The Quick and the Dead:
Eric Margolis and John Manley on Afghanistan

So I’m waiting around for Robert Marleau to give me some information about Canadian prisoners in Afghanistan, having waited 14 months, the waiting likely to be longer now that I’ve posted a snotty letter to him about the delay, and I can’t help but notice the Manley Report. Actually, it almost doesn’t matter about my application for information, most of it having been made public by the action brought by Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association in Federal Court. The facts are indisputable: Canada has taken prisoners in Afghanistan and transferred them in circumstances prohibited by the Third Geneva Convention, that Convention governing United Nations Forces in the field, and the United Nations provides the legal cover for what Canada is doing in Afghanistan. I’m looking forward to Rick Hillier’s trial in The Hague.

Meanwhile, the Manley Report [.pdf] falls predictably like a dead hand on the tiller of Canadian foreign policy in Afghanistan: we’re heading for the rocks, but we should be more frank about the impending shipwreck. The Manley Report begins with a falsehood (“Afghanistan is at war”) and goes downhill from there. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is not at war, and it has declared war on no other state. How can Manley, a lawyer, not get this? Either he chooses not to get it or he’s an idiot. His shtick might play well in the corridors of power in North America, but it’s going nowhere in the back blocks of Kandahar. Afghanistan may well be experiencing a civil war, in which case Canada is aiding the “civil power,” but what if the civil power is completely corrupt?

Such hideous possibilities are ignored by John Manley and his colleagues, people well-known for being well-known but otherwise innocent of realities in Asia. Meanwhile, we have Eric Margolis, who has actually been to Asia and knows much about its history and cultures but, for some reason, was not invited to be on the Manley Committee. Perhaps he hasn’t done enough time on the cocktail circuit in Manhattan.

What does Eric think? It’s all out in the open, ladies and gentlemen, but somehow it doesn’t make headway in what passes for political discourse in Ottawa. There is discussion of “combat” or “non-combat” roles, withdrawing in 2009 or 2011, but there doesn’t seem to be a discussion of Eric’s position, which is, as I understand it, that the whole thing is a farce. Or, to quote him directly: “Most Europeans regard the Afghan conflict as a. wrong and immoral; b. America’s war; c. all about oil; and d. probably lost.”

So let’s imagine it the other way around. The Gigantic Islamic Republic of Asia (population one billion) decides that Canada is a failed state. The government of Canada is replaced by Shariah law, and 2,500 Afghan troops are dispatched from Washington (by Hamid Karzai, the mayor of Washington) to oversee the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Sudbury. You can see how this would work. None of the Afghans speak English, so some local “terps” are hired to deal with the natives. The whole of the Afghan detachment would fit comfortably into the Sudbury Arena for a hockey game. Do these guys play hockey?

Various forward operational bases are established at North Bay and Sault St. Marie, but casualties are incurred during routine transport, and only helicopters are deemed safe. German tanks worth one billion euros are parked in Sudbury and forgotten. Unrest begins at home, but people are told “we might be in North America for 100 years,” and “Muslims don’t cut and run.”

Reality doesn’t always work well with public relations. The Tet Offensive of 1968 destroyed the official version of America’s involvement in Vietnam (eerie echoes of that time being heard by many of us now), and the official version of the Iraq invasion has been destroyed by reality, unless you have a thing going with Tinker Bell. The official version of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan actually doesn’t exist, other than the mythical mission that has not been defined. One does, however, get the impression of some sunlit democracy with clean water and well-paved roads extending down to the Pakistan border, or at least the border with the “lawless tribal lands,” next to which various Tim Hortons franchises sit invitingly as emblems of Western democracy.