Afghanistan was Afghanistan

Sex sells, and Iraq is a rockstar.

It has everything a 24 hour news network could ever ask for; political attention, pubic attention, protesters on every side and in every country. It’s acting as a springboard for the much anticipated 2008 Presidential Election and every day hundreds of innocent civilians die in a rainbow of sectarian violence.

The War in Iraq has become a Soap Opera, the violence and disregard for basic human rights on all fronts has become nothing more than a sideshow and a talking point, something the West turns on to watch after dinner, something they turn off again before a good nights sleep. Anyone who believes otherwise need only Google John McCains recent stroll through Baghdads Central Market, and the reactions thereafter. You’re currently watching Season Five of The Rich and the Faceless, the series finale is sure to be explosive.

The only problem with this grotesque influx of entertainment and writing material is that one very important situation has been left for the birds, Afghanistan. Remember Afghanistan?

Perhaps I’m just another naive Canadian, upset that my countrymen are mired in a War fought at the behest of our American neighbors, neighbors who have since fled for greener pastures. But naive or not, the 27,000 American troops currently stationed in Afghanistan are no closer to obtaining any kind of victory than they were in February of 2002, months after the Kickoff to Kabul. That these American troops, relegated to a position of fighting in an inferior war, are still spearheading the NATO offensive, something they appear disinterested in carrying out, let alone capable of, is unfortunate. To say the least.

There are 26 allies in the coalition force in Afghanistan. Canada, a nation known for its role as peace-keeper, has roughly 2,500 troops conducting front-line counter insurgency tactics. The peace keepers have become the proxy warriors of an overextended American Military, one that looks more and more like it would like to just blow the Middle East off the face of the planet and be done with it. As a Canadian this is a tough batch of Kool-Aid to swallow.

In Southern Afghanistan, Canadian and NATO forces are preparing for a pre-Spring pre-offensive offense against a completely revitalized Taliban, whom along with al-Qaeda, have discovered previously untapped sources of leadership. One would think that after six years of fighting the Worlds dominant military power, the leadership would be on fragile terms, not bolstered. But this logic is something that, inexplicably, has been lost on the leadership of the West. Terrorism is the only career path with a 100% failure rate, no one ever gets what they want, and the violent actions that define it do nothing more than to entrench the vitality of the forces it opposes. It’s madness, through and through.

If at some point over the course of the last 6 years there had been some kind of significant progress in fighting the Taliban, disrupting al-Qaeda, or restoring a sense of humanity to the Afghan people, a case could be made that the sacrifice was worth it. But we are not so lucky, and the worst part is we became so distracted by another War that the failure of this one has been left for page 6 of every newspaper in the world.

We have been forced to forget about Osama bin Laden, because that was then and Iraq is now. And by the way, we got Saddam Hussein, so it was all worthwhile. We have been led to believe that the Afghan people are far better off now than they were in 2001 under Talibani rule. In some areas this may be the case, but in Southern Afghanistan it most certainly is not. Violent action and violent reaction permeate from every militant outfit the area can offer, be they NATO or be they Turbaned. Misguided mortar attacks kill civilians at an unacceptable frequency, homes are searched and ransacked by coalition forces, car bombs and IED’s have tripled in the last year, cooperation is mandatory, or there will be no warning shots.

Had this war been fought, or even approached, with any kind of commitment on the part of the United States, indeed the very reason so many countries have sacrificed their finest, Canada and other like nations would be using their military to do what they do best right now; build schools, build roads, teach engineers, deliver supplies, erect a self-sufficient infrastructure that would allow the Afghani people to control their own country for the first time in decades.

One of our very own contributors, Zaki, had the pleasure of experiencing Afghanistan up close and personal, from his articles you get a genuine sense of how helpless much of the population is, and how deserving they are of something better. This is what the focus should be, this is what the focus should have always been, not a split decision with Iraq. Fighting it with more violence was never the answer, fighting it with paranoia was never the answer, fighting it with more hate was never the answer, and fighting it in two places at once was certainly not the answer.

Pluralism, freedom of choice, basic human rights and equality for all with a healthy respect for religious toleration, that is how you fight terrorist fundamentalism. Not misguided “precision” bombing runs. Not accidentally killing civilians and chalking it up to acceptable losses. That is not how you fight hate. That is not how you take over ones country and expect them to align with the Devil they have never seen, as opposed to the Devil that lives next door. That is arrogance. Plain and simple.

No, you fight intolerance by preaching tolerance, and you do so by winning the hearts and minds of those caught in the crossfire by any means necessary.

You do not round up loose affiliates of the Taliban after they have been deposed and ship them to secret CIA prisons where they will not see their families for months or years at a time, if ever again.

You do not allow for yourself as an occupying force to be associated with fear, or you have lost the war before you have entered the battle, for terrorism is not a fight of attrition or of technology, it is a fight of will and of emotion.

And you most certainly do not leave them standing with their pants down.

You do not take over their country, run roughshod over their way of life, kill, maim and imprison the men of a patriarchal society, only to pick up and move on to a bolder challenge in Iraq before you have finished the job you started.

With Iraq we have found the perfect distraction, it far overshadows the problems in Afghanistan and rightly so. This is not to suggest that Iraq was designed as a distraction from Afghanistan, rather Afghanistan was designed as an excuse for Iraq. But nevertheless we must not forget that there was a time when Afghanistan was Afghanistan and Iraq was Iraq, a time when one did not correlate with the other, a time when one was deserving of our attention and when the other was deserving of our diplomacy.

There was a time when Osama bin Laden was the Worlds Most Wanted Man, a time when the human rights violations perpetrated by the Taliban were further reason to focus military attention on liberating their people, a time when justice would be served at the expense of evil and in favor of humanity.

There was a time when Afghanistan was Afghanistan.

The British 15 and Guantanamo

Now that the 15 British Soldiers have been released by Iran we can focus on similar matters. I’m sure the international community – with the cooperation of the American Government, of course – will waste no time addressing the plight of those in Guantanamo Bay.

The 15 captured by Iran had clearly endured a painful experience; hot meals, clean clothes, furnished rooms, primetime attention, and even the pleasure of sitting in company with Mahmoud and the Gang. A true presidential experience, but these solders were clearly being used as puppets, tools to further the cause of the tie-less Iranian leader. Having to endure his tasteless jokes, “How are you, so you came here on a mandatory vacation eh?” The horror!

Finally it is over, and the hatchet can be buried. War with Iran has been averted, hurrah!

But one success is simply not enough, the United States and the United Kingdom should build on this massive victory and focus their attention on the situation in Guantanamo Bay, even if the detainees there have endured far less than the British 15.

Once George W. Bush and Tony Blair learn of the treatment suffered by those in Gitmo they will surely threaten the leaders responsible with similar shows of force. America and the UK simply cannot sit idly by while still 400 individuals are detained without trial, without conviction, without sufficient evidence. Locked up for years at a time, with sleep deprivation and light and noise isolation. Shackled for hours at a time in uncomfortable positions, threatened by dogs. Beatings, drugging, solitary confinement. These things will be unacceptable to the leaders of the freedom loving West, whose sole stated purpose has been to uphold the rights of man everywhere in the world.*

Even more intolerable in the eyes of many, will be the capture of these detainees, just as the capture of the 15 British Soldiers enraged two parts of the world. The 15 were captured allegedly illegally, while they were minding their own business. They were captured on no authority, without care for who they were, what they were doing, whether they had families or not, whether they were guilty or not, whether they were nefarious or not. Similarities be damned! The detainees in Guantanamo just happen to share many of these qualities as well! In fact, a large segment of Gitmos population was never even apprehended by their present day captors, they were bought and sold by Pakistani military and ISI units from local tribal leaders across the central Asian “battlefield.” Little attention was paid to affiliation, guilt, or the degree of either.

Surely this will not stand up in the eyes of the International Community, not after the outrage displayed by Mr.’s Bush and Blair in regards to the abhorrent capture of the British 15 and their clear mistreatment. This capture, so in conflict with the Geneva convention will surely be the precedent by which those in Guantanamo Bay will see a similar effort displayed for their immediate release, trial, or fair treatment.

*World as defined by the leaders of the freedom loving West.

When The Troops Come Home

There is an myth out there – perpetuated by long discredited failures – that if the United States pulls out of Iraq, emboldened terrorists will sweep across land and ocean to ruffle our feathers closer to home.

That may very well be the case, although many beg to differ, myself included.

But whether US forces pull out or not, and whether those terrorists follow us home or not, one thing is for certain: the American homeland will at some point welcome with open arms, legions of individuals trained to terrorize, men and women shaped by a culture of perpetual fear and mistrust. Comparisons to Vietnam have been made, but for all the wrong reasons. This isn’t about some f’ing ‘quagmire,’ this is about not giving respect where it’s due.

The boys and girls of the American Military Machine, the heroes and the brave, at some point they will come home – most of them anyways. And those that come home alive, during the day, and not in a body-bag under the cover of darkness, those ones will have the misfortune of carrying around a lot of extra baggage, baggage few will offer to help carry.

This is not a time of war, yet a war rages and consumes real people, real Americans, and when they come home to ‘peace,’ they will discover just how peaceful things have been here all along, and how unwilling and unconditioned the rest of us are in understanding what they have been through.

No matter how outraged we become over the conditions at Walter Reed – a joke if there ever was one – we can stop deluding ourselves of the notion that we have somehow evolved to any significant degrees over the last three decades. We have learned nothing of the impact War has on the brain, the heart, and the nerves, aside from calling it post traumatic stress disorder instead of Shell Shock. Because Shell Shock was degrading. Enjoy the shiny new label. Forget about the inside.

Many of us have seen the ever changing parade of YouTube clips, documenting American soldiers abusing the nearest Iraqi, or perhaps just the ugliest one in a crowd. Taunting thirsty children with a single water bottle, from the back of a speeding Humvee, lauding the helplessness and the despair of the people they are there to “liberate” and “protect” in the name of “freedom” and “democracy.” Crushing a mans Taxi with a tank because he stole a bundle of wood. Many of us have seen these videos.

Even more of us have heard the stories, of American soldiers raping, murdering, or inflaming whole families to satisfy any number of carnal needs – libido, fear, revenge, prejudice – all in the name of fighting “terrorism” in an effort to administer “justice.”

What we don’t realize, or care to admit, is that none of the blame for the utter brutality displayed by many of these individuals can be placed squarely on them and them alone. They have been placed in situations of painful conflict that none of us will ever, ever, be able to fathom, not in our darkest dreams.

A gunman, clutching an AK-47, bobs his head around the corner of an alleyway close to a school.

Once. Twice. On the third occasion a child, a boy seven or eight years old, is thrust out in front of him. The gunman holds him firmly by the arm and steps out for instant into full view of the Bradley’s gunner to get a proper look, then yanks the boy back and disappears.

“That is really dirty,” says Specialist Chris Jankow, in the back of the Bradley, with a mixture of contempt, anger and frustration. “They know exactly what our rules of engagement are. They know we can’t fire back.”

A few minutes and a few hundred metres later the performance is repeated. A woman and three small children emerge uncertainly from behind a building, little more than a shack. They stare at the approaching armour. After a few seconds they retreat from view; then the process is repeated. The third time they emerge, a fighter is crouching behind them with a rocket-propelled grenade aimed at Jankow’s Bradley. The group disappears.

There is a long pause, a moment of excruciating moral conflict for the soldiers and for the gunner in particular.

Not to shoot would be to imperil their own lives or those of their colleagues, both American and Iraqi. To shoot would be to risk killing civilians who have been shoved in front of their guns to shield insurgent fighters.

Iraq, where Sophie’s Choice is a daily routine, where Sophie is given a paycheck to make her choice, where Sophie must make that choice a dozen times a day (if she’s lucky), where Sophie associates the mere presence of her children with her own potential demise. To say this kind of situation does things to a person, bad things, would be an understatement of criminal proportions.

From the YouTube clips we have seen, and the stories we have heard, we can clearly deduct that many of the young men and women we shipped overseas to fight in the wars of prouder men are going to return horrendously misaligned from the rest of us. It’s only natural, to endure such an experience and return unchanged would to not be human.

We’ve seen this story before. And we failed. And failing again will have far more drastic consequences than any fear of a loosely coordinated al-Qeada trying to attack the American Homeland.

To say that terrorists will not try to strike the US at home would be presumptuous, but between that and our shattered Troops returning home, only one is definitely going to happen, and we must make sure they are given the utmost care and attention. We must make sure they are not shunned prematurely or unduly because of what could very well be a growing stigma against ‘bad soldiers.’ Even those so clearly deserving reprimand, an effort must be made by all to ensure the label of the bad apple does not get mass produced. Already we have seen our elite leadership waste no time making examples of those that have given the American military a black eye. No mention of higher blame is ever circulated. It’s always the act of a criminal soldier, of course, they are only criminals if the story breaks.

Do not confuse this with condoning any of the conduct I have described whatsoever. Being placed in a tough spot allows no one carte blanche to do as they please with those around them, but there is a larger theme here I’m trying to hit: the marginal among these ‘bad soldiers’ will simply become marginalized. And soon the many are struck with the same brush used to paint the few.

To further the spiral downwards, a few days ago it was announced that for the surge to function, troop tours in Iraq will have to be extended, and congruently troop leaves will have to be shortened. Training will, ingeniously, be optional, or as good as can be fashioned in the due course of deployment.

You shoot yourself in the foot, you walk with a limp for life. Doesn’t matter who your doctor is.

The exact reason given by Gen. Petraeus was so that he could reinforce the early progress in the Baghdad security crackdown. I find this logic incredibly interesting, because in the two days prior to these delusional statements 302 people were killed in Iraq, 337 were injured, and 2 more US soldiers were killed. In just two days. In fact, this last week has been one of the most violent in recent memory. And in order to maintain this mind numbing status quo, the Troops will be kept in harms way longer, with less time between tours.

Aside from the obvious physical peril they face with extended exposure to a very dangerous situation, this kind of strategy must surely place an undue amount of strain on the psychological muscle of each soldier.

And they’re going to return to a place where nothing more than lip-service is paid to their bravery, because we’ve all been too busy playing with our iPods and deriding Bush on Newsvine. Their sacrifices, their heroics, and the permanent footprints left on their souls from fighting in such a Hellish war, will be understood by few, forgotten by many, and perhaps rarely taken into account upon any unfavorable actions further down the road. They face becoming outcasts in their own society, just like the last time. It’s already happening.

And that’s a fucking shame.

“Is This America?” by Nat Hentoff

Brilliant.

…on January 18, 2007, Vermont senator Patrick Leahy assessed how Bush’s war on terrorism has affected many people around the world who do not hate us but no longer trust us as a lover of liberty and the rights of man. Said Leahy: “The administration’s secret policies have reduced America’s standing around the world to one of the lowest points in our history.”

I expect that future historians of our continuing decline as a source of liberty and inspiration to the world will tell the story of Maher Arar…

When Humanity Takes a Seat

For anyone who has been paying attention, the presence of secret CIA prisons administering torture to suspected terrorists is not anything new. What is new though, is that at least one of these gross violations of Human Rights is currently under the scrutiny of trial. I am of course talking about Jose Padilla, a US citizen, the only one among the hundreds if not thousands of suspected “enemy combatants,” and because of this he has remained in custody on US soil where he will be afforded fairness under US law.

The only problem with all of this is that it’s total bullshit. The conditions he has faced differ little from the conditions faced by those in Guantanamo Bay, some have argued Padilla has been subjected to much worse. And the only fairness he will see under US law depends on how successful his defense is on re-framing the issue as to whether or not US officials drove him so insane during his incarceration he is no longer mentally fit to stand his own trial.

Given the United States (more specifically the Bush Administration, they are no longer synonymous) is engaged in wars throughout the Islamic world in an attempt to sell democracy and freedom, it’s little wonder that the presence of barbaric systems such as these are doing little to persuade a mass embrace of Jeffersonian Democracy.

Harping on the Harped / Forget the Soldiers

Even though I touched on this a few days ago, it still gets under my skin that not only where brave young men and women thrust so needlessly into wars for the sole purpose of satiating the machismo of BushCo, but that they have returned home only to be tossed aside like dirty laundry.

The fallout of the current Walter Reed crisis won’t go away, and rightfully so.

In recent days, the commander at Walter Reed, Maj. Gen. George Weightman, and the Army’s surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, have been all over TV, saying the problems at the facility are being fixed and that they are “extremely proud” of the work their staffs are doing.

But the point is that crumbling infrastructure, inhumane bureaucracy and inadequate treatment for mental disorders have been known about for years and have been permitted to continue.

The month before The Post’s series ran, a conference on “quality of life” problems faced by soldiers, their families and civilian staff at Walter Reed found a long list of “issues.” They included: soldiers not getting benefits to travel as scheduled; lack of direction for emergency family care; unequal benefits based on the locale where a soldier is injured and not on the extent of injuries; and no overall plan to help wounded warriors through their convalescence.

Then there is this lengthy report from the Army Times:

The numbers of people approved for permanent or temporary disability retirement in the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force have stayed relatively stable since 2001.

But in the Army – in the midst of a war – the number of soldiers approved for permanent disability retirement has plunged by more than two-thirds, from 642 in 2001 to 209 in 2005, according to a Government Accountability Office report last year. That decline has come even as the war in Iraq has intensified and the total number of soldiers wounded or injured there has soared above 15,000.

Not to sound like a broken record but realities such as these, on top of the horror one finds in battle, are injustices that will surely come back to haunt these individuals and the places they call home for generations to come.

America Goes to the Oscars

supermanreturns2ss.jpg

I’m not going to go off on a tirade of why the Oscars are a joke, because I’m watching them myself. Or, they’re on in the background.

But all night they’ve been doing short little film clip collages on a variety of subjects, one of them being “America.” One of the clips on Americana was, not surprisingly, that of Superman, literally, hovering over the planet Earth, looking down with a cold disdain that could only personify the new age “white (American) man’s burden.”

Needless to say, I really enjoyed the subltety.

UPDATE: All that being said, and all that joking aside, the acceptance speech by Forest Whitaker, an incredible actor in his own right, was exceptional. The very reason to pursue art in any form or at any level.

US Generals Threaten To Quit Over Attacking Iran

From The Sunday Times:

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. “American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired,” said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

The threat of a wave of resignations coincided with a warning by Vice-President Dick Cheney that all options, including military action, remained on the table.

Clench That Ass Canada

Living in a country with such large oil deposits, so close to the United States has always been awkwardly frightening, albeit in a very non-threatening way. Jokes have always been fluttered north and south of the border in regards to an American invasion of the Great White North, however unlikely.

Not to suggest that situation has at all changed or in anyway taken steps towards a realisation of the unimaginable, but it is interesting to ponder the outcome the current scenario: Every conceivable oil bearing region this planet has is showing considerable amounts of military and political hostility towards American foreign policy and by extension threatening previously held norms of their “easy access” to oil, except for Canada.

Not to suggest that Canada should “arm-up” like Venzuala is currently doing:

Venezuela’s arms spending has climbed to more than $4 billion in the past two years, transforming the nation into Latin America’s largest weapons buyer and placing it ahead of other major purchasers in international arms markets like Pakistan and Iran.

Venezuelan military and government officials here say the arms acquisitions, which include dozens of fighter jets and attack helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, are needed to circumvent a ban by the United States on sales of American weapons to the country.

They also argue that Venezuela must strengthen its defenses to counter potential military aggression from the United States.

…but we should at least be clenching real tight right now. Sooner or later we’re going to start looking like fast-food or the wimpy kid with rich parents and too much jingle-jangle lunch money in his pocket.

Disconcerting

I was just checking out some of the blogs of those who have left comments and I came across this What Famous Leader Are You? quiz, linked from White Noise Insanity. I’ve taken similar tests in the past and found myself lumped in with Gandhi (just as the author of WHI was) and Nelson Mandela, so I was eager to stroke my moral ego again.

Not this time.


What Famous Leader Are You?
personality tests by similarminds.com

I’m really not sure what to make of that.

At least it wasn’t Bush.

The Political Compass Questionnaire is another good one to check out.

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