Each year I take several sabbatical retreats into wilderness country, to find the calmness and serenity that the thin veneer of civilized life cannot provide. The wilderness may be wild and completely without Disneyesque happy endings, but it is not so savage as the atrocities that humanity visits upon itself in the name of various fine sounding philosophies and moralities. Foolishly - after having spent a week without electronic input of any kind, a series of days of myself playing within the natural background that should be everyone's heritage - I return to this civilization expecting it to somehow miraculously be better than when I turned away from it.
My most recent return encountered Canada's self-appointed guru of militarism, General Rick Hillier, pretty much demanding of Canada's government that a doubling of forces would be necessary to hold even in Kandahar. Canada itself does not have the additional forces available (unless, I think sarcastically, the MPs themselves sign up with their sons and daughters for this noble mission that burdens the white men) and the European NATO members are playing cute with Canada, suggesting that Canada "be patient" while they pretend to fight within the safe zones of Kabul. On top of that, recent Angus Reid polls indicate that "Canadians are increasingly identifying the country's military presence in Afghanistan as a war mission rather than a peace-building effort," with an increase of ten per cent in this position within one month. As of February 11, 2008, sixty three per cent believe that Canada should not extend the mission beyond 2009 (its current mandate) and only sixteen per cent support extending the mission.
The minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay, says, ""Simply put, reality seems to have escaped these two parties [NDP and Bloc Quebecois the two who actually see the reality]. We believe we should stay and finish the job. We do not want to abandon the Afghan people or turn our back on the international community. Staying in Afghanistan is not the easy thing to do, but staying there is the right thing to do." This reflects Prime Minister Harper's view that they will not follow polls, but will "do what is right." What is "right" has two parameters the lack of democracy at home to reflect the wishes of the people, and the ongoing support of the NATO/American imperial drive to contain and control the Middle East. I am certain that if the international community truly had a democratic vote on Afghanistan, the majority of the world would tell NATO to get out of Afghanistan. MacKay's international community consists of corporations and other power politicians, not the democratic people of the world. All the fine rhetoric about democracy and freedom, the civilizing effect of our white men's burden, has obviously not been accepted by the people of Canada.
If Canada were as strong on democracy as it believes it is, it would follow democracy at home as well, and with the will of the people as a majority, would exit Afghanistan. Harper's comment about not listening to the polls but "doing what is right" demonstrates only the arrogance of power and not the benefits of democracy. Any countries elected representatives need to remember that they are just that, representatives first, and within that representation there is a leader, but one who should represent his constituents, not ignore their opinions. This applies globally as well as here in Canada.
That global perspective arrives with a second idea that brought me back to the reality of human civilization after my wilderness sojourn, that of the NATO ministers agreeing with the American imperial idea that NATO should use nuclear weapons pre-emptively in order to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. How stupid can you get? I dislike using the word stupid, because the clear majority of people are not ignorant perhaps, uneducated perhaps, or simply unaware, but seldom stupid once properly informed however there seems to be a negative synergy within politics and the military to seek the most obvious incongruencies and advertise them as a significant policy to proceed with.
The nuclear "terror" that I have lived with has mainly been American. Certainly the Russians tried to maintain a nuclear equilibrium, but with American aggressive actions around the globe, their idiocy in trying to defeat communism vis a vis the domino effect in Vietnam, their many Latin American incursions, the Reaganesque delusions of "Star Wars", the "Peacemaker" ICBM, the labelling of the Soviets as an "evil" empire, and the beginnings of the idea of winning a nuclear war, my main source of "terror" focussed on the Americans and their nuclear arsenal. Throughout my life, the main correlation I have had with American foreign policy is that wherever it leads, death and destruction seem to follow. There is nothing in today's current events to change that idea.
It continues today, with the American mercenary arm, NATO, now advocating the same position. I wonder how many Europeans think of themselves as mercenaries of the U.S. empire? Like it or not, that is the way Europe has acted and is acting (just as Canada has fully accepted that role within the political/business realm in Ottawa), regardless of how the majority of citizens might feel. NATO now inhabits Afghanistan, areas of the former Yugoslavia, is encroaching into Pakistan, and, in another ludicrous idea that fully supports the idea of their role as American mercenaries, has been suggested as replacement for the IDF in Palestine.
The idea of NATO in Palestine is being "explored" by the Israelis and the Americans. As NATO is headed by two American four-star generals, I suppose there is little need to ask the European countries if they want to embroil themselves within Israeli politics as the Palestinian prison guards. I may be wrong, but I do not think that the Palestinians would accept surrogate IDF forces, particularly ones linked so strongly to American designs on the Middle East, to be their new gate keepers. Being of the military mind, NATO troops could carry as much racism and hostility towards the Palestinians as the IDF, seeing them as terrorists (which seems to be the whole Palestinian population for many western media outlets).
Perhaps NATO should just ask Israel to become a part of it, and then it would be firmly established in the Middle East with a ready made and reliable military and nuclear arsenal ready to serve in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Iran, wherever NATO might be next on America's quest for global supremacy.
War on Terror
The war on terror will not be won by attacking countries who "harbour" terrorists, by supporting non-democratic governments that support torture, or by destroying democratic governments duly elected by the people because they do no agree with U.S. objectives.
It can be won on a different level than the simplistic, arrogant, and ignorant black and white "for us or against us," good and evil duality. First, when the major originators of terror, those with the most nuclear weapons, those with their own troops and their mercenary compadres, withdraw from occupied territories, then the supply of terrorists will decrease significantly. Secondly, for the already alienated and fully militant remaining terrorists, effective police actions, acceptance of international standards of law and justice, rejection of torture and internationally illegal modes of containment, will reduce their numbers significantly and demonstrate that the rhetoric of democracy and justice matches reality.
Thirdly, yes other countries may want our assistance, yet on the other hand they may not want it. We should ask first, providing we are not asking a puppet government run by American sycophants, but asking a truly democratically elected government. Further, different forms of democracy, of governments willingly chosen by their people, should not be denied existence, as the Americans and British tend to do with any government that denies the "rights" of corporate exploitation (at the same time supporting non-democratic governments that allow the same exploitation).
Unfortunately, the "war on terror" when deconstructed to its root causes is more about the acquisition of power, wealth, and control by a few countries who have for centuries practiced the art of conquest, coercion, and intimidation to harvest the world's wealth. That the indigenous peoples of the world reject that is not surprising, and when they actually rebel against the wishes of the dominant group, they are no longer labelled "insurgents" or "freedom fighters" but "terrorists", and become the "other", become "evil" and are then open targets for further military incursions.
Therefore, the idealistic solution presented above runs into the attempts to hide and dissimulate the imperial imperative of America under the guise of a war on terror. Until it is recognized more appropriately at the level of national governments that continue to play mercenary sycophants to the American imperial drive, no lasting benefit of trying to assist other governments will truly take place.
Canada will only leave behind a bitter legacy of unfulfilled expectations and promises if it remains allied to the American war on terror, a legacy that will linger both at home as Canada becomes more and more a militarized state, and abroad as its "reputation" becomes more and more identified with the American mindset.