Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ignatieff's Afghan Problem

Peace keeping means what it says. It involves keeping the peace between two identifiable warring factions who want peace and have invited third party in to keep it. It really only has a hope of succeeding when those groups are separated from one another by geography. In this sense Ignatieff is right about the Afghanistan mission and the others dead wrong. Afghanistan is not suited to peace keeping. Furthermore, as guerilla war supplants state on state violence as the dominant form of conflict, peacekeeping missions have become less and less useful. In this sense too Ignatieff is right, albeit for the wrong reasons, and his opponents are wrong. Peace keeping has had it day; it represents a proud chapter in Canada history, but that chapter has been written; let us move on. The question is to what.

Given that he is the only one willing to admit that peace keeping has had its day, it should come as no surprise that Ignatieff is the only candidate is to propose a replacement and for this he deserves still more credit. Ignatieff, however, proposes that the Liberals adopt a Neo Wilsonian doctrine that works in theory, but is a miserable failure in practice. In short, without Ignatieff the Liberals would have remained trapped in the past, but with him the Liberals are trapped between ideology and nostalgia.

Moreover, while Ignatieff "responsibility to protect" doctrine does not piggyback on US foreign policy in theory, it certainly does in practice. No other Western country has the economic, military, political and diplomatic wherewithal to intervene in situations that Ignatieff claims we have a duty to intervene and in the manner in which he advocates. If the US does not intervene, then the West will not intervene and the UN and other international bodies will certainly not intervene.

Ignatieff: "Multilateral solutions to the world's problems are all very well, but they have no teeth unless America bares its fangs." The relationship is not entirely a parasitic one though. The so called "liberal hawks" did much of the intellectual heavy lifting for the Bush administration prior to the Iraq War. If Ignatieff has his way, Canada will fill that role as well as offering token support.

Needless to say, being wedded to US foreign policy has it consequences. If the US attacks a Muslim country, an obvious consequence is an increased risk of terrorism, but more on that latter. Another one was mentioned by Ignatieff following the Iraq war. Motives matter. It is not enough that an intervention be justified on humanitarian grounds. Motives determine policy. As a result, if the motives of the interveners are not in the right spot the desired outcomes will likely not be achieved or worse. Ignatieff claims that he only recognized this with regard to Iraq after the fact. To date, Ignatieff has not, however, mentioned what motivates US policy in Afghanistan and how this might affect outcomes there.

As for Afghanistan, while many people may side with him and admire his past writings, the manner in which Ignatieff has defended the mission has angered people on both sides of the debate. His performance in the first Liberal leadership debate particularly irked people. During the debate Ignatieff claimed that the death of a Canadian soldier meant that if the house did not vote to extend the mission her death would have been in vain and by implication that the mission had merit by virtue of her death. "I supported the extension of the mission because that very day a brave soldier from Shilo, Manitoba, gave her life". Now, no one wants to see someone die for a mistake, but it is incredible that Ignatieff would imply that a mission is validated if soldiers have died carrying it out. That was not the worst of it though. He went to say suggest that voting against an extension meant that one did not “support our troops”. "I couldn't in good conscience stand up in the House of Commons and not vote for the extension of a mission when our soldiers' lives were on the line." The Star's Chantal Herbert rightly called him to task for this:

"Saturday, he said he felt he would have let the Canadian soldiers who had put their lives on the line in Afghanistan down if he had voted differently. The notion that support for our troops should mean support for the government's decisions on the deployment is one of Stephen Harper's most demagogic arguments. In a rebuttal to Ignatieff, Bob Rae was right to point it out."

However bad these talking points are, what threatens to do the most damage to Ignatieff's reputation is his failure to acknowledge the Afghan elephant in the Canadian living room. Namely, Ignatieff has not acknowledged that our presence in Afghanistan greatly increases the chances that Canada will be targeted by terrorists, especially domestic ones. The arrest of the Ontario 17 has certainly driven this point home. According to the crown, Canada's Afghanistan policy was what motivated them. Canada is thus added to the list of countries targeted (Britain, Spain and Australia (the Lodhi case) and the US) by its own citizens because they were angered by their country's foreign policy. If a desire to speak the truth was not motivation enough, then Stephen Harper's denials should have been. Ignaiteff gains nothing by remaining silent. The Canadian people certainly do not believe Harper's propaganda about the Afghan mission making us safer.

"When asked about the likelihood of Canada being a terror target because of its military presence in Afghanistan, 56 per cent said we are more likely to be attacked.

This represents an increase of 18 per cent compared to one year ago. Thirty-four per cent say the military presence has no bearing; while five per cent say having soldiers in Afghanistan make us less susceptible to an attack."

And it is not as if Ignatieff has not acknowledged a connection between foreign policy and terrorism before. For example:

"After 9/11, Islamic terrorism may have metastasized into a cancer of independent terrorist cells that, while claiming inspiration from Al Qaeda, no longer require its direction, finance or advice. These cells have given us Madrid. Before that, they gave us Istanbul, and before that, Bali. There is no shortage of safe places in which they can grow. Where terrorists need covert support, there are Muslim communities, in the diasporas of Europe and North America, that will turn a blind eye to their presence. If they need raw recruits, the Arab rage that makes for martyrs is still incandescent. Palestine is in a state of permanent insurrection. Iraq is in a state of barely subdued civil war. Some of the Bush administration's policies, like telling Ariel Sharon he can keep settlements on the West Bank, may only be fanning the flames."

The longer Ignatieff sits by and lets Stephen Harper echo Bush and claim that Canadian foreign policy plays no role and that "we are a target because of who we are, and how we live, our society are diversity our values” the more damage is done to his strongest asset, viz., his reputation as public intellectual committed to open and honest debate, and the more ammunition he gives to those who claim that he a Republican lap dog. No public intellectual worth his salt, no matter where they stood on the mission, would tolerate Stephen Harper claiming that sending troops to Afghanistan will protect Canadians from domestic terrorists, who have never sat foot in Afghanistan, but who are, according to the crown, motivated to attack Canada because we have sent troops there.

Even Bin Laden has mocked Bush's claim that the reason Al Qaeda attacked the US was because Al Qaeda hate American freedoms.
"Oh American people, my talk to you is about the best way to avoid another Manhattan, about the war, its causes, and results. Security is an important pillar of human life. Free people do not relinquish their security. This is contrary to Bush's claim that we hate freedom. Let him tell us why we did not strike Sweden, for example. It is known that those who hate freedom do not have proud souls, like the souls of the 19 people [killed while perpetrating the 11 September 2001 attacks], may God have mercy on them. We fought you because we are free and do not accept injustice. We want to restore freedom to our nation. Just as you waste our security, we will waste your security." It goes without saying that no Conservative has ever explained why Al Qaeda has singled Canada out, but that is not because they have not said. Al Qaeda has made it clear it is because of our presence in Afghanistan.
"What do your governments want from their alliance with America in attacking us in Afghanistan? I mention in particular Britain, France, Italy, Canada, Germany and Australia. We warned Australia before not to join in the war in Afghanistan, and against its despicable effort to separate East Timor. It ignored the warning until it woke up to the sounds of explosions in Bali.” In Al Qaeda speak, Canada's involvement in Muslim lands makes us part of the "far enemy"; the "near enemy" are the regimes of the Middle East. However much Harper might wish it, Bin Laden's words can wished away with the wave of his neo conservative wand. Bin Laden's words lay out an ideological and strategic Western citizens inspired by Al Qaeda's ramblings and as sure as the sun will set and rise some Canadians will be inspired and will consider carrying out acts terrorism so long as Canada is part of military operation in a Muslim country. Furthermore, pace Rae, Kennedy and Volpe, it likely does not matter what the nature of our military role in such missions is. Sending a "reconstruction team" is just as likely to get us targeted as peace making team. It is foolish to believe that anyone inspired by Al Qaeda would care to make such distinctions; most are too blinded by ideology lies and hate and those that are not will see the strategic reasons for erasing such a distinction.

His support for Afghanistan good harm Ignatieff in yet another way. According to Ignatieff, despite his strong support for war in Iraq, he would not have sent Canadian troops into the country. He gave several reasons. One was that Canadians did not support going to Iraq and public support in a democracy matters. The other was that going to Iraq would have had significant consequences for national unity here at home. Separatists had historically made hay whenever Canada had sent troops abroad and this time would have been no different; it is hard to argue that Ignatieff is wrong in this regard. Iraq would have been a huge boast for them. That said, in trying to distance himself from the Iraq war, Ignatieff created more troubles for himself then he solved. For you see, the sword cuts both ways. As with Iraq, the Canadian people did not support extending the Afghan mission. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that separatists could not make hay with Afghanistan. Indeed, a terrorist attack, inspired by Canada's presence in Afghanistan, could spilt the country apart, especially if Quebec is the victim. Currently the Afghan mission is opposed by what 60% of Quebecers and huge number opposed the mission's extension. If Quebecers die as a result of us being there, the separatists will use it as a reason why Quebecers need their own country with its own foreign policy. Given what has just transpired in Ontario and the fact that the accused were said to be motivated by Canada's role in Afghanistan, Ignatieff can not very well claim that chances of such an attack or not insignificant.

Indeed for a schoolar who has made a reputation for himself sketching out the possible and actual consqunces of a war on terrorism, Ignatieff has been remarkably silent on what a terrorist attack motivated by Canada's involvment in Afghanistan might mean for the country. A further problem that Ignatieff surely recognizes but cares not to comment on is this.. If Canada is going to avoid a European like demographic meltdown, Canada will have to keep allowing in large numbers of immigrants. If a terrorist attack does occur, this may no longer be politically possible. We may find ourselves in same situation as Europe, namely, badly needing immigrants, but unable to do so because it is not politically possible.

One would think that given such risks, not to mention the costs, that Ignatieff would at least have a convincing argument for why the Afghan mission will succeed and, just as importantly, how success in Afghanistan furthers Canadian interests, but alas no. He has not said a peep. It would thus appear that while Ignatieff the intellectual might be worried about mounting coalition causalities, the introduction of suicide bombings into Afghanistan, riots in Kabul, aid agencies all but abandoning Afghanistan's hinterlands and recent reports that the coalition is loosing the battle for hearts and minds, Ignatieff the politician seriously believes that good intentions somehow guarantee success.

Thankfully not all supporters of the Afghan mission have sold their soul and their brain in the hopes of political glory.

Ahmed Rashid:
"Since 2003 when the Taliban first began to regroup, they have gradually matured and developed with the help of al-Qaeda, which has reorganized and retrained them to use more sophisticated tactics in their military operations. As recently as a year ago, the main Taliban groups were composed of a few dozen fighters; now each group includes hundreds of heavily armed men equipped with motorbikes, cars, and horses. They burn down schools and administrative buildings and kill any Afghan who is even indirectly associated with the government. In the south, they operate with impunity just outside the provincial capitals, which have become like Green Zones. Approximately 1,500 Afghan security guards and civilians were killed by the Taliban last year and some three hundred already this year. There have been forty suicide bombings during the past nine months, compared to five in the preceding five years. ....

The aid programs supposed to provide alternative livelihoods to farmers producing poppies or help them grow other lucrative cash crops are derisory when compared to what the drug smugglers offer. The best-functioning programs to help farmers are run by opium traffickers who provide improved varieties of poppy seeds, fertilizer, and better methods of cultivation to increase opium yields and even large-scale employment during the poppy harvest. When we compare Afghanistan's situation today with that of 2001, we see the country now needs to develop an entire alternative economy to replace the drug economy." (The Taliban have recreated themselves as the champion of the opium trade; defending Afghanistan's only viable crop and export from outsiders who only seek to destroy the opium trade, has proved very successful and explains why many experts fill the Taliban is winning the battle for hearts.)

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