Calgary in Afghanistan: Snow Job in the Flush of Spring

Calgary’s weather is notoriously capricious, particularly this year, when horrendous snowfalls have occurred unseasonably. Meanwhile, Maxime "Mad Max" Bernier, Canada’s minister for foreign affairs and international trade, a loose-ish cannon who has already been in trouble for taking a scantily clad date to an official Ottawa ceremony, has put his foot in it again by speaking the truth: namely, there’s corruption in Afghanistan. The repercussions have been deafening. Max’s career is in doubt.

On the other hand, there’s David Bercuson, a Canadian military apologist who’s into the Canadian military-industrial complex up to his ischial tuberosities and who has written a Goebbels-like explanation for Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. We’re there, in David’s opinion, to rescue Afghans from the depredations of the Taliban. But he warns us that without guns there is no butter. And to hell with history.

Who is David Bercuson, and why is he advising us on Afghanistan? How is it that Max Bernier is on a short leash, while some guy from the University of Calgary is articulating government policy at public expense? Whoever he is, Bercuson has conducted a "fact-finding-tour sponsored by the Department of National Defense" and written about it in the Globe and Mail, although the final location of the "facts" he has "found" is unclear. I had presumed (probably naively) that the Department of Foreign Affairs, or whatever its current title is, exists to find facts about the rest of the world, the better to advise the government of the day. Apparently not. We needed the Manley Report (at unimaginable cost) to provide the government with information readily available from its own civil service with much less bias, and even then, we need academics to find facts at public expense.

Meanwhile back at the Globe and Mail (the only hope for Canadian newspapers, a rag that publishes impressively discordant points of view), Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa, published an almost coy article stating that "The Department of National Defense is intruding on academic financing, spending millions of dollars sponsoring think tanks and scholars to offer up agreeable commentary." Bercuson, a scholar from the University of Calgary, freshly back from Afghanistan, offered up shocked commentary that Rick Hillier would resign as chief of the defense staff at the peak of his career and effectiveness. It is of considerable Orwellian interest that Bercuson is weighing in on this subject with the Globe and Mail, while no one has asked Attaran his opinion.

There is a crucial distinction to be made between an interest in the truth and a conclusion for which evidence is subsequently sought. Anyone with an interest in the truth would acknowledge the long and difficult history of Afghanistan, its tribal culture, its painful experience under the occupation of the Soviet Union (or for that matter, Great Britain), and its subsequent oppression by the Taliban. Anyone with an interest in the truth would also acknowledge the intense distress caused by mine fields that continue to exist, the lack of basic services such as clean water, and the drug trade that leads farmers to grow poppies. Anyone interested in the truth would acknowledge that nobody in NATO was particularly interested in the people of Afghanistan before 9/11, much as NATO is not particularly interested in Zimbabwe now. Anyone with an interest in the truth would acknowledge the role of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the rise of the Taliban and the development of what is called "terrorism." You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out.

American Gen. Dan K. McNeill, a guy who suggested that 400,000 troops would be necessary to successfully occupy Afghanistan, has said that the Afghan National Army would be ready by 2011 to effectively "’have control of much of the rest of the country… By about 2011 there is going to be some pretty good capacity in the Afghan National Army,’ he said."

Here’s Jane’s on the same subject:

"On 3 December, the Afghan Ministry of Defense called for the country’s fledgling indigenous defense force, the Afghan National Army (ANA), to increase in size to 200,000 personnel.

"According to ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi, such a number would be sufficient to provide security to the entire country, and would ‘cost international forces less than the expenses of their forces in Afghanistan.’

"This statement, which must appear compelling to the increasingly ponderous governments of several key NATO member governments, is unfortunately little more than a fantastic aspiration with little sign of being achieved within any moderate time scale.

"The dreamlike scenario of 200,000 well-equipped, properly paid, highly motivated ANA soldiers defending the Afghan state from every conceivable security threat is one that punctuates the sleep of senior Western politicians and military leaders alike. Unfortunately, they awake to a very different reality."

Max, tell it like it is.