Monday, 5 May 2008

Why Wont Stephen Harper Support Our Troops?

We now have graphic confirmation that our forces on the ground in Afghanistan have been pursuing negotiations with "moderate" elements of the Taliban (which sounds rather like "pacifist elements of Al Qaeda"). We can even put names to the operation:

A Toronto newspaper quoted Lt.-Col. Gordon Corbould, the new battle group commander, and Sgt. Tim Seeley, a civilian-military co-operation officer for Canada's Provincial Reconstruction Team, on Thursday as saying that channels were being opened to moderate Taliban. Other officials in Kandahar, who spoke privately, backed up the military's assessment, calling it creative thinking.

We must assume that this gesture is seen by those who are best able to make such determinations as the only route to stability. It is also a gesture that was spitefully and unanimously derided by Harperoid troglodytes as a reprehensible act of cowardice. Awkwardly, the "Conservatives" must now inflict upon Lt.-Col. Gordon Corbould the odium they heaped upon "Taliban" Jack Layton. According to Stephen Harper's standards, our Afghan battle group commander is a terrorist sympathiser and a disgraceful Chamberlainesque appeaser.

The grotesque surreality of our situation is unprecedented in our history: the ranking commander of Canadian Forces in the most crucial (indeed the only) theatre of Canadian combat operations is pursuing a policy not only utterly at odds with and repugnant to the government's own oft-declared principles but, more seriously, premised upon objectives totally contrary to those our government has been broadcasting as the moral rationale for the conflict. As Harper bangs his little fist into his clammy palm whilst yammering sententious platitudes about "defeating" the Taliban, our soldiers join Hamid Karzai in his two-year-old bid to enter into negotiations with people once described by outgoing Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier as "scum". It is as if Montgomery had decided to scrap Alamein and send Rommel an invitation to tea instead ...without informing Churchill. This is the lunacy we're living.

We may, I suppose, assume that the government has been fully aware of our attempts to negotiate and that Harper has simply been burying the truth under the kind of perfervid rhetoric he obviously feels Canadians require to stay motivated--as if we're incapable of being inspired by anything more nuanced than the prospect of "killing us a whole bunch of Islams".

We may believe that. Appearances suggest, though, that Peter Mackay was truly taken aback by these latest reports--that what was news to us was news to him also. We are faced, therefore, with the troubling probability that our government has not the foggiest notion of what's actually transpiring in Afghanistan. Apparently, the falcon cannot hear the falconer: our Afghan contingent is clearly acting on its own initiative, independently of government direction--wisely, I believe, since, as the army has doubtless learned (and as most Canadians have known for years), Stephen Harper is intellectually, emotionally and morally unequipped to direct himself across a foot-bridge at a mini putt. Thus, our Forces are politically leaderless; Harper's incompetence has turned them into unwilling rogue agents.

I should like to know what effect Mackay's response to Corbould's initiative will have on our troops' morale. After all, Mackay said, "We are not talking to the Taliban. We are not having direct discussions with terrorists" immediately after learning that, in fact, our soldiers are talking to the Taliban. Thus, either MacKay has ethically devolved so catastrophically that lying is no longer merely an option but an instinct with him, or his definition of "we" is meant to exclude the military.

If the latter is the case, Mackay seems to be severing the government from the Forces--putting a firewall between them, as it were. I am sure the men and women who are daily putting themselves in danger's way at the irresponsible behest of these candy-assed, pinstriped poltroons will be fascinated to learn that the Harper ministry considers itself unconnected to and unaccountable for the actions of the Canadian Afghan contingent. They stand in awe too, surely, at Mackay's power to beget ineptitude upon ineptitude: after revealing his total ignorance of field realities, Mackay responds, not by countermanding the ranking officer and re-taking control of events, but by simply distancing himself from the operation and feebly announcing his opposition to it.

So this is the best Mackay can offer our soldiers in Afghanistan: negation without leadership. He stabs our soldiers in the back and hasn't even the decency to catch them as they fall. Right now, the most fearsome enemy our soldiers face is not those who fight them, but those who "lead" them.


liberal supporter said...

Looks like Hillier chose his time well.

Sir Francis said...


As I've suggested elsewhere, I don't think he chose his time; I think he was pushed. My hunch is that he agreed with (and may have had a hand in initiating) NATO's pro-negotiation stand and was getting an insufferable amount of heat from the PM.

Anyways, one down; one to go. We're rid of Hillier; now let's pitch the Harperoid.

Anonymous said...

It is as if Montgomery had decided to scrap Alamein and send Rommel an invitation to tea instead ...without informing Churchill.

Not really. The difference there was that it was a declared war aim of Churchill to destroy the Nazi regime and the war was against a definable state, people and military, not against a tactic called "terror" which doesn't attach to any particular state or even cause. Even supporters of the war and the mission should be thinking a lot more clearly about the implications of declaring a "total war", a fight to the finish as it were, and then behaving as if it were anything but. "We shall fight on the beaches...etc, at least until 2009 or maybe 2011 if Europe steps up to the plate, and then we're out of there".

And what would Harper and Mackay say if it was revealed the Afghans want this kind of negotiation, as I suspect they do. I doubt Hillier and his boys were flying totally solo here.

Sir Francis said...


Keep in mind that NATO's original objective was, quite explicitly, to topple the Taliban "government" from power and then destroy it as an effective fighting force; thus, the Taliban is to the NATO coalition what the Nazi party was to the Allies.

True, what we call the "Taliban" is in fact an international, inter-ethnic agglomeration of mujahideen (as it was during the insurgency against the Soviets), but then the SS--the combat arm of the Nazi apparatus--boasted thousands of volunteers from occupied Europe, and the Wehrmacht's order of battle was bolstered by forces from many friendly nations (e.g. Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, etc.).

Nevertheless, as you say, we've basically declared total war against the weather: a "war on terror" can only be a perpetual conflict along the lines of what Orwell envisioned in 1984. The path our Afghan battle-group commander is taking was inevitable and is almost certainly the only method by which to achieve any kind of lasting peace. That our government refuses to acknowldge this fact and support his initiativee evinces a stunning (but, sadly, hardly surprising) lack of geo-political IQ.

I can understand if Harper is not keen to defend the loss of more Canadian lives for the sake of an Afghanistan run by a "Taliban-lite" regime, but supporters of this mission need to get used to the fact that such an outcome is really the best-case scenario and would serve to bring Afghanistan in line with most of our Middle Eastern "allies" (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, etc.).

Anonymous said...


Although a supporter of both the Afghan mission and the toppling of Hussein, I've been uneasy from the early days about the disconnect between the "total war" rhetoric and actions that are anything but. Bush's "keep shopping" plea after 9/11 was a humorous distortion of this, but let's face it, the Canadian and U.S. Governments are more than content that the Stanley Cup and Britney Spears remain our real priorities, and so are we. Can you imagine Churchill being toppled in 1941 over sub-prime mortgages? In a sense, the problem stems from the modern notion of an undeclared war that allows for a seamless rhetorical melding of life-as-normal with an existential clash-of-civilizations that is simply not sustainable politically because it ends up as a domestic war of abstracts with both sides divorced from reality and happy to be so(Vietnam, come on down!). Also, it is dangerous. All that Patriot Act stuff should have had strict sunset clauses. Plus nobody is really prepared to sacrifice personally. Indeed, support for the war seems to be based on the unstated assumption it needn't cost anybody a discernable penny or divert them from their pleasures. The Greek gods have a thing about that sort of combo.

Even outside of the WOT, there is a lot of very strange geo-political stuff going on that has little to do with self-interest, enlightened or otherwise, or even rationality. Have you noticed how NATO is becoming a travel-the-world symbol of democratic righteousness rather than a mutual defence treaty with geographically focussed committments--sort of a replacement for the tarnished UN? The U.S. is freed from UN gridlock and Europe and Canada get their precious multilateralism. Everybody cheered when we picked up Albania this winter, but I thought: "What, now we're committed by treaty to go to Albania's defence?!"

Here's another example of the-war-that-isn't-really-a-war, this time from the libertarian right, who tend to be among the biggest supporters. If this were a real traditional war and everybody truly believed our security was at stake, do you think they would be allowed to go on their Islamophobic rants and play contemptuous amateur koranic scholars if Canadian soldiers were trying to win hearts and minds in Muslimland?

If there is a definable enemy, surely it is jihadism, not homegrown warlord terrorism. If what Hillier and his troops were doing was in recognition of that, then I'm with them. The paramountcy of the civil authorites should carry some sense of reality and committment to the troops, no? I've actually been impressed with Harper's courage on the Afghan mission, but he'd better remember it isn't a playing out of revenge against the school bullies he suffered long ago.

Len said...

Peter MacKay taken aback!? Hardly a surprise. The Chief of Defence has been the defacto Minister of Defence under this govenment all along, I would guess.