Matt asked me this question (Matt being Matthew Barganier, merciless editor at this Web site) in response to a draft rant from me about NATO’s role in Afghanistan. It’s a good question: what should NATO do in Afghanistan? Here’s my answer: (1) read the Globe and Mail, (2) take it to the streets. I don’t think there’s an Afghan edition of the Globe and Mail, but there should be. Home delivery in the Pashtun translation would solve a lot of problems, but it’s not like you can just throw a newspaper at somebody’s front porch in Kandahar at 6 a.m. without worrying about the consequences.
The Globe is "Canada’s National Newspaper" and has a distinguished history, blotted by its support for the Iraq misadventure and the Afghanistan disaster. I have been sarcastic about it on this very Web site; nevertheless, the Globe has some fabulous reporters who hold the keys to the future, and NATO should read these guys. Meanwhile, NATO is lining itself up for what Alexander Cockburn called The Tenth Crusade.
Pope Urban’s more famous (so far) First Crusade "took its first public shape at the Council of Piacenza, where in March 1095 Urban received an ambassador from the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus, asking for help against the Muslims." It didn’t work, relying as it did on primitive communications and technology. People had to be killed by hand. No more. A modern Crusade can be waged ruthlessly from space, at hypersonic speed, antiseptically, from anywhere within the continental USA or Brussels. North Americans, from right-wing nutbars like Ron Parsley to trendy Manhattan artist John Currin, have decided we’re at war with Islam, whoever "we" are.
Meanwhile George Bush (Urban Lite) will be flying to a NATO meeting in Romania to promote the "mission" in Afghanistan, which has not been defined but is legally a "collective right of self-defense" enshrined in the NATO Charter (Article 5) and the UN Charter (Article 51), and dignified by UN Security Council Resolution 1386 and subsequent extensions. So, now that NATO has defended itself by quelling the terrorist upwelling in Afghanistan that fearsome boring of termite holes into the Hindu Kush, with legions of mindless workers serving a bloated terrorist queen who incubates nuclear weapons composed of spare parts supplied by A.Q. Khan now that we’ve stopped all that, what do we do?
Go small or go home. Gen. Dan McNeill says it would take 400,000 NATO troops to occupy Afghanistan, and it ain’t gonna happen, there being some 40,000 troops available now, and many of those on a short leash. NATO is stuck in Afghanistan like the U.S. is stuck in Iraq. There is no plan. This was made clear by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who obviously has a black sense of humor, since he explained that "a strategy is necessary." The real answer lies in the street.
As reported by Oliver Moore, heroic volunteers are immunizing children against polio in southern Afghanistan, and it’s working. As reported by Mark MacKinnon, local movements are achieving some peace and stability in the Middle East, where ponderous international intervention has failed. And as reported by Stephanie Nolen, local action in Mali has made an enormous difference in the quality of life for women and children.
What NATO should do is declare victory and go home. The future of the world lies in self-determination, not global policing. NATO should recognize that the military solution is bankrupt and withdraw. NATO can’t make Kosovo work, it can’t make Afghanistan work, it can’t make anything work. What it can do is support international humanitarian law, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the United Nations (bumbling as these institutions might be), and withdraw, making offers of support for basic services such as clean water and clearance of land mines.
NATO’s origins in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, were admirable, but something has gone terribly awry. Built to save the world from a totalitarian menace, NATO now seems a purpose without a cause, an enormous military enterprise drifting into the hands of people who think Pope Urban had the right idea but not enough firepower.