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War: Canadian-style
March 12, 2006 10:00 AM   Subscribe

War: Canadian-style A special report by 2 journalists embedded with Alpha Company of the First Princess Patricia's Light Infantry Battle Group puts human faces to the peacekeeping effort in Afghanistan. It's good to know that our troops stationed there will soon have a taste of home.
posted by phoenixc (28 comments total)

 
It's not peacekeeping at all, rather peacemaking. There is a large distinction to be held. Unlike peacekeeping, peacemaking will involve offensive operations. Rules of engagement are much more restrictive in peacekeeping missions (in fact in Bosnia my friends could only stand by and witness murders and other atrocious acts) while RoEs for peacemaking missions allow for an escalation in response pretty darn fast.
posted by furtive at 10:48 AM on March 12, 2006


Props to phoenixc, this is excellent. I'm only halfway reading through the 8 part series but wanted to point out that part 2 describes a meeting with tribal leaders of an Afghan village as part of the Canadian hearts-and-minds campaign; not always successful as the ax attacks of last week show.
posted by angrybeaver at 11:31 AM on March 12, 2006


There is no peacekeeping or peacemaking effort underway in Afghanistan. At least, not by anyone packing any firepower. There are various factions fighting for various degrees of control of the country. One of them is composed of soldiers from the US, Canada, etc. I have occasionally heard references to groups who are working for peace, but they don't appear to be having much of an effect and I don't remember the last time CNN reported on their activities.

Now, you could call the "coalition" forces peacemakers in the same sense that any invading and/or conquering military are peacemakers. That is, their ultimate goal is for everyone to stop resisting them and simply accept the government that they install. That would be, technically speaking, peace. So if that's what's meant by "peacemaking effort," then yeah, the term is accurate.
posted by Clay201 at 12:00 PM on March 12, 2006


Good one, phoenixc. The Tim Horton connection reminds me of the old 22 Minutes feature on peacekeepers in Bosnia. Go here, scroll down to the rotating film reall on the left, and click to get the video. (Sorry, it's Real, but it's the only thing I could find on the web.)
posted by rosemere at 12:10 PM on March 12, 2006


When I read "taste of home" in the FPP, I immediately thought it must be Tim Horton's. Funny how deeply that franchise is imbedded in our national consciousness.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:27 PM on March 12, 2006


This is (not all that surprisingly) reminiscent of The Hidden War, which is more or less about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from the soldiers' perspective. They, too, thought they were peacemaking -- and they likely would have been more-or-less successful if it weren't for the billions that the US, Saudis, Iranians and Pakistanis poured into the insurgency. (I'm unsure what that might have meant for jihadist Islamism in a broader sense, but it might have prevented the rise of bin Laden.)

Certainly they had much the same experience of balancing a counterinsurgency campaign with hearts and minds efforts, and often similar incidents where a seeming friend turned out to be an enemy. The Hidden War recounts a tale (perhaps apocryphal) of a Russian soldier who struck up a friendship with an Afghan boy over cigarettes. After days or weeks of casual conversation while he was on lookout, the soldier trusted the boy to watch his rifle while he took a piss. The boy then shot him dead.

Kundalan's leaders, however much they welcome a school, will not allow the education of girls

Allegedly, this was the major sticking point that led to the Afghan uprising against Soviet advisers, before the occupation. The Communist government in Kabul was attempting to institute gender equality in education throughout the land. The first major skirmish took place in Herat when "godless" Soviet advisers were executed and their heads displayed on spikes, and a unit of the Soviet-trained Afghan Army led by Ismail Khan revolted. The response of the Kabul government was a bombardment of the city. Within months, the entire country was in civil war, the government in Kabul fell twice, and the USSR was invading to prop up its client state.

This, by the way, is the Meerkat. (It looks a lot like a classic Ford pickup tricked out as a funny car.)
posted by dhartung at 3:04 PM on March 12, 2006


I have a theory that if we nationalized Tim Hortons and paid for it through a direct tax it would have no effect whatsoever on the GDP.
posted by tiamat at 3:05 PM on March 12, 2006


OMG I love that idea, tlamat. Free turkey bacon sandwiches for all! (With an extra large english breakfast tea for me, two milks, no sugar, and only one tea bag, thanks.)
posted by Hildegarde at 3:29 PM on March 12, 2006


Wow, what a read. Inspiring.
Thank you, phoenixc.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:25 PM on March 12, 2006


"That is, their ultimate goal is for everyone to stop resisting them and simply accept the government that they install."

Clay201,

If the election turnout is any idication, seems the people of Afghanistan pretty much embraced that "installed" government. And oh yeah, let's not forget the government that was there before the invasion--what a bunch of nice guys those Taliban boys were.... So they harbored the bulk of al Qaeda, got their jollies beheading homosexuals and stoning women whose behavior they deemed "inconsistent with chastity." The important thing now is that they're resisting the evil occupiers....

Invading Afghanistan was a no-brainer....being an apologist for those trying to undermine a fledgling democracy in Afghanistan is just baffling.
posted by Oat at 5:42 PM on March 12, 2006


voting for the first thing to come along after living under autocratic rule is a reliable expression of a people's political will?

if soldiers shoot at bad people, those soldiers are then good people?

invasions are no-brainers?

given the amazing dearth of real information about what is actually going on over there (other than the metric tonnage of stories of how hard it is to be a canadian soldier - which i imagine it really is, but i get the point already), i don't really know how people can say they support the occupation.

is it a good thing? possibly. but the only real news coverage in canada fits in with the DND's "PR offensive" to "sell the war" which got a bit of coverage recently. given the situation in haiti right now, i can't accept canada's magnanimous intentions as a given. they need to be proven. and they haven't been so far.

canada has gone to war and no one asked the population if they thought it was a good idea. this alone should be freaking people the hell out.
posted by poweredbybeard at 6:08 PM on March 12, 2006


I just don't understand what it is about Tim Horton's watery coffee that people like so damn much.
posted by clevershark at 8:28 PM on March 12, 2006


Thank you, Clevershark. I've long been baffled how such horrible pigswill could get entrenched in a country's consciousness.

Wake up, people. Tim Horton's sucks.
posted by raider at 8:54 PM on March 12, 2006


More importantly, all the best to our troops.
posted by raider at 8:58 PM on March 12, 2006


If the election turnout is any indication,

It's not. There was a pretty decent turnout in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power. Turnout wasn't too bad in Communist Russia either. So obviously turnout doesn't indicate support.

But let's back up a step. You're assuming that the organization headed by Karzai is the government that the (mainly) US forces intended to install. That assumption is only half correct. It's what they intended to install, but it's not really a government. In order to be called a government, I think you've got to actually govern something. Karzai's organization doesn't. The warlords probably qualify as government, but each controls only his individual section. The U.S. military, on the other hand, has a considerable degree of control over the country as a whole, possibly even as much as they want. So the government they've installed is not Karzai's organization - which is a joke and about as democratic as Cuba - but the occupation, which no one voted for and is less democratic than, say, France during the Nazi occupation.

And oh yeah, let's not forget the government that was there before the invasion

And they've been replaced by a dictator who likes to invade countries and take their oil. If I had to choose between the two, I'd choose the latter, except for one important thing. The latter dictator has behind him the kind of military force that can wipe out entire populations. The former can barely hold on to power. So they're both bad, but one is a lot harder to get rid of than the other. Makes for a tough choice.

being an apologist for those trying to undermine a fledgling democracy in Afghanistan is just baffling.

I don't think it's hard to understand why you're an apologist for those undermining democracy. No one wants to go around thinking of themselves as a conquistador and it's very hard to stop the government from doing this sort of thing. And the US, on the whole, benefits from the kind of power that this sort of behavior tends to accrue. So the easiest solution is to just change your thinking, to believe that your country is doing good, despite all evidence to the contrary.
posted by Clay201 at 9:05 PM on March 12, 2006


I've heard that the appeal of Tim Horton's coffee lies in the cream they use. My co-workers and I were actually discussing this the other day and someone mentioned that McDonald's and Tim's use the same supplier for their beans. Apparently, McDs uses a higher grade of bean then Tim's and in a blind taste test, McD's coffee won out each time, but when Tim's cream was added, there was no contest. I tried googling this to verify, but couldn't find anything, so maybe it's pure BS.
posted by phoenixc at 9:15 PM on March 12, 2006


For information about the political situation on the ground in Afghanistan, the International Crisis Group is a good source. (The ICG provides long-term monitoring of crisis situations, and recommendations to policymakers.)

Recent testimony to the Dutch Parliament: "As ISAF expands into Helmand, Uruzgan and Kandahar, it will face threats from a number of quarters. It will be challenged by drug cultivators and traffickers, warlords and commanders, local insurgents and cross border terrorists The threats posed by each of these groups are different, although they all seek to undermine stability and often work together in fluid alliances. But they do not have widespread support among the Afghan people. Recent surveys have shown that Afghans, by a large majority, oppose the Taliban, al Qaeda, warlords and drug traffickers. In the past fortnight we have seen big protests against the recent spate of suicide bombings. Surveys have also shown widespread support for efforts by the international community to bring security to Afghanistan. When you talk with the people of Afghanistan the request is most often for more foreign troops, not fewer."
posted by russilwvong at 10:43 PM on March 12, 2006


russil:

I'm sorry, but I think I'll try getting my news on Afghanistan from a source that isn't quite so blatantly given to propagandizing:

However, removing violence and extremism from Afghanistan's political equation has proved more difficult. The international community has yet to fully live up to its commitments to Afghanistan's future security and stability.

That's so Orwellian, that I'm not even sure where to start. First, it assumes that there's some kind of mass effort on the part of the international community to eliminate "violence and extremism from Afghanistan's political equation" when, of course, no such effort exists. I mean, the US is running the show in Afghanistan and if they were at all interested in reducing the amount of violence on hand, they'd be doing one of two things: 1. Withdrawing from the country 2. Trying to replace the warlords with some other form of government other than a military occupation. They've made no real efforts in either direction.

CNN sucks, but this is worse.
posted by Clay201 at 11:25 PM on March 12, 2006


I'm sorry, but I think I'll try getting my news on Afghanistan from a source that isn't quite so blatantly given to propagandizing--

I'll leave it to other readers to make up their own minds. My own assessment of ICG is that it's not propagandistic at all.
posted by russilwvong at 12:33 AM on March 13, 2006


Here's how bad Tim Hortons is: if I were asked to choose between going to Starbucks or going to Tim's, I'd choose Starbucks.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:27 AM on March 13, 2006


I can just see the Taliban trembling at the thought of Princess Patricia coming to get them , for some reason , i envisage these troops mounted on my little ponys marauding through the afghan desert , pink ponytails blowing in the wind.
But thats just me.
The Wrath Of Princess Patricia Is upon us !
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:05 AM on March 13, 2006


It's not. There was a pretty decent turnout in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.

I think you're missing a crucial difference (an inevitable casualty in arguments of moral equivalency): I'm betting in Hussein's Iraq you risked bodily harm if you didn't show up at the polls, while in post Taliban Afghanistan, you risked bodily harm if you did.
posted by Oat at 6:24 AM on March 13, 2006


Thanks for the link. With the current noise politicians are making about our involvement there, I'm interested to learn more.
posted by raedyn at 7:15 AM on March 13, 2006


I'm betting in Hussein's Iraq you risked bodily harm if you didn't show up at the polls, while in post Taliban Afghanistan, you risked bodily harm if you did.

Afghanis have indeed risked their lives in an attempt to participate in the political process. Unfortunately, the emphasis here is on "attempt," and not on "participate." Since they weren't allowed to vote on who would lead the US occupation forces (or the US as a whole), they weren't allowed to elect the leaders of the (closest thing there is to an) actual government of Afghanistan. And of course they don't even pretend to have elections to choose which warlord will rule a given section of the country.

But even though the election was a sham, the US still felt it necessary to pressure the former king of Afghanistan to withdraw. He had massive support from the general population there and there was a danger that, if elected, he might actually try to do something. That, obviously, couldn't be tolerated.

And the guy they did elect - Karzai - was handpicked by the US government. To add insult to injury, hardly anyone in Afghanistan had even heard of him.

As for "moral equivalency," I've always regarded it as a nonsense term and pretty much ignored it. But just for the heck of it, this time I looked it up on wikipedia. Here's what I found:

In the Cold War context, the term was and is most commonly used by political conservatives, as an implied accusation of logical fallacy, for liberal' criticisms of United States foreign policy and military conduct. Some liberals contend that US power in the Cold War was used only to pursue an economically-driven agenda. They claim that the underlying economic motivation erodes any claims of moral superiority, leaving the hostile acts (Korea, Hungary, Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Nicaragua) to stand on their own in justifying the human lives the conflicts had destroyed. The typical conservative counter is the claim that there was in fact, a moral difference between the Soviet Union and the United States, and that policy arising in defense of the "moral superiority" of the US could not and can not be "immoral." Hence an argument, according to conservatives, which claimed that the two parties could be viewed as "equally" culpable in a struggle for supremacy, would be advocating "moral equivalence."

Basically, this argument is used by people who think that we ("we" being whatever side or group they're defending, I guess) are the good guys and the other people are the bad guys and therefore when we do bad things, it's okay but when they do bad things it isn't. That's just such a ridiculous concept that I'm not even going to bother critiquing it.
posted by Clay201 at 11:38 AM on March 13, 2006


Clay201,

Your more specific critique of the election in Afghanistan is well taken and much appreciated. I still believe, however, that invading Afghanistan was, on the whole, a good thing (so it's not a case of me saying it's ok for the US to do bad things because of some broader notion of moral superiority. In other words, I don't concede that the invasion was a bad thing, and it seems many Afghanistan agree).



As for "moral equivalency," I've always regarded it as a nonsense term and pretty much ignored it.

I still think the term has some descriptive power, but I can understand why some might choose to ignore it: ignoring it allows one to avoid calling attention to (and thus exposing to scrutiny) one of the more commonly used rhetorical gambits of the left—that is, forcing equivalencies by ignoring crucial differences (Bush is Hitler, for instance, or Baathists are freedom fighters, or the House is run like a plantation).

Having said that, I do think criticism is a good thing (and Lord knows, there’s plenty of room for criticism with regard to the Bush Administration). But is the criticism geared toward improving the chances of fledgling democracies surviving and even thriving or toward making the worst case possible?
posted by Oat at 5:13 PM on March 13, 2006


ignoring it allows one to avoid calling attention to (and thus exposing to scrutiny) one of the more commonly used rhetorical gambits of the left—that is, forcing equivalencies by ignoring crucial differences (Bush is Hitler, for instance, or Baathists are freedom fighters, or the House is run like a plantation).

No one here has said anything like "Bush is Hitler" or "Baathists are freedom fighters." (And I don't even know what "house" you're referring to).

Look, if you want to know whether to support or oppose a government's actions, all you have to do is find out what the action entails, what its consequences will likely be and what the alternatives are. We didn't judge the Russian invasion of Afghanistan by comparing the Soviet government to the Afghani government. It's entirely possible that, in a number of areas, Soviets enjoyed more civil rights than Afghanis did. That didn't even begin to justify the invasion. In fact, no one in the US even discussed such an idea. If they had, they would have been accused (quite rightly) of being apologists for oppression and aggression. The Russian invasion was wrong simply because it was brutal and likely to lead to more brutality (which it did, of course) and also because it's wrong for one country to nonconsensually control another.

But of course, if we apply that same moral standard to our own government, we are forced to conclude that it's committing many of the same crimes the Soviet Union committed. Since apologists for these crimes can't permit that conclusion, they use terms like "moral equivalence" to derail the debate.
posted by Clay201 at 11:43 AM on March 14, 2006


The only problem with Afghanistan that I can see is that the US has basically abdicated its responsibility for helping the country get back on its feet.

The Taliban was unquestionably supporting al Queda. The ultimatum delivered to the Taliban leaders was entirely focused on eliminating the al Queda training facilities.

Had the Bush Administration an ounce of intelligence, they'd have limited their "war on terror" to the Afghani territory. There truly was global support for the elimination of AQ and a global recognition that eliminating the AQ would also require eliminating the Taliban. It would be a significant win against terrorism, and a significant win for the Afghani population.

For a brief period it looked like all was going to work out well for the Afghanis. Although AQ slipped through the cracks, the Taliban was removed from power and it appeared that the citizens were going to have the opportunity to choose a new governing body.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration exerts the anti-Midas touch on everything they attempt. They fucked-over the Afghanis with a corrupt puppet leader and then, on a base of lies and misdeeds, they chose to pull most of their trooops and invade Iraq.

This was done at a most inopportune time. There was still a lot of work to be done in stabilizing the country. Afghanistan needed foreign troops to enforce a peaceful social and political environment and bucketloads of financial support to ensure the citizens basic needs were met while they reconstructed a functioning country from the tatters of post-Taliban control.

Since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, it has fallen to Canada, Britain, and other countries to enforce the peace and provide the funding to rebuild the country. These efforts have been in vain: for whatever reasons, the coalition of peace-keeping countries has failed to provide enough troops and enough cash. The task would have been easily manageable had the US remained true to its original Afghanistan goals.

The countries that have co-operated in post-US Afghanistan are now in a catch-22 situation. If we withdraw, the country collapses, its citizens suffer unimaginable horrors at the hands of the Taliban, and it again becomes a breeding ground for terrorism. If we stay, it's going to cost us a small fortune, a lot of lives, and still we can not be sure of success.

Most of the blame for the situation falls squarely at the feet of the US Administration.

I can't imagine anything is going to change unless the citizens of the USA pull their heads out of their asses.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:34 PM on March 14, 2006


The only problem with Afghanistan that I can see is that the US has basically abdicated its responsibility for helping the country get back on its feet.

Well, we did abdicate this responsibility, but we did so not in the past few years but rather in the late eighties when, after helping to nearly destroy the place, we pulled out and took no responsibility for the damage we caused. Hell, even if we hadn't been responsible for it, basic human decency should have mandated that we do something to help these people.

Now, we're not just failing to help Afghanistan, we're actively hurting it.

The Taliban was unquestionably supporting al Queda. The ultimatum delivered to the Taliban leaders was entirely focused on eliminating the al Queda training facilities.

No it wasn't. The way we know that it wasn't is that when the Taliban offered to turn Bin Laden over to an Arab country, the Bush administration refused to even discuss the offer. Had the closing of the camps been their only concern, negotiating with the Taliban would likely have been a relatively quick and painless way of getting there. Sure, there are no guarantees in a situation like this and the Taliban might have ultimately decided that martyrdom was preferable to compromise. But we would have been negotiating from a position of incredible strength and had we conducted ourselves with even a little bit of restraint, we could have had a remarkable degree of international support. (Remember, at this time we were still getting a great deal of sympathy as a result of the 9-11 attacks). As circumstances for negotiations with fanatical regimes go, these would have been about as good as it gets. Since the administration didn't pursue the opportunity, we can assume that they had other objectives.

it appeared that the citizens were going to have the opportunity to choose a new governing body.

That's what Fox News and CNN were saying, but I don't understand why anyone who was paying attention believed them. Surely we all remember the first Karzai P.R. offensive? I mean, even the people tasked with selling him openly admitted that this guy was a complete unknown in Afghanistan and that he was handpicked by the US to head up the new "government." And since then the P.R. folks have also been fairly open about the fact that his organization really has no power and that the US military - which obviously controls the country - is doing nothing to change that. (Not that I want them to do so: that would probably just result in a full-on police state). They're not even working very hard to pretend that this is a real effort in the direction of democracy.

If we withdraw, the country collapses, its citizens suffer unimaginable horrors at the hands of the Taliban, and it again becomes a breeding ground for terrorism. If we stay, it's going to cost us a small fortune, a lot of lives, and still we can not be sure of success.

How is it possible that in a world with hundreds of countries and billions of people, those are the only two options?
posted by Clay201 at 2:21 PM on March 14, 2006


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