Saturday, September 23, 2006

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.