Saturday, January 06, 2007

What The Hell It Means

Harper recently responded to calls for "re-balance" in Afghanistan with a dismissive, "what the hell does that mean?". What the hell that means:

a new article in the prestigious international journal Foreign Affairs warned Afghanistan is "sliding into chaos" and that the NATO-led coalition is doomed to fail without a dramatic change in strategy.

Author Barnett Rubin, a respected global authority on Afghanistan, says no amount of military sacrifice by NATO countries can produce dividends in Afghanistan without a massive, co-ordinated infusion of economic aid and a willingness to dismantle Taliban command centres in Pakistan...

- "High unemployment is fuelling conflict Eeffective economic aid is vital to addressing the pervasive poverty that debilitates the government and facilitates the recruitment of unemployed youths into militias or the insurgency."

- "The lack of electricity continues to be a major problem. No new power projects have been completed, and Kabulis today have less electricity than they did five years ago."

- "Rising crime, especially the kidnapping of businessmen for ransom, is also leading to capital flightEpeople throughout the country report that crime is increasing and complain that the police are the main criminals."

- The Ministry of the Interior and the judiciary "are deeply corrupt and plagued by a lack of skills, equipment and resources."

The Conservatives argue that you can't do re-construction until you have security. This logic could apply to some regions in the south, but how does that relate to relatively stable Kabul? Is it not a colossal failure that there is less electricity in the capital than before the war? What boogeyman is preventing this sort of re-construction, or is this simply a symptom of misguided priorities?

Why aren't coalition partners better monitoring aid money to ensure it doesn't fall prey to corruption? If the judicary and police are failing, then shouldn't our focus look to shore up these essential services? The problem with our government, they view security as the primary path to progress. However, as this assessment argues, you will never win militarily, you will never achieve your security, until you deal with poverty and give Afghans tangible proof that progress is possible.

Assessments like this should be alarming, the last thing we need is stubborn patriotism that fails to see the looming failures. The bottomline, our approach won't work, and our government has failed to tell Canadians how we will adapt to avoid further erosion. The next time Stephen Harper offers stoic resolve, with the "stay the course" rhetoric, someone should ask "what the hell that means?", because clearly it's a path to nowhere.

8 comments:

Canadian Tar Heel said...

Hi Steve,

I hate to simply echo your remarks, even though I often agree with you on the fundamental issues. I just received my copy of Foreign Affairs yesterday, so I'll have to read the article before getting back to you.

Nice read.

The Mound of Sound said...

Harper's committment to the Afghanistan mission is directly proportional to its political value in the next election. Hillier sweet talked the government into this mess and that's good enough for the current government. Current doctrine holds that we have less than 10% of the combat troops needed to pacify Kandahar province, one rifle for every 20-square miles.

Despite all Harper's protestations to the contrary, we're treating this mission, and our soldiers,as a joke.

The trouble with these wars is that you have to seize the day because you rarely get second chances. The day in this case fell back in 2001 when the Taliban were ousted.

Without support and essential funding we allowed the Karzai government to become terminally unstable and corrupt. What are we going to do now, overthrow him and start again?

Our original allies, the Northern Alliance/mujahadeen warlords, have had enough of our blundering. It's now reported that mujahadeen elements are planning to join a coalition of Taliban, drug lords and disaffected nationalists to launch the spring offensive.

Gwynne Dyer maintains that, to win in Afghanistan, we will need a time machine and I think he's spot on.

Steve V said...

"Gwynne Dyer maintains that, to win in Afghanistan, we will need a time machine and I think he's spot on."

That's pretty sobering.

Olaf said...

Steve,

Surprisingly, I agree with your analysis. I've never argued against a substantial influx of both soldiers and aid/reconstruction. I've argued for it, and I think that it is absolutely crucial.

What I am opposed to is the idea that we not only have to increase reconstruction/aid, but that we need to decrease our security presence. This makes no sense to me.

Having said that, I agree that major changes are needed in order for the mission to be a success. A few points on this:

1) I have no problem with Harper dismissing Layton and Dion's claims to "re-balance" the mission by asking "what the hell does that mean?", since I highly doubt either opposition politician really knows what they mean, and instead are trying to win votes with the "Canada is a peaceful nation and just want to help rebuild the country" line, without considering the consequences of a reduced military presence.

Both are suggesting that Canada needs to pull out of the south in order to provide this aid/reconstruction, where as I believe, that while much more reconstruction/aid is needed, that a simultaneous decrease in security presence would be counter productive.

Thats why I am loath to use the term "re-balance", as it seems to suggest a shift toward reconstruction along with a shift away from the provision of security. A semantic quibble, but I think important, especially when it is used by the opposition parties without a plan of what exactly this would mean.

2) There is only so much that Canada can do, as they are a part of the broader NATO mission. I think Jeffrey Simpson sums it up quite well in his (rather pessimistic) column today:

Failure to provide enough aid, (Rubin) writes, is leading to rising crime, lack of electricity, deepening poverty, police corruption, and a booming drug economy. Failure to persuade Pakistan to be helpful means a more difficult military challenge. Failure of NATO countries to step up their military contributions (and to redeploy to the dangerous south and east) and to increase reconstruction aid has placed the long-term success of the entire Afghan mission in doubt.

These are factors over which Canada has minimal control. But they are the ones, ultimately, that will determine the fate of the mission in Kandahar.


All told, I agree with the jist of the Rubin's article (as if my opinion meant a tenth of his), and the jist of your analysis.

I'm frustrated with Harpers failure/inability/ unwillingness to push for a more robust NATO mission (in both security and reconstructoin), and I'm against Layton's and Dion's vacuous platitudes that if we just pull our troops out of the South, and focus on reconstruction, that somehow we can solve the problem.

Dana said...

Quick, who's the Supreme Commander of NATO, Europe, and responsible for appointing command of ISAF?

Why, it's the same US General who used to have the command that included responsibility for the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And who was chief military assistant to Rumsfeld from 02-04.

The choice of a US General as Supreme Commander is of course not unusual - it's traditionally always a US General. NATO is of course, at least militarily, a creature of the US. Always has been.

The choice of *this* US General under *these* circumstances is pretty telling though.

Of course, it means nothing, it's just me crapping in the punchbowl.

Over the past 8 or 10 months, and especially since Musharraf's Waziristan pact with the Talibs, I've been saying thither and yon exactly what Rubin is now saying and being pissed on by every Harper supporter I encountered for doing so.

I can hardly wait to watch the blind partisan shithouse rats come after Rubin.

Steve V said...

"Failure to provide enough aid, (Rubin) writes, is leading to rising crime, lack of electricity, deepening poverty, police corruption, and a booming drug economy...

These are factors over which Canada has minimal control. But they are the ones, ultimately, that will determine the fate of the mission in Kandahar.

If you follow this logic, Simpson essentially argues that Canada is powerless, which then begs the question- what is the point?

I would argue that Canada isn't so helpless. If we are really interested in helping, then a massive influx of money, properly directed could address many of the above concerns. Maybe, instead of Harper and company wasting time trying to get allies to send more troops, Canada should be constructing a Marshall plan and pressuring for expertise and funding.

If there is police corruption, it might just be a by-product of poor training, inadequate equipment and paultry wages. All of these problems can be managed, if the commitment is sufficent.

The question becomes, what is the best allocation of our resources. Is there more payoff in delivering a round from a Leopard tank, or using that same expenditure to put up a powerline or raise a cop's pay?

dana

Musharaff basically threw in the towel with his border dealings, ensuring an infinite game of whack a mole. All I want is some pragmatism from our leadership, instead of "determination" that shows no understanding of fluidity.

ottlib said...

Olaf:

Mr. Dion's idea of a "Marshall Plan" for Afghanistan seems to indicate that he might know what he means when he talks about re-balancing the mission. It needs more meat certainly but there is something there.

On the other hand Mr. Harper has no other idea than to continue a strategy which will ultimately fail.

I support Canada's presence in Afghanistan but I do not support setting up our troops to fail, which the current strategy virtually guarantees. It infuriates me that this whole issue has become a partisan one because I believe that none of the political parties has all of the answers on their own.

There are alot of smart people on both sides of the aisle in Parliament and maybe they should put their collective heads together a come up with a strategy that has a better chance for success.

That would be showing real support for the troops.

Olaf said...

Steve,

If you follow this logic, Simpson essentially argues that Canada is powerless, which then begs the question- what is the point?

I think Simpson is not arguing that Canada's role in the mission is pointless, just that our control over how the mission is executed is tempered by the fact we're only one member in a large organization (NATO). Simply, just because Canada wants something to happen, doesn't mean everyone else does.

If we are really interested in helping, then a massive influx of money, properly directed could address many of the above concerns. Maybe, instead of Harper and company wasting time trying to get allies to send more troops, Canada should be constructing a Marshall plan and pressuring for expertise and funding.

Maybe he should, and I would definitely support a massive increase in Canadian aid and reconstruction resources (which is something that Canada definitely can influence). But I would say that Harper should push for a massive influx in aid along with an influx in security forces.

If there is police corruption, it might just be a by-product of poor training, inadequate equipment and paultry wages. All of these problems can be managed, if the commitment is sufficent.

Agreed.

The question becomes, what is the best allocation of our resources. Is there more payoff in delivering a round from a Leopard tank, or using that same expenditure to put up a powerline or raise a cop's pay?

That's the problem, I don't think either can be sacrificed. If the leopard tanks make Canadian soldiers more secure, I don't think many would be willing to sacrifice that security for a powerline. The point is, both are necessary, and if Canada and more importantly the other NATO countries are unwilling to make the sacrifices (in soldiers and in resources) necessary for the mission to work, than it very well may be futile to start picking and choosing, and "rebalancing", when rebalancing insufficient funds necessarily leads to the neglect of an essential aspect of the mission (either aid/reconstruction or security).

Ottlib,

Mr. Dion's idea of a "Marshall Plan" for Afghanistan seems to indicate that he might know what he means when he talks about re-balancing the mission. It needs more meat certainly but there is something there.

Again, I don't object to Dion's Marshall plan, I reject to the idea that one can be successful while simultaneously pulling Canadian troops out of the south (even if it is "with honour"). I don't think that we can be successful in the long term with military means alone, and I don't think that we can be successful at all with financial/reconstruction support alone. Neither makes sense.


I support Canada's presence in Afghanistan but I do not support setting up our troops to fail, which the current strategy virtually guarantees. It infuriates me that this whole issue has become a partisan one because I believe that none of the political parties has all of the answers on their own.


Couldn't agree more.

There are alot of smart people on both sides of the aisle in Parliament and maybe they should put their collective heads together a come up with a strategy that has a better chance for success.

Well now you're dreaming, unfortunately. I mean, I suppose it could happen, if only Liberal members with expertise in the area were permitted to advise the Prime Minister without fearing they will be summarily kicked out of their party (sorry, couldn't resist).