population will pass China's in the coming decades.

India is overcrowded. It has 3.5 times the population of the United States but only a third of its land area. The land is under stress as are the country's water resources. Sanitation is a terrific problem. In the countryside it's estimated that only around 14 per cent of the population has access to a latrine. Given the shortages of water, hand washing remains a real problem and, with it, the spread of sanitation-related diseases. It is estimated that diarrhea claims 1600 lives every day.

It isn't only the rural poor who have difficulty getting clean water. In the cities, the well-to-do often find it a struggle. The New York Times recently looked at the case of Ritu Prasher of New Delhi:

"Every day, Mrs. Prasher, a homemaker in a middle-class neighborhood of this capital, rises at 6:30 a.m. and begins fretting about water.

"It is a rare morning when water trickles through the pipes. More often, not a drop will come. So Mrs. Prasher will have to call a private water tanker, wait for it to show up, call again, wait some more and worry about whether enough buckets are filled in the bathroom in case no water arrives.

“'Your whole day goes just planning how you’ll get water,” a weary Mrs. Prasher, 45, recounted one morning this summer, cellphone in hand and ready to press redial for the water tanker. “You become so edgy all the time.'”

"In the richest city in India, with the nation’s economy marching ahead at an enviable clip, middle-class people like Mrs. Prasher are reduced to foraging for water. Their predicament testifies to the government’s astonishing inability to deliver the most basic services to its citizens at a time when India asserts itself as a global power.

"The crisis, decades in the making, has grown as fast as India in recent years. A soaring population, the warp-speed sprawl of cities, and a vast and thirsty farm belt have all put new strains on a feeble, ill-kept public water and sanitation network.

"The combination has left water all too scarce in some places, contaminated in others and in cursed surfeit for millions who are flooded each year. Today the problems threaten India’s ability to fortify its sagging farms, sustain its economic growth and make its cities healthy and habitable. At stake is not only India’s economic ambition but its very image as the world’s largest democracy.

“If we become rich or poor as a nation, it’s because of water,” said Sunita Narain, director of the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

"Conflicts over water mirror the most vexing changes facing India: the competing demands of urban and rural areas, the stubborn divide between rich and poor, and the balance between the needs of a thriving economy and a fragile environment.

"New Delhi’s water woes are typical of those of many Indian cities. Nationwide, the urban water distribution network is in such disrepair that no city can provide water from the public tap for more than a few hours a day.

"An even bigger problem than demand is disposal. New Delhi can neither quench its thirst, nor adequately get rid of the ever bigger heaps of sewage that it produces. Some 45 percent of the population is not connected to the public sewerage system.

"Those issues are amplified nationwide. More than 700 million Indians, or roughly two-thirds of the population, do not have adequate sanitation. Largely for lack of clean water, 2.1 million children under the age of 5 die each year, according to the United Nations.

As bad as India's water problems are, its air pollution levels are worse. It's estimated that polluted air in India causes 5 million deaths a year. Again, New Delhi is the worst with suspended particulates ranging between 350 to 800 micrograms per cubic metre of air, far greater than the World Health Organization's standard of 50 micrograms or less.

If China and India merely had to clean up the existing mess there might be some scope for optimism. However the looming population growth and industrial development suggests these problems are only going to get worse. Global warming will only compound their growing environmental crises.

Opponents of Kyoto cite India and China as justification for not meeting their greenhouse gas commitments. After all, if these countries are going to keep polluting, why shouldn't everybody? That logic, of course, makes no sense. The goal must be to persuade China and India and the rest of the developing world to curb their growth and address their environmental problems and we won't have much credibility if we, the wealthiest nations, don't lead by example.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Just Asking, That's All

Have you noticed that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, is still here in North America? He's popped up at the United Nations, then in our House of Commons and, most recently, he's back in Washington. I don't think he wants to leave but, then again, would you? Here's a guy whose country appears to be in meltdown. Five years after the Taliban government was toppled he's still in control of almost none of his own country.

The Taliban have returned in their southern Pashtun regions. His army is beset with desertions. His cops and regional officials have established a hard-earned reputation for brutality and corruption. Those parts of the country not experiencing insurgency rest firmly in control of warlords and their militia who seem reluctant to send any tax revenues back to Karzai in Kabul. Opium production is soaring to record levels. The country's key source of income is foreign aid. Sharia law is back in force even in liberated regions. If you were running that show, would you want to go home? Home to what?

In America, the McClatchy newspaper chain operates a first-rate international news organization. When it comes to war reporting it features Joe Galloway who, if you've never heard of him, is today's equivalent is Ernie Pyle of WWII.

McClatchy's Jonathan Landy just filed a sobering overview of the sorry state of today's Afghanistan:

"Afghanistan has become Iraq on a slow burn. Five years after they were ousted, the Taliban are back in force, their ranks renewed by a new generation of diehards. Violence, opium trafficking, ethnic tensions, official corruption and political anarchy are all worse than they've been at any time since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001.

"By failing to stop Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden from escaping into Pakistan, then diverting troops and resources to Iraq before finishing the job in Afghanistan, the Bush administration left the door open to a Taliban comeback. Compounding the problem, reconstruction efforts have been slow and limited, and the U.S. and NATO didn't anticipate the extent and ferocity of the Taliban resurgence or the alliances the insurgents have formed with other Islamic extremists and with the world's leading opium traffickers.

"There are only 42,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops to secure a country that's half again the size of Iraq, where 150,000 U.S.-led coalition troops are deployed. Suicide bombings have soared from two in all of 2002 to about one every five days. Civilian casualties are mounting. President Hamid Karzai and his U.S. backers have become hugely unpopular.

"'The Americans made promises that they haven't carried out, like bringing security, rebuilding the country and eradicating poverty,' said Nasir Ahmad, 32, as he hawked secondhand clothes in the clamor of bus engines, horns and barking merchants in Kabul's main bazaar. 'Karzai is an irresponsible person. He is just a figurehead.'

"James Dobbins, who was President Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan, said that the administration dismissed European offers of a major peacekeeping force after the U.S. intervention and almost immediately began shifting military assets to invade Iraq.

"The White House "resisted the whole concept of peacekeeping," said Dobbins. "They wanted to demonstrate a different approach, one that would be much lower cost. So the decision to skimp on manpower and deploy one-fiftieth the troops as were deployed in Bosnia was accompanied by a decision to underplay economic assistance.

"'We invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. We conquered the country in December, and Congress was not asked to provide any (reconstruction) money until the following October,' he continued. 'Much of the money didn't show up for years. And not only were the actual sums relatively small, but with the failure to establish even a modicum of security in the countryside, there was no way to spend it.'"

As for the "hearts and minds" struggle, it too seems to be faltering:

"'Many of the people of Afghanistan are on the fence right now, and they will be for whichever side wins,' Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, NATO's top military commander, said on Sept. 20. 'If military action is not followed by visible, tangible, sizable and correctly focused reconstruction and development efforts, then we will be in Afghanistan for a much longer period of time than we need to be.'

"For that approach to succeed, there has to be security. Yet there are too few U.S. and NATO troops to secure the vast tracts of desert and mountains in eastern and southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban find their greatest support.

"There are 22,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But there are only 5,000 U.S. combat soldiers in eastern Afghanistan bordering Taliban refuges in Pakistan, a 27,000-square-mile area of vast deserts and mountains nearly the size of South Carolina.

"ISAF, with 20,000 troops from 36 nations, has only 8,000 troops for 77,000 square miles - slightly smaller than Minnesota - in the south.

"The insurgents and their leaders operate from Pakistan, aided by Pakistani officials, radical Islamic parties and al-Qaida. They're flush with recruits from Islamist seminaries on both sides of the border that offer religious instruction and combat training.

"Taliban extremists also have been to Iraq for training in combat and bomb-making, and Iraqi insurgents have traveled to Pakistan to forge closer ties with Afghan and Pakistani extremists, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

"The insurgents fight, then blend back into the population. They've forged alliances with powerful drug lords, sharing in the profits of opium production, which has increased by 59 percent this year to record levels, fueling immense official corruption.

"The United States has paid for poppy eradication, but farmers have gotten virtually no help to plant alternative crops. The Taliban have stepped in, providing seeds and fertilizers for new poppy crops in return for support and recruits. "

Does this all seem to be running around in circles and going nowhere? Well, it is. The two key intervenors in Afghanistan, NATO and the United States don't have the political will to win this thing. Our forces are vastly too small to hope to secure the countryside which eliminates the prospect of reconstruction much less reforming and stabilizing the Karzai government. All we can do is engage in firefights with the Taliban and drug lords and, even then, it's when and where they choose. Karzai's own people have had it with the guy. He was installed amidst promises of great things that just haven't happened.

In the West, our leaders' political capital is pretty much depleted. The two biggest players in the Global War Without End on Terror, Bush and Blair, have seen their popular support evaporate. Thanks to Rumsfeld they've been fighting a war 'on the cheap' and it has failed miserably as it was bound to fail. What are their chances now of going back to their people and saying, "Let's try this all over again, but with vastly more troops. Let's bring back conscription"? Five years down the road you can't pull that off. You and your government will get slung out in disgrace.

"We're Screwed"
"Bet'yer Ass but Keep Smiling"

This gives a brand new meaning to "stay the course." It no longer means to stick with it until we succeed. What it actually means is I don't want to admit my blunder and so I'll just keep this ticking over until my term is up and this all gets dumped into someone else's lap. Hey, it's only two more years.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Operation Medusa - Keeping Afghanistan Safe for Thugs and Villains

The battle of Panjwai or "Operation Medusa" as it was dramatically called never made much sense in the context of a classic government versus guerrilla battle. What was odd was that the insurgents stood their ground and fought against overwhelming firepower from our side and that, when the dust cleared, the guerrillas seemed to vanish into thin air. None of that kept Generals Fraser and Hillier or the Harperites from celebrating Canada's victory to break the back of the Taliban.

A story in today's Globe and Mail helps make sense of what actually happened. It turns out we weren't just slaughtering the Taliban. We were actually laying waste to a lot of locals. Yes, we were killing the same people we were supposedly there to protect.

What happened was an uprising by local farmers against oppression by corrupt government, police and military forces. This was just too good a deal for the Taliban to pass up. Canadian forces, perhaps unintentionally, put down a popular uprising against corrupt Afghan bosses. Good one, eh?

It seems we killed a lot of locals, several hundred anyway. The brothers and sons of those dead farmers will probably be back to settle scores before long. Then we'll be able to kill even more Afghans unless they just decide to wrap themselves up in explosives when they come calling.

Villagers interviewed said that corrupt police officials had used their power to settle tribal scores and that they were subject to police stealing their cash, cellphones, jewelry, even motorbikes and cars. When the Taliban arrived on the scene the insurgents put an end to this abuse and gained the support of the locals. In other words, the locals welcomed the protection of the Taliban against their own government's officials.

Now that the Taliban have moved out of Panjwai, their work done, the goverment thugs are said to be returning under the protection of the victorious NATO forces.

One of the cardinal mistakes the Americans made in Vietnam was driving locals into the arms of the guerrillas by propping up corrupt provincial officials. Now, it's our turn. Operation Medusa indeed, myth atop myth.

A Bagful of Hot Air

Little Stevie has been paying rapt attention to the style of his idol from the South and has been doing his best to meet those standards. We've heard plenty of "stay the course" and "cut and run" references from Harper, MacKay and O'connor. When Hamid Karzai came to address Parliament, the floor of the House of Commons was jam packed with row upon row of military personnel turned out in their finest with their ribbons all polished and on display. Know anybody else who likes to perform to a backdrop of happy uniforms? Then, when Karzai and Little Stevie spoke to reporters it was before a screen of brilliant, red flags. For Harper, like Bush, image trumps substance every time.

Little Stevie pushes image even if it means pulling rabbits out of his backside to do it. He's had quite a week of it. First he stood up before the United Nations General Assembly to put the UN "on notice" that it had better "step up to the plate" and recognize Afghanistan as some weird sort of test of its own relevance. Harper single-handedly designated the Afghan problem as the UN's foremost challenge? Huh? Stevie was obviously speaking to the folks at home because his actual audience, the leaders of the world's nations, know a load of hogwash when they hear it. From watching Bush, Stevie knows that a UN appearance is really just another photo op.

Then there was his silly, John Wayne performance before the cameras on the lawns of Parliament Hill the following day. This was even more comical than his jumped-up strutting before the UN. The essential props this time were families and friends of Canadian military personnel, dressed in patriotic red in honour of "the troops."

Like a bible tent preacher, Harper went over the top claiming that, whenever there's been a need in the world, Canadian forces have been there and that, when Canadian forces go into a country, they stay until the job is done. Gee, it sounds so good - it's just not true, not remotely true. We let three million innocents get slaughtered in the Congo and didn't do squat. We didn't send brigades of troops to back Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda when they were needed to stop that genocide. We did go to Somalia and, together with the Americans, bailed out. We spent more that 30-years in Cyprus trying to keep the Greek and Turkish communities from each others' throats and left with the problems still unresolved. We're so bogged down in Afghanistan that we don't have any meaningful capability to send troops to places like Darfur where they could do some genuine good.

The 'fingernails across the blackboard' moment, however, came when Harper shamelessly boasted that, "we don't start fights, but we finish'em." Hey folks, Little Stevie doesn't have a speechwriter. He just has some clown cruising the backroads of Alabama copying bumper stickers from broken down, redneck pick-ups. The only thing missing was Toby Keith's jingoistic stylings about how 'these colours don't run.'

Of more interest, however, was the performance (or should I say 'performances') of Hamid Karzai. Here is a man who knows exactly what each crowd needs to hear and is ready to deliver, on command. Harper needed an "everything's going according to plan thank you so much, please stay the course" moment and Karzai delivered. When he spoke to Jack Layton, however, Karzai agreed that the answer is a political settlement with the Taliban. Gee, everybody seems to get exactly what they want from Hamid Karzai.

That he's survived as long as he has is testament to Karzai's skill at appeasing everyone. He needs all the support he can get just to hold his wobbly government together. He's appeased Bush, Blair and Harper, going along with the War Without End on Terror business when they want him to dance; he's appeased the warlords and the drug lords when he couldn't hope to run them out of his country; he's appeased Musharraf and he's ready and willing to accommodate the Taliban when that opportunity arises. Everybody gets what they want from Hamid Karzai or,in the case of Bush, Blair and Harper, at least what they want to hear.

Hamid Karzai isn't a liar, he's just not a fool. He can see what's happening in Baghdad. He understands the very real limits of western military power and the always tenuous support of the western governments. He fully appreciates that he could find himself all on his own at any time. He knows he'd better have deals with all the folks at home well before the U.S. bails out of Iraq. I don't think that all the John Wayne speeches from Little Stevie help Hamid sleep any better at night. He knows hot air when he feels it on his cheek.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Have a Little Faith, Eh?

The case for separation of church and state has never been better made than it has in the United States over the past six years. Canada is now being dragged down into "faith based" government and we won't be happy with the results if we let this carry on.

GeorgeBush's rule is nothing if not faith based. This infinitely peculiar man believes that God acts through him. In other words, Little Georgie's decisions are actually a manifestation of God's will. Who needs reason, what possible place can there be for logic, or debate, or considered analysis, when one's very instincts are divine?

I suspect that the American President actually believes this nonsense. His actions and words certainly support that conclusion. His Messianic belief is evident in the string of colossal failures that have flowed from The Decider's decisions and, yes, the capitalization was intentional.

In October, 2004, author Ron Suskind wrote an article, "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush" that appeared in the New York Times Magazine. The excerpts that follow are or should be required reading:

"Joe Biden was telling a story, a story about the president. ''I was in the Oval Office a few months after we swept into Baghdad,'' he began, ''and I was telling the president of my many concerns'' -- concerns about growing problems winning the peace, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and problems securing the oil fields. Bush, Biden recalled, just looked at him, unflappably sure that the United States was on the right course and that all was well. '''Mr. President,' I finally said, 'How can you be so sure when you know you don't know the facts?'''

"Biden said that Bush stood up and put his hand on the senator's shoulder. ''My instincts,'' he said. ''My instincts.''

"The Delaware senator was, in fact, hearing what Bush's top deputies -- from cabinet members like Paul O'Neill, Christine Todd Whitman and Colin Powell to generals fighting in Iraq -- have been told for years when they requested explanations for many of the president's decisions, policies that often seemed to collide with accepted facts. The president would say that he relied on his ''gut'' or his ''instinct'' to guide the ship of state, and then he ''prayed over it.'' The old pro Bartlett, a deliberative, fact-based wonk, is finally hearing a tune that has been hummed quietly by evangelicals (so as not to trouble the secular) for years as they gazed upon President George W. Bush. This evangelical group -- the core of the energetic ''base'' that may well usher Bush to victory -- believes that their leader is a messenger from God. And in the first presidential debate, many Americans heard the discursive John Kerry succinctly raise, for the first time, the issue of Bush's certainty -- the issue being, as Kerry put it, that ''you can be certain and be wrong.''

"What underlies Bush's certainty? And can it be assessed in the temporal realm of informed consent?

"All of this -- the ''gut'' and ''instincts,'' the certainty and religiosity -connects to a single word, ''faith,'' and faith asserts its hold ever more on debates in this country and abroad. That a deep Christian faith illuminated the personal journey of George W. Bush is common knowledge. But faith has also shaped his presidency in profound, nonreligious ways. The president has demanded unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides and his kindred in the Republican Party. Once he makes a decision -- often swiftly, based on a creed or moral position -- he expects complete faith in its rightness.

"Some officials, elected or otherwise, with whom I have spoken with left meetings in the Oval Office concerned that the president was struggling with the demands of the job. Others focused on Bush's substantial interpersonal gifts as a compensation for his perceived lack of broader capabilities. Still others, like Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat, are worried about something other than his native intelligence. ''He's plenty smart enough to do the job,'' Levin said. ''It's his lack of curiosity about complex issues which troubles me.'' But more than anything else, I heard expressions of awe at the president's preternatural certainty and wonderment about its source.

"Looking back at the months directly following 9/11, virtually every leading military analyst seems to believe that rather than using Afghan proxies, we should have used more American troops, deployed more quickly, to pursue Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora. Many have also been critical of the president's handling of Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 hijackers; despite Bush's setting goals in the so-called ''financial war on terror,'' the Saudis failed to cooperate with American officials in hunting for the financial sources of terror. Still, the nation wanted bold action and was delighted to get it. Bush's approval rating approached 90 percent. Meanwhile, the executive's balance between analysis and resolution, between contemplation and action, was being tipped by the pull of righteous faith.

"It was during a press conference on Sept. 16, in response to a question about homeland security efforts infringing on civil rights, that Bush first used the telltale word ''crusade'' in public. ''This is a new kind of -- a new kind of evil,'' he said. ''And we understand. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.''

"Muslims around the world were incensed. Two days later, Ari Fleischer tried to perform damage control. ''I think what the president was saying was -- had no intended consequences for anybody, Muslim or otherwise, other than to say that this is a broad cause that he is calling on America and the nations around the world to join.'' As to ''any connotations that would upset any of our partners, or anybody else in the world, the president would regret if anything like that was conveyed.''

"A few months later, on Feb. 1, 2002, Jim Wallis of the Sojourners stood in the Roosevelt Room for the introduction of Jim Towey as head of the president's faith-based and community initiative. John DiIulio, the original head, had left the job feeling that the initiative was not about ''compassionate conservatism,'' as originally promised, but rather a political giveaway to the Christian right, a way to consolidate and energize that part of the base.

"Moments after the ceremony, Bush saw Wallis. He bounded over and grabbed the cheeks of his face, one in each hand, and squeezed. ''Jim, how ya doin', how ya doin'!'' he exclaimed. Wallis was taken aback. Bush excitedly said that his massage therapist had given him Wallis's book, ''Faith Works.'' His joy at seeing Wallis, as Wallis and others remember it, was palpable -- a president, wrestling with faith and its role at a time of peril, seeing that rare bird: an independent counselor. Wallis recalls telling Bush he was doing fine, '''but in the State of the Union address a few days before, you said that unless we devote all our energies, our focus, our resources on this war on terrorism, we're going to lose.' I said, 'Mr. President, if we don't devote our energy, our focus and our time on also overcoming global poverty and desperation, we will lose not only the war on poverty, but we'll lose the war on terrorism.'''

"Bush replied that that was why America needed the leadership of Wallis and other members of the clergy.

''No, Mr. President,'' Wallis says he told Bush, ''We need your leadership on this question, and all of us will then commit to support you. Unless we drain the swamp of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we'll never defeat the threat of terrorism.''

"Bush looked quizzically at the minister, Wallis recalls. They never spoke again after that.

"In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

"The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

"Can the unfinished American experiment in self-governance -- sputtering on the watery fuel of illusion and assertion -- deal with something as nuanced as the subtleties of one man's faith? What, after all, is the nature of the particular conversation the president feels he has with God -- a colloquy upon which the world now precariously turns?

"That very issue is what Jim Wallis wishes he could sit and talk about with George W. Bush. That's impossible now, he says. He is no longer invited to the White House.

''Faith can cut in so many ways,'' he said. ''If you're penitent and not triumphal, it can move us to repentance and accountability and help us reach for something higher than ourselves. That can be a powerful thing, a thing that moves us beyond politics as usual, like Martin Luther King did. But when it's designed to certify our righteousness -- that can be a dangerous thing. Then it pushes self-criticism aside. There's no reflection.

''Where people often get lost is on this very point,'' he said after a moment of thought. ''Real faith, you see, leads us to deeper reflection and not -- not ever -- to the thing we as humans so very much want.''

"And what is that?

''Easy certainty.''

How much Bush is there in our own Stephen Harper? There are similarities between the two men but, to be sure, there are also key differences. Some, perhaps, reflect different circumstances: Stephen Harper sits as prime minister but his grasp on power is much more tenuous. He leads a very thin minority government and a nation that isn't nearly as strongly in the grip of the religious right, at least not yet. Change, however, is very much afoot in Ottawa.

The arrival of Harper at 24 Sussex Drive brought a flock of Christian fundamentalists to Ottawa. It doesn't matter that two-thirds of Canadian voters didn't back their guy, they mean to make hay while the sun shines. They had better move fast and they know it.

I'll expand on this subject in the coming days. In the meantime, if you want to learn more, see if you can lay your hands on a copy of the Focus section of Saturday's Globe and Mail or buy the October edition of The Walrus, available at news stands now.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Voices on Afghanistan

I wish Stephen Harper would take a break in his busy day and settle in for a bit of TV. If he'd done that today he might have caught a CBC Newsworld interview with Gwynne Dyer on the subject of Afghanistan. For those of you who don't know Dyer, he's Canadian and an expert on military affairs. He holds a doctorate in Military and Middle Eastern Affairs from the University of London and has held teaching appointments at both Oxford and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

Dyer doesn't see what we're doing in Afghanistan as likely to accomplish very much. He noted that what we're trying to do now - defeat the Taliban, restore Afghanistan's infrastructure and stabilize the Karzai government - ought to have been begun five years ago when the Taliban was toppled, long before the country lapsed into the state it is in today. He pointed out that NATO's 20,000 strong force is far too small for the task they've taken on and, despite their claims to the contrary, its military leadership is falling into the same mentality that led the U.S. to defeat in Vietnam.

Mr. Dyer also criticized NATO commanders for resorting to air power in battling the Taliban. Aerial bombardment, he pointed out, causes inevitable civilian casualties that, in turn, create brand new enemies where none existed before.

Another voice heard was that of Hamid Karzai himself who appeared before the UN General Assembly yesterday. He laid it on the line: NATO and American troops in Afghanistan can't defeat the Taliban unless its 'terrorist sanctuaries' (he couldn't bring himself to say 'Pakistan') are destroyed. Karzai is right but you're not going to hear that from our beloved leaders. As Mr. Dyer noted, Karzai can see the writing on the wall. That's why he's already making overtures to the Taliban if only to improve his personal chances of survival once the foreign troops leave. Karzai has already made his deals with the warlords and drug lords of the north.

Checkmate. We can't attack Pakistan. We can't win without attacking Pakistan. Attacking Pakistan is a non-starter. Musharraf would be toppled and would probably be replaced by Islamic extremists. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could be turned against us or even Israel. It would take a huge force to occupy and tame the mountain tribes and the Taliban sanctuaries and there's no political will to make that effort. Without destroying these sanctuaries, the Taliban is a perpetual-motion machine.

No, this is going nowhere and it's time Mr. Harper was honest about that. If Karzai isn't going to treat the Taliban as his government's mortal enemy, why the hell are we wasting Canadian lives trying to hold them at bay? As Gwynne Dyer puts it, to win this thing we would need a time machine. We just can't make up for the fleeting opportunities squandered in the first five years.

The Royal Society Versus Exxon - Manipulating Science and You

The Royal Society has had enough. Britain's premier scientific academy has taken the gloves off in a letter it sent to Exxon offices on 4 September, 2006. The society demands that ExxonMobil (Esso here in Canada) stop funding bogus scientists and institutions that seek to confuse public opinion about global warming.

The Society's Bob Ward castigated Exxon:

"It is very disappointing that the ExxonMobil 2005 Corporate Citizenship Report, like "Tomorrow's Energy", leaves readers with inaccurate and misleading impression of the evidence on the causes of climate change that is documented in the scientific literature."

"...I also told you of my concerns that ExxonMobil has been giving funds to organizations that have been misinforming the public about the science of climate change."

Since 1998, Exxon has funelled more than $12-million to groups that exist to sow doubt about the danger of global warming and its causes. You might want to think of that next time you're passing an Esso or an Exxon gas station. They're using our money to pay people to confuse and mislead us.

While Exxon tries to deceive the public with claims that there are big gaps in the existing science, the Society was having none of it:

"The IPCC's conclusions have been endorsed by te world's other leading scientific organisations. For example, the science academies of the G8 nations plus Brazil, China and India, in June 2005 published a joint statement on 'Global response to climate change'. The statement pointed out that 'it is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities.'

For more on Exxon's campaign to fund the so-called skeptics, go to

This is the sort of spin the for-hire skeptics, such as Frederick Seitz, like to spread:

"We are living in an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals as a result of the carbon dioxide increase. Our children will enjoy an Earth with far more plant and animal life than that with which we now are blessed. This is a wonderful and unexpected gift from the Industrial Revolution."

It was attached to a letter written by Seitz, entitled Research Review of Global Warming Evidence. The lead author of the "review" that followed Seitz's letter is a Christian fundamentalist called Arthur B Robinson. He is not a professional climate scientist. It was co-published by Robinson's organisation - the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine - and an outfit called the George C Marshall Institute, which has received $630,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. The other authors were Robinson's 22-year-old son and two employees of the George C Marshall Institute. The chairman of the George C Marshall Institute was Frederick Seitz.

Author George Monbiot has recently written a book, "Heat", that exposes the denial industry. According to The Guardian:

"For years a network of fake citizens' groups and bogus scientific bodies has been claiming that the science of global warming is inconclusive. They set back action on climate change by a decade. But who funded them? Exxon's involvement is well known but not the strange role of Big Tobacco."

Monbiot illustrates how it was Big Tobacco, in the form of Phillip Morris, that started the paid skeptic movement:

"Had it not been for the settlement of a major class action against the tobacco companies in the US, we would never have been able to see what happened next. But in 1998 they were forced to publish their internal documents and post them on the internet.

"Within two months of [an EPA report on secondhand smoke], Philip Morris, the world's biggest tobacco firm, had devised a strategy for dealing with the passive-smoking report. In February 1993 Ellen Merlo, its senior vice-president of corporate affairs, sent a letter to William I Campbell, Philip Morris's chief executive officer and president, explaining her intentions: "Our overriding objective is to discredit the EPA report ... Concurrently, it is our objective to prevent states and cities, as well as businesses, from passive-smoking bans."

"To this end, she had hired a public relations company called APCO. She had attached the advice it had given her. APCO warned that: "No matter how strong the arguments, industry spokespeople are, in and of themselves, not always credible or appropriate messengers."

"So the fight against a ban on passive smoking had to be associated with other people and other issues. Philip Morris, APCO said, needed to create the impression of a "grassroots" movement - one that had been formed spontaneously by concerned citizens to fight "overregulation". It should portray the danger of tobacco smoke as just one "unfounded fear" among others, such as concerns about pesticides and cellphones. APCO proposed to set up "a national coalition intended to educate the media, public officials and the public about the dangers of 'junk science'. Coalition will address credibility of government's scientific studies, risk-assessment techniques and misuse of tax dollars ... Upon formation of Coalition, key leaders will begin media outreach, eg editorial board tours, opinion articles, and brief elected officials in selected states."

Here in Canada we can't be smug. The skeptic/denial business is alive and well and it's being funded by Alberta's "oil patch". They count - you guessed it - Stephen Harper as a supporter.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Conservative Foreign Policy on the Middle East

Not Your Granddad's War - II

One of the hardest parts of counter-insurgency warfare is judging whether you're winning. It's hard because there are so many misleading indicators and it's awfully tempting to grab ahold of them and trumpet victory.

We declared our victory in Panjwai when we drove the Taliban fighters out of the district but was that actually a win or just one more page in a long book? You see, we can claim victory and yet we're fighting battles we simply cannot lose. We can't be defeated by guys with 50's era assault rifles and rocket grenades. We've got better rifles, better rocket launchers and we also have a bunch of stuff the guerrillas don't have such as artillery, armoured vehicles, aerial drones, attack helicopters and strike fighter jets. How could we possibly be defeated in battle?

The other side isn't stupid, they understand all of this. They understand it better than we do because it's a type of warfare they've waged and won for two centuries against the British and then the Soviets.

We need to keep a close eye on our military leaders to see if they 'get it' and, so far at least, they don't appear to be getting it. Canada's Brigadier-General David Fraser has been saying a lot of silly things lately. During Operation Medusa he repeatedly claimed that we had the Taliban surrounded and trapped. Turns out they were actually pretty free to come and go as they pleased right through General Fraser's cordon.

Yesterday General Fraser gave us another insight into what's in his mind when he came out with this bizarre logic: "The Taliban are a bunch of cowards. They're not strong. If they were strong, let's come out in the open field. Let's do this one-on-one. Why don't you want to come out here? ...They're desperate. If they want to fight, I'm willing to have a fight any time they want. But this is not an honourable fight at all."

To me at least it sounds like General Fraser is the one who's desperate. The Taliban may be evil, they may be barbaric but they're hardly cowards. To stand up to our combined arms firepower for days on end isn't typical of cowardice. As for coming "out in the open field", the idea is absurd. Fraser seems to expect these people to come out, stand up and get mowed down - if they're at all honourable.

Sorry, David, but you need to wake up to how these people fight and stop throwing tantrums because they don't fight the way you want them to. They fight on their terms, not yours, and in the main they'll fight where and when and how they choose. You can howl at the moon in frustration but you have to adapt to the realities on the ground.

Of course it's hard to fault David Fraser too much after hearing his boss, Lt.-Gen. David Richards who commands the entire International Security Assistance Force. Richards told a British broadcaster that he was determined the campaign would be successful and that the Taliban would "start dancing to my tune." Oh dear, this guy may actually believe what he's saying.

Unfortunately, NATO's primary and dominant response to the isurgency is resort to superior, military force. Of course we're talking about NATO which is, at its core, a military alliance. But Afghanistan confronts NATO with a type of war for which it isn't trained or equipped to fight so its leaders go back to the warfare they do know and rage when the other guys don't want to play by their rules.

Earlier this month, Jeffrey Record issued a report entitled "The American Way of War, Cultural Barriers to Successful Counterinsurgency," and it's a real eye opener. Record teaches strategy at America's Air War College. Summarizing existing theories he wrote:

"Some people argue that the key to insurgent success is asymmetry of stakes. Insurgents have a greater interest in the outcome of the war and therefore bring to it a superior political will, a greater determination to fight and die; the insurgents wage total war, whereas the government or foreign occupying power fights what, for it, is necessarily a limited war.

"Others contend that superior strategy best explains insurgent victories - that is protracted guerrilla warfare against a politically impatient and tactically inflexible conventional enemy. Still others believe that the stronger side's type of governance is the place to look; they argue that democracies, as opposed to dictatorships, lack the political and moral stomach to prevail in long and bloody wars against irregular adversaries.

"Varying combinations ofweaker political will, inferior strategy, democratic governance, and failure to isolate insurgent access to external assistance go a long way in explaining insurgent wins over great powers."

General Fraser gets riled up by the Taliban's refusal to come out and fight in the open. Does he not understand that insurgents always avoid their enemy's strengths and exploit their weaknesses?

We need to understand that the Taliban's war is political, not military. The Taliban may choose to stand and fight but only to show the Afghan people that they can take it and survive, that the Western armies with all their technology can't defeat them. They want to spread fear among the people because people blame their government for failing to provide them with security. They also seek to provoke their military opponents into over-reacting, using excessive firepower and inflicting collateral damage on the populace to turn them against their government. As Mr. Record puts it:

"Military victory is a beginning, not an end. Approaching war as an apolitical enterprise encourages fatal inattention to the challenges of converting military wins into political successes. It thwarts recognition that insurgencies are first and foremost political struggles that cannot be defeated by military means alone - indeed, that effective counterinsurgency requires the greatest discretion in the use of force."

We need to remember that the essence of the war we're fighting in Afghanistan is 'regime change.' Karzai has assumed his country's presidency but has never been able to consolidate his political control over the country and, hence, his very legitimacy is still unresolved. The Taliban took to the hills but they were never truly defeated and they never surrendered. The West has been fighting this war for five years already since the U.S. joined the Northern Alliance to oust the Taliban in the wake of September 11, 2001. You must bear in mind that our side has been after these guys for five years and yet they've come back perhaps stronger than ever.

Are we winning in Afghanistan? No, we're not. We didn't go there to win because that would have taken a force many, many times greater than the force NATO has hobbled together. This war is already splitting our alliance and, especially in Europe, popular support for NATO is falling quickly. NATO allies, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, are refusing to get involved. In some quarters NATO is coming to be seen as George Bush's Foreign Legion.

We're trying to use conventional warfare against an insurgency. We're not securing the countryside to bolster popular support for the government. We've acted so slowly that the 'regime change' government of Hamid Karzai has already become corrupt and compromised and is losing the support of the Afghan people. We're still relying on Pakistan to sever the Taliban's external support because we don't have remotely enough troops to tackle that job ourselves.

We're told it'll take three to five years to defeat the Taliban. Maybe the general making that claim can explain why we've failed so miserably in the five years we've already been at them?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Not Your Granddad's War

Who could have imagined, only five years ago, that Canada's military would find itself fighting a guerrilla war? Oh sure, just about everyone else - the Brits, the French, the Belgians, the Dutch, the Germans and, of course, the Americans - have had brushes with insurgencies, but not Canada. What about the Belgian Congo? Yes, we were there but only with a military signals unit.

The current war in Afghanistan has fixed the Canadian military in a classic, counter-insurgency campaign. We are attempting to subdue, if possible eradicate, a guerrilla force, the Taliban. We are tackling this insurgency with a conventional, military force trained mainly to combat other conventional, military forces. We use aerial drones, artillery, armoured personnel carriers, armoured fighting vehicles, attack helicopters, jet strike fighters and, most recently, tanks to support conventional infantry with assault rifles and light machine guns. That's about as conventional as a modern Western military force gets.

Canada's army has some advantages. Our lengthy experience in peacekeeping is of some help in educating our soldiers in dealing with foreign, civilian populations. We also have amassed considerable experience in clearing mines and booby-traps. We're pretty new, however, to the fighting part.

Canadians will soon face a general election in which they will have to pass judgment on whether our soldiers should be left to fight an insurgency in Afghanistan. That's not an easy question to weigh, especially given that our military, our politicians and our electorate have no experience of this sort of struggle.

How are you going to sort this out? Well, fortunately, there is an abundance of knowledge derived from the bitter experience of others that can help you judge whether you want our soldiers fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan. We can begin by looking at a few principles of guerrilla warfare.

Insurgents do not fight to defeat their enemy in the field. They're almost always hopelessly outgunned. Fighting according to the playbook of a conventional force is tantamount to suicide. If they did that, guerrilla wars would last a very short time and the insurgents would always lose. The record, however, shows that they almost always win and we need to understand how they manage to do that.

It takes a lot of people to defeat an insurgency. Imagine someone juggling cats. You have to keep them all moving, in the air, at the same time and you have to make sure that not one of them claws at you or gets away. There are four fundamental tasks that have to be accomplished simultaneously. 1. The insurgents have to be kept at bay so that they cannot disrupt progress on the other tasks. 2. A national government acceptable to the people must be established. A government which cannot hold the support of the populace defeats the entire effort. 3. Security must be provided to the populace. The people cannot support any government that cannot protect them from the guerrillas. 4. An indigenous security force must be trained, equipped and prepared with sufficient numbers to be able to defeat the insurgency. It's only the locals who have any realistic chance of successfully combating the guerrillas. Foreigners have too many hurdles in their way, linguistic, cultural, religious and so on. If you falter on any one of the four fundamentals, it's game over. That means you have to go in with enough of the right kind of people able to accomplish each of those tasks. You have to score 4 out of 4. Right now, we're struggling to make 1 out of 4.

NATO needs to clearly define "the mission" in Afghanistan. We should not tolerate any nonsense about defeating the Taliban. If they are to be defeated it must be by indigenous Afghan forces supported by the popular will of the Afghan people. Peter MacKay can make all the preposterous claims that we're there until the job is finished. If we're going to do any good for Afghanistan and for our own military we need to be long gone from there many years before the 'job is finished.'

We need an honest assessment of the size of effort and nature of effort we need to do this job. So far it's all military with a smattering of NGOs and that isn't cohesive, coherent or effective. We have to stop underestimating the challenge we're facing. From a purely military force alone I question whether the 120,000 size force the U.S. has in Iraq would be adequate for Afghanistan. We need to be able to give the Afghan people the level of security from the Taliban they need just to begin to entertain supporting their central government. "Search and Destroy" missions to places like Panjwai simply don't do that.

We need to consider whether we're really ready to make the commitment this job requires. Are we willing to grow our military to the level required, are we willing to forego tax cuts and see civil programmes slashed? Are we willing to make the necessary sacrifices, in lives and money, for the many years this job is going to take? If we're going to abandon Afghanistan five years, or ten or fifteen years down the road, are we doing anyone a favour by going at this in half measures?

When it comes to the challenge facing us, it's hard to imagine a more difficult and complex situation than the one we must deal with in Afghanistan. What good will come in holding the Taliban at bay if the brutal, criminal warlords of the Northern Alliance come to dominate in their place? How do we address Afghanistan's opium trade? How do we create a suitable, alternate economy for the farmers for whom only poppies keep food in the mouths of their children? How do we protect these farmers from the Taliban and the other warlords, those who are allied with Hamid Karzai? How do we reform the Karzai government to free him of his dependence on thugs and criminals? How do we foster a democratic government that reflects the ethnic, cultural and religious realities of Afghanistan? If we can't solve these problems, all our battles with the Taliban are pointless, every Canadian soldier's life lost is squandered.

I don't know about you but I'm not hearing answers to any of these fundamental questions. I'm not even hearing these questions asked. If we're setting ourselves up to fail, why not just bring our people home? What's the alternative?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Definitely Not Oprah's Book Club - 3rd. Ed.

The End of Iraq, How American Incompetence Created a War Without End, Peter W. Galbraith, 2006, Simon Schuster.

Iraq as a nation is over, finished. It effectively ceased to exist in 2003 when U.S. forces invaded and toppled Saddam. Like all wars this one has winners and losers. The winners are the Kurds, the Shia, Iran, Islamic fundamentalists and al-Qaeda. The losers are the Sunni and the United States and America's Arab client states in the region, perhaps even Israel.

If you can only read one book on Iraq, Galbraith's is the one to get. First a look at the author. If the name sounds familiar to Canadians it's because Peter is the son to the late, great, Canadian-born John Kenneth Galbraith, world-renowned economist and advisor to a gaggle of U.S. presidents going back to FDR. Reading this book it's pretty obvious that Peter got a lot of his dad's smarts.

Galbraith brings more than two decades of personal experience and insight to "The End of Iraq." For many years he was involved in Iraq as a staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, years that witnessed the Iran-Iraq war, the Kurdish genocide and the 1991 uprising. He also served as America's first ambassador to Croatia, a professor at the National War College and is the Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. He's been a regular advisor to the Kurdish leadership and advised them on constitutional autonomy in the post-Saddam Iraq. This guy is not some reporter off the street, he's not some general or a Bush insider. He's the real deal, something that will be obvious to you before you've finished the first ten pages of "The End of Iraq."

The book begins by tying together a string of atrocities that were splashed about, piecemeal, in the Western press. Put together, they resemble a tennis volley of hideous mayhem, a civil war that Washington and London are doing their utmost to deny. Where did it all go so terribly wrong? Galbraith writes:

"With regard to Iraq, President Bush and his top advisors
have consistently substituted wishful thinking for
analysis and hope for strategy. In July 2004, the
Central Intelligence Agency prepared a National
Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of the situation in Iraq.
Representing the coillective judgment of America's
most experienced Iraq analysts based on the best
intelligence available to the U.S. government, the NIE
warned of the danger of civil war. When President
Bush was asked about te NIE in September, 2004, he
shrugged it off: 'The CIA said life could be lousy, life
could be OK, life could be better. The Iraqi people
don't share their pessimism.'"
This is the guy who's defining the Global War Without End on Terrorism, the guy who has roped NATO countries like our own to fight America's battles in Afghanistan because his soldiers are stuck in a quagmire in Iraq of his own making, the guy who our Little Stevie adores and seeks to emulate.
"The Iraq War has failed to serve a single major U.S.
foreign policy objective. It has not made the United
States safer; it has not advanced the war on terror;
it has not made Iraq a stable state; it has not
spread democracy to the Middle East; it has not
enhanced U.S. access to oil. It has been costly. As
of this writing, 2,500 American troops have been
killed, more than forty thousand have been
wounded, and $300 billion spent. Some
economists have calculated that the total cost
of the war, direct and indirect, could exceed
$2 trillion."
Galbraith doesn't debate the American decision to invade. He, instead, focuses on the horribly flawed decisions and policies of Washington after Saddam fell.
"The main error has been to see Iraq not as it is
but as we wished it were. This led to an unrealistic
and futile commitment to preserving the unity
of a state that was never a voluntary creation of
its people, and that has been held together by
The focus of "The End of Iraq" is to present ways the United States can salvage the best outcome from the partition of Iraq and to reveal the risks of further destabilizing the Middle East into an outright Shia versus Sunni, Persian versus Arab regional war that could cause enormous consequences worldwide. The greatest danger is whether the Leader of our Global War Without End on Terror, the Messianic Decider, can come to terms with reality.

Okay We Won, Let's Go Home

The official word is out from NATO. Operation Medusa is finished. We won. We drove the Taliban out of Southern Afghanistan. They're on the run and they're not stopping any time soon. Yippee, now we can fix a couple of schools, patch some potholes, defoliate some poppy fields and get the hell out of there. Of course, you don't believe that but who would?

We defeated the Taliban, sort of, and not a moment too soon. The Brits in neighbouring Helmand province are just about all-in. According to a piece in The Guardian, relatives of British soldiers serving in Afghanistan have become quite vocal about the stresses these people are enduring. One woman complained her son has had but one day off in eight weeks. The rest of the time he's spent in gunfights with the insurgents. Similar stories are emerging from many other relatives back in Britain.

Of course we really haven't defeated the Taliban. We've moved into one area with overwhelming force and they left. That's what insurgents do. They leave so that they can come back, on their own terms, to fight another day. They go away, they lick their wounds, clean their weapons, round up reinforcements and plan where to take the fight next.

Take Kandahar province, Canada's territory. If we put a rifle in the hands of every cook and medic and motor pool mechanic, that is to say every Canadian soldier over there, we'd have ONE soldier to cover every TEN SQUARE MILES of Kandahar province. The reality is closer to one infantryman for every 30-square miles.

Now, the best news. The top NATO commander in Afghanistan predicts they'll have the Taliban completely destroyed within three to five years. How, he didn't exactly say, probably because he can't. Chances are he doesn't plan to be around to answer awkward questions when that magical moment arrives and passes. Oh well.

Of course it's impossible to predict the future of Afghanistan because that country is destabilized on so many levels - political, economic, ethnic and military - and is just one country in a whole region that is 'in play.' The future of Afghanistan will be shaped, in part, by the future of Pakistan, of Iraq, of Iran not to mention what the future holds for NATO and the United States itself.

No, anyone who gives assurances that the Taliban threat is going to be eliminated in three to five years is either deliberately dishonest or blindly delusional.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Rotten Smell from Little Stevie's Ass, David Emerson

This week the Harper government capitulated and signed a softwood lumber deal with the U.S. We bought two years of protection from American trade bludgeoning. Oh yeah, we bought it all right. We let the Americans keep $1-billion (U.S.) out of the illegal tarrifs they imposed on Canadian softwood lumber exports. They got a 20% cut. How many banks would you rob if you knew that, at the end of the day, the police would cut you a deal and let you walk off, free as a bird, with 20% of your take?

It's a rotten deal. Two years from now the same group of American lumber producers will start the legal harassment all over again. Only this time they'll have a half-billion dollars of donations illegally harvested from Canadian lumber producers to fund their war chest. That's right, the Americans are withholding a billion dollars from our lumber companies and giving half of that to the same lobby group that beset our industry with an endless string of frivolous and vexatious litigation. Hmm, I wonder what they're going to do with all that money when the gloves come off again in just two years?

Two months ago, Harper faced an insurrection from major lumber companies and their provincial governments. They knew this deal was rotten to the core. They knew we were being extorted. Harper, however, started twisting arms until, one by one, the opposition collapsed.

Except that it didn't collapse entirely. Some lumber companies held out, stuck to the obvious principles of this mess. That didn't stop the feds from signing the deal anyway. It aso didn't stop the Harper government from setting out to make the principled companies pay for their insubordination.

The Harper government has announced that that it will levy a 19% tax on those companies that didn't knuckle under to this chicanery. In other words those companies that insist on fighting to get back the money unlawfully taken from them will, at the end of the day, have it all taxed away by our own Conservative government. After all, if everyone else is paying the 20% extortion, why should we let these holdouts refuse?

It that smells rotten, it's because it is rotten. Of course, David Emerson had no qualms about selling out his own constituents. Why would the lumber companies expect better?

Going Back to a Darker Time

In the U.S., churches are tax exempt but they can lose that status if they're found to be openly, politically partisan. As anyone who's read the papers for the last six years knows, the fundamentalist and evangelical churches in America have been flaunting that law with impunity in a ceaseless campaign to support 'their' party, the Bush/Cheney Republicans.

In fairness to them, the Internal Revenue Service probably doesn't have anywhere near enough agents to investigate the fundamentalists on this one. They probably don't even have enough stationery to write up the reports. However they still have plenty to go after the other side, maybe a progressive church - you know the kind that continuously harp on all that Jesus stuff. Man, don't these people know there's a war going on?

Who is the IRS after? The target is All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasedena, California, an Anglican church. The IRS has served a summons requiring the church and its minister to turn over all documents it produced during the 2004 election year that may have referred to political candidates.

What horrible crime is alleged? Two days before the last election the church's former Rector of 28-years delivered an anti-war sermon. In his sermon, George Regas depicted Jesus in a mock debate with then presidential candidates Bush and Kerry.

According to the L.A. Times, the sermon didn't endorse or oppose either candidate. Instead, Regas is said to have "addressed the moral and religious implications of various social issues facing the nation at the time."

You would think the IRS would be happy to get a copy of the sermon. Not hardly. It has summoned the church to even produce its utility bills to establish costs of hosting Regas' sermon. Get this, they've even summoned the Rector to furnish "a copy of all oral communications identifying candidates for public office delivered at All Saints Church or at events sponsored by All Saints Church between January 1, 2004 and November 2, 2004." Can you recall your conversations about any political leader over the span of ten months from two years ago?

A Subversive Cell

Another minister, Rev. Bob Edgar of the United Methodist Church and general secretary of the National Council of Churches said, "I'm outraged. Preachers ought to have the liberty to speak truth to power. ...Since 9/11, the IRS, like the FBI, has been moving back to the 1950s and 1960s wen a great deal of such activity was propagated against church leaders like Martin Luther King."

A truly dark and brutish society. Besides, why blame the church? Isn't it this guy's fault?

Friday, September 15, 2006

When Criminals Invoke the Rule of Law

The Bush administration has been bandying about "The Rule of Law" lately and that has me worried. Recently, Incurious George used it to distinguish civilized folks from the bad guys, "terrorists exploit grievances that can be blamed on others, democracy offers the rule of law." This week, Bush's Attorney General, Alberto "Thumbscrews" Gonzales hit Baghdad, again pushing this rule of law business on the current management of that disaster.

What profound hypocrisy. Here is Shrub, the man who holds himself above the law, preaching the rule of law as democracy's greatest virtue. This guy doesn't consider himself subject to the laws of the United States, the American constitution, or international law. Georgie knew that, under international law that bound the United States and everyone else, war could only be launched against another country in two circumstances, either in self-defence against an imminent attack or by sanction of the United Nations Security Council. When he realized that getting the nod from the Security Council was a complete non-starter, he conjured up the Weapons of Mass Destruction nonsense to claim self-defence as his excuse.

Make no mistake about it, he who launches a war of aggression is a war criminal. George W. Bush is a war criminal. Tens of thousands of innocent lives have been lost as a result of his crimes. Even two out of three Americans now realize that there was no justification to this war, that Iraq had nothing to do with the events of September 11, 2001 or world terrorism. This was a war of sheer, bloody-minded aggression. Hey, it was America itself that established the principle that a war of aggression is a war crime. They just left out the part that it only applies if the aggressor isn't an American.

Of course, George Bush doesn't consider himself subject to the rule of law, the very same principle he rightly claims underpins democracy. He doesn't even consider himself subject to his own country's laws, even its constitution. Secret arrests, secret detention, torture, renditions, warrantless wiretaps and who knows what else we just haven't heard about yet. Time and again when Congress passes laws, George puts his name to them but only with signing statements that make clear he doesn't consider himself bound by them.

In a democracy, all men, even the head of state, are subject to the rule of law. A leader who places himself above and outside the law is a despot, a tyrant, a criminal.

We have signed on to a War Without End (WWE) being waged and directed by war criminals. How can we expect this to end well for the Middle East, for us or for democracy?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Mystery of Punjwai - Where are the Bodies?

For more than a week, NATO forces led by Canada hammered Taliban insurgents they had bottled up in Panjwai district. The insurgents were shelled, rocketed, bombed and strafed relentlessly and it seemed like just about every day NATO was claiming a hundred or more fresh scalps. If you kept a running total, the Taliban ranks had been depleted to the order of many hundreds of insurgents by the time they slipped away during the evening of 10 September.

On 9/11 our people moved in, virtually unopposed and overran, not Taliban fighters, but their empty trenches. The Taliban, along with their weapons, had slipped through our fingers. Surely, though, they wouldn't have been able to get their dead out with them, would they? How could they remove hundreds upon hundreds of corpses without being detected? Seems to me they must have had their hands plenty full just getting the survivors out with their weapons.

Yet, if that's the case, the Taliban dead must be stacked up like cordwood or dumped in mass graves that we shouldn't really have that much trouble spotting. For some reason we're not finding the bodies and, unless that changes soon, we need to wonder why.

Why is this important? A war against an insurgency is a war of attrition. They don't have a homeland you can bomb into submission because their homeland is the very same turf you're defending and who wants to bomb their own, apart from the odd, trigger-happy American military pilot? They don't have the typical vulnerabilities of a conventional military force. No point wasting a lot of time trying to knock out a convoy of their fuel tankers when they run around on foot anyway. They're squirmy little buggers.

"Hello Infidels. Greetings from Afghanistan!"

No, to battle insurgents you have to find them, fix them in place and wipe them out. It's a battle of attrition, plain and simple. In Panjwai we certainly found them because they stood and fought. We fixed them in place, we actually had them surrounded. What we apparently didn't do was wipe them out. That little detail, however, hasn't stopped us from proclaiming a great victory. You can do that but only until the folks at home stop believing it.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

When Fighting Shadows

Over the past few days I thought I had it all wrong, I fretted that some of the bold pronouncements I've made in these posts would be shown to be flat out bogus, rash, even naive. I began to wonder if maybe this time our Canadian forces in Kandahar would prove all the old lessons wrong and succeed where other armies, some vastly more powerful and vastly more ruthless, had failed time and again.

Until yesterday, the Battle of Panjwai seemed destined to enter the annals of Canadian military history alongside Lundy's Lane or the Scheldt or Paardeberg. Until yesterday the senior officers commanding Canadian forces over there were sure that we were about to hand the Taliban their heads on a platter. We had run them to ground and they were doomed. On Saturday, Brigadier David Fraser pronounced: "We've got the Taliban surrounded." Sure the insurgents were putting up a determined fight but their fate was sealed. Their day of reckoning was going to be 9/11 and how perfect would that be?

To me, it all sounded too good to be true. Had we really wrested the iniative away from the insurgents? Were we really so brilliant and so skilful that we managed to trap them in a 'kill zone' of our making? If this was true, as General Fraser assured us, we Canadians were about to show every other army on the planet 'how it was done' by real professionals.

Whoops, we got it wrong. All the bravado that was pouring out of Fraser and his colonels was just a lot of wishful thinking. On September 11 our troops set out to claim their victory, marching on the hapless Taliban positions. It was 'surrender or die' time for the insurgents. Except when we got there, they'd gone. They had vanished, slipped away to fight another day at a time and place of their choosing, not ours.

But didn't we have these villains surrounded? General Fraser told us they had no way out. Of course the reporters who duly copied all of this down didn't ask the general why the Taliban simply couldn't leave the same way they had been freely coming through our cordon to reinforce their fighters for days.

Turns out we didn't have them surrounded, trapped quite as well as the general claimed. We now know that they left, en masse, and they escaped - get this - to the east, to the west, to the north and, of course, to Pakistan in the south. If they'd all broken through at one point, okay, that stuff can happen. But if they can go in any bloody direction they choose, that doesn't look very good.

We had the armour, we had the heavy guns, we had the artillery, we had the air power, we even had them outnumbered and they slipped away, apparently with incredible ease. According to the rules of an insurgency, the Taliban won this battle if only by virtue of not being annihilated.

I have no doubt that our soldiers fought bravely and well. The problem here isn't at their level. This screw up rests in the laps of General Fraser and his boastful colonels and carries on from there straight to General Hillier, Defence Minister O'Connor and his boss, Little Stevie. This was their show and they botched it.

So, we're not going to have to rewrite the book on guerrilla war and counter-insurgency after all but this might be a good time to take it down off the shelf and read it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 - Five Years of Shameless Exploitation

Today is, of course, the 5th anniversary of the terrorists attacks of 11 September, 2001. Every newspaper, every television network, every politician will be taking the opportunity today to exploit this tragedy. They'll try to make you sad, they'll try to rekindle your outrage, they'll try to get you to vote Republican or Conservative.
I'm not going to attempt to pay tribute to the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives that awful day. I didn't know any of them although I'm sure a lot of them were very fine people. In a world in which 30,000 children die needlessly each day, paying tribute doesn't seem to mean much. In case you're into math, that's 54 million kids since 9/11/01.
I want to mark this anniversary a bit differently. I think it's time for a bit of humour, time to take a few shots at those whores who have shamelessly exploited 9/11 to their personal benefit. Below you'll find a joke, a few satirical images and, the funniest bits of all, their actual quotes. I hope this lifts you out of your 9/11 blues.
Let's start with a joke:
How Many Members of the Bush Administration are Needed to Change a Light Bulb?
1. One to deny that the light bulb needs to be changed
2. One to attack the patriotism of anyone who says the light bulb needs to be canged
3. One to blame Clinton for burning out the light bulb
4. One to tell the nations of the world that they are either for changing the light bulb or for darkness.
5. One to give a billion-dollar, no-bid contract to Haliburton for the new light bulb
6. One to arrange a photograph of Bush, dressed as a janitor, standing atop a step ladder under a banner that reads "Light Bulb Change Accomplished"
7. One insider to resign and write a book documenting in detail how Bush was actually in the dark all along
8. One to viciously smear #7
9. One to go on right-wing talk shows to claim George Bush had a strong light bulb changing policy all along
10. One to confuse the American people about the difference between screwing a light bulb and screwing the country.
courtesy of The Heretik

And now the Cast of Shameless Exploiters

1. Condoleeza Rice - White House Wizard

Condi giving the "Hairy Eyeball" to a Disbeliever

Condi in a moment of pure gaiety

Condi testifies about George's 'problem'
Classic Condi Quotes:
- "The problem is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly Saddam can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
- "We need a common enemy to unite us.
- "I believe the title was 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States'
- "The United States is committed to helping Iraq recover from the conflict, but Iraq will not require sustained aid.
- "High quality aluminum tubes that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. ...We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
2. Donald Rumsfeld, America's Minister of Death

How many more wars? This many.

Once again Donnie loses at 'Simon Says'

Rummie talks to reporters about George's 'Problem'

Rummie shows troops his new salute

Rummies' Ruminations

- "We do know of certain knowledge that he [bin Laden] is either in Afghanistan, or some other country, or he's dead

- "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat [on the location of Saddam's WMDs]

- "Freedom's untidy and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. ...Stuff happens.

- "Needless to say, the President is correct. Whatever it was he said.

- "It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

3. The Master of Evil - Dick Cheney

In Haliburton CEO Uniform

Damn, this feels good!

Dick Tells Limbaugh about George's 'Problem'

Fun Words from the Dickster

- "WE know he's been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons

- "In Iraq, a ruthless dictator cultivated weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them

- "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators

- "He gave support to terrorists, had an established relationship with al-Qaeda, and his regime is no more

- "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgecy

- "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy

- "Except for the occasional heart attack, I never felt better."

4. The Decider - George Walker Bush

Never Too Old to Learn

Sure, I know, I know - the guy's married with kids and everything. I'm just sayin:

Decidedly Nutty Quotes from The Decider

- "It's totally wiped out ...It's devastating, it's gotta be doubly devastating on the ground [Bush on viewing Katrina damage from Air Force 1]

- "You work three jobs? ...Uniquely American isn't it? I mean, that it is fantastic you're doing that [to a divorced mother of three]

- "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test

- "The War on Terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself

- "I couldn't imagine someone like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah

- "I'm also not very analytical. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things."

It's sometimes hard to grasp how The Decider got to be this way, until you look at what was lurking in the shallow end of the gene pool: