Pierre Tristam/Candide's Notebooks, February 13, 2007
Even the worms are the enemy
There is, after all, another war going on, the original war, the one “on terror,” the one that was supposed to end terrorism and states that support it. That Afghanistan is getting little attention anymore is the fruit of two poisoned trees: the situation there is intractable. And it is not about to be resolved, neither by a splurge of surges nor by imports of cash, no matter the tonnage. On Monday, the Canadian Senate committee on national security and defence released a 16-page report that asks whether it’s time to consider a pullout. Don’t expect to see news of that report in the American press, to whom Canada is the geopolitical equivalent of the aurora borealis: it’s up there somewhere, prettily swaying this way and that if you pay attention on certain nights, but mostly it’s invisible. Ostensibly the reason given by the senate committee, for its threatening ire, is the refusal of Canada’s NATO “allies” to join Canadian troops fighting near Kandahar, where the Taliban’s pistons are firing on half-bearded cylinders. That’s the official reason. Germany and France, for example, won’t let their men fight. Imagine that: “allies” demanding that Germans join the fight.
One suspects there’s an unofficial reason for Canada setting itself up for a withdrawal, too. Talk of withdrawing from Afghanistan will sooner or later become as common as it has been regarding Iraq. Not now, to be sure: the clock of futility hasn’t run its course yet. But after providing proof for what can already be theorized with about as much accuracy as the theory that the sun will set this evening: Short of sending in Rambo, if he can be pried off his Rocky retirement, Afghanistan isn’t the sort of place any western nation can tame.
Meanwhile, because futility has its demands, “more troops, more money and a bigger commitment from other NATO countries must be gained within a year,” according to the Globe and Mail’s paraphrase of the Canadian senate report. To what end? Committee chairman Colin Kenny and committee vice-chair Michael Meighen also said this: “We’re talking about a medieval society that has a very different attitude about democracy than people who have grown up taking civic classes” (Kenny). Canada’s presence in Kandahar is making life more perilous for people in that region, the report states, and is compounded by the civilian death toll and lack of development assistance on the ground. “ Afghanistan is only remotely connected to the modern world,” it says. “Anyone expecting to see the emergence in Afghanistan within the next several decades of a recognizable modern democracy capable of delivering justice and amenities to its people is dreaming in Technicolor. Are Canadians willing to commit themselves to decades of involvement in Afghanistan, which could cost hundreds of Canadian lives and billions of dollars with no guarantee of ending up with anything like the kind of society that makes sense to us?” On pages 4 and 5 of the report, we also read this:
NATO troops see themselves as defenders of the majority of Afghans versus powerful minority groups – the Taliban and regional warlords – who are the true enemies of the Afghan people. But how do Afghans see us? Do residents of Kandahar province – home of the Taliban – see the situation our way? The harsh and sadistic Taliban government was repugnant to westerners, and to many Afghans. But are the Taliban more repugnant than foreign troops, who have been despised each and every time they have come to Afghanistan over the past two centuries? We think we’re the good guys. What do Afghans think?
And this, on pages 7 and 8:
Collateral damage does not win the hearts and minds of Afghans. This damage results from air support, suicide attacks, Improvised Explosive Devices etc. The death of many innocent people and the destruction of property are undermining efforts to portray our troops as “the good guys.” [...] when the Committee was outside of the Kandahar base, we met one Afghan police colonel who, after he said all the proper things in a speech he had clearly memorized, became more animated and more frank when he claimed that Canada has no chance of winning the support of the people of Kandahar as long as so many innocent Afghans were dying as a result of NATO air strikes. He said that the local population will simply wait until we disappear; that siding with the Canadians is a bad bet the way things are going; and that the incentives aren’t there to risk annoying those people up in the hills.
Surely the same rationale applies to other troops in the NATO force. Surely the American operation in Afghanistan has seen this report. Surely it will be ignored, by the American forces and their complicit counterparts on Capitol Hill and whatever is left of the American fleet street, both of which are busy still waxing bombastic over such notions as the “allied” fight for Afghanistan and the so-called war on terror.
Funny, too, if ultimately quite revealing, how they still stick to the use of that word, allies, as if sixty years on Afghanistan and Iraq are World War II’s grandkids. The word allies is meant to evoke those good-war memories, those good-cause fuzzies that make the kids watching television news at night swoon over their heroes and wish they were there with them. What it really evokes is ridicule, a parody, rather than pride. Afghan civilians see it every day. And revile it. We just haven’t caught on yet. Especially since we’re dealing with NATO, an organization that literally needed its own war, in the Balkans in the 1990s, to survive: Bill Clinton didn’t join the fight to save Serbian Muslims or Kosovars. He joined it to save NATO’s ass. The fact that it equally diverted attention from Monica’s Balkanized ass was just so much blue-skirted gravy. Pull out NATO out of Afghanistan, and what’s its purpose anymore? It needs a war to survive. Afghanistan, in sum, is NATO’s sacrificial lamb. Afghans see that, too, and revile NATO that much more. No wonder they’re willing to give the Taliban another chance.