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Canada’s A/Stan death toll hits 124; Robert McNamara dies

July 6, 2009

More Canadian deaths today in Afghanistan, as well as the death of former US Secretary of Defence, Robert McNamara, aged 93.

Our recent dead, may they rest in peace:

Master Corporal Charles-Phillipe Michaud, 28, 2nd Battalian, Royal 22nd Regiment, CFB Valcartier (injured June 23, Panjwai District, SW Khandahar)

Master Corporal Pat Audet, 38, full details not yet known

Corporal Martin Joanelle, 25, full details not yet known

News reports also cite US troop deaths in relatively quiet eastern Afghanistan although the massive US led Operation Khanjar or “Strike of the Sword” is primarily in Helmand province. This Operation involves 4, 650 US Marine fighters and 50 aircraft, making it the largest Marine offensive airlift operation in Afghanistan since 2001. One website even compares Strike of the Sword to “largest Op since Vietnam.”

Again, questions raised on this blog remain –

  1. Why is Canada a part of this mission?
  2. Are we making things “over there” better or worse?
  3. Is our engagement worth the sacrifice?

One reason durably put forth by many Canadian commentators is the value of “nation-building,” in particular the improvement in the lives of Afghan women. According to a June, 2009 Australian interview, a spokeswoman for Afghanistan’s RAWA, its oldest women’s organization not affiliated with any political party, the reality is worsening for Afghan women: gang rape incidents and domestic violence are on the increase. She points out that the Taliban are in a few provinces in the west, and in provinces such as Helmand and Farah, not all over the country, where women battle both drug warlords and the Northern Alliance, members of which sit in the Afghan Parliament and many of whom support President Karzai (he faces an election August 20).

RAWA claims that that the US and NATO forces of which Canada is a part are using the Alliance and Karzai to protect NATO interests behind the “shield” of “women’s liberation.” This phenomenon is described  by the Atlantic’s Robert Kaplan: “U.S. foreign policy must be robed in idealism…to garner public support.” Of course this “supremacy by stealth” doctrine was alive in McNamara’s Vietnam strategy of “winning hearts and minds” while mounting huge military operations.

Here’s US Brigadier General Larry Nicholson speaking recently of his Marines: “What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert.”

Is Canada being too easily led via NATO into this new U.S. surge? We’ll give the last word to Robert McNamara, may he too find peace with his maker: “There is no longer any such thing as strategy, only crisis management.”

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. derrick permalink
    July 18, 2009 11:06 pm

    today at Harbour Centre, Keith Maillard on the question of truth: “Well, I left the United States because Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara lied to me.”

  2. July 17, 2009 8:13 am

    I’m in the middle of reading John Ralston Saul’s “Voltaire’s Bastards”, and he talks a great deal about McNamera and the cult of the technocrat in the modern military. The book was written shortly after the first Gulf War and so says nothing directly about the current conflict in Afghanistan. However, the pattern he describes – wars run by staff instead of soldiers, the reliance on technology and equipment over strategy, the tendency to perpetual war that has been built into the system – seems to apply equally to Afghanistan as to McNamera’s Vietnam.

    There may be altruistic reasons for us to be in Afghanistan and good things being done there, but don’t imagine for a moment that those are the reasons why we went there in the first place.

    • reneethewriter permalink
      July 17, 2009 8:19 pm

      Thank you for the post, greenjenny; i always enjoy your pieces on John Ralston Saul and had forgotten about the links to McNamara in V.B.

      I continue to worry about the number of Canadians perishing in our mission. R

  3. reneethewriter permalink
    July 13, 2009 6:39 pm

    from the blog of one of my favorite McClatchy news reporters, J. S. Landay

    “Nukes & Spooks” is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).July 13, 2009
    James Carville brings U.S. campaign style to Kabul

    Greetings from Kabul where I have been reporting for the last two weeks. Although I am the Pentagon correspondent, I always spend at least a couple weeks amongst the people in countries where U.S. troops are based. I want to develop some understanding of their experiences before I go into the embed bubble. And my time here in Kabul has been enlightening indeed. You can read my dispatches here.

    These days, all the talk around the capital is about security and the presidential elections, which are scheduled for Aug. 20. As such, I have been meeting with several of the 41 candidates. During an interview with one presidential candidate, an interesting name popped up, James Carville.

    For those who don’t remember, James Carville was a top advisor to Bill Clinton and is currently a frequent TV commentator on behalf of the left. (Perhaps a loud guy with a shiny bald head will help jar your memory.) As it turns out, he also spent two days in Kabul earlier this month advising leading presidential candidate Dr. Ashraf Ghani, the former Finance Minister, on how to run his campaign.

    Ghani told me that Carville’s two days “were worth two years.”

    Carville has worked on 13 campaigns around the world, Ghani explained to me. And at the end of Carville’s visit, Ghani said he and his campaign came away with the following lesson:

    “He brought focus,” Ghani said. He stressed “staying on message. …He is a storyteller.”

    From what I can tell, Ghani’s message is that he will bring responsible government and practical solutions to Kabul. As he said to me several times, “I am offering solutions.”

    The United States introduced its brand of democracy to Afghanistan just eight years ago, and yet Carville has already brought the uniquely American campaign style to the streets of Kabul. I wonder if in a country where electricity is limited, literacy is low and faith in the power of government is lacking, the U.S. style of an insistent, repetitive campaign message – ala Change we can believe in – will work here. In just a few weeks, we will find out.

  4. reneethewriter permalink
    July 13, 2009 1:59 pm

    this in today on jake tapper’s ABC news blog…i’ll continue to write about A/Stan in coming weeks. R.
    President Obama Orders National Security Team to Review 2001 Afghanistan Massacre

    July 13, 2009 8:25 AM

    In an interview with CNN over the weekend, President Obama said that he’d just learned that a November 2001 incident in Afghanistan — where hundreds if not thousands of Taliban prisoners were killed by an Afghan warlord and buried in a mass grave — may not have been properly investigated.

    “So what I’ve asked my national security team to do is to collect the facts for me that are known,” the president said. “And we’ll probably make a decision in terms of how to approach it once we have all the facts gathered up….There are responsibilities that all nations have even in war. And if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of the laws of war, then I think that, you know, we have to know about that.”

    A Saturday New York Times story reported that Bush administration officials obstructed requests for an investigation into the incident from the FBI, State Department, and other groups “because the warlord, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, was on the payroll of the C.I.A. and his militia worked closely with United States Special Forces in 2001, several officials said. They said the United States also worried about undermining the American-supported government of President Hamid Karzai, in which General Dostum had served as a defense official.”

    Human rights groups applauded President Obama’s remarks.

    “Physicians for Human Rights praises President Obama for ordering his national security team to collect all the facts in the Dasht-e-Leili massacre and apparent US cover-up,” said Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, which discovered the mass grave in January 2002 and alleges a cover-up by the Bush administration:

    Click HERE for photos from Physicians for Human Rights’ forensic investigation of the mass grave. The NYT first reported on the incident in May 2002 and Newsweek followed up in August 2002 with a more comprehensive story.

    – jpt

  5. July 12, 2009 7:37 pm

    Speaking as the person you linked to as someone who supports “nation-building” (are the quotations meant to mock that term?), I’ll just point out that there are plenty of good arguments for or against the war, and I respect that reasonable people can disagree.

    But do you mind if I take issue with you advancing two TERRIBLE arguments against the war?

    1. Stop trying to tie this in with McNamara and Vietnam. Afghanistan is not Vietnam, and never will be. A despotic, tyrannical regime was overthrown, Afghans drafted their own new democratic constitution, Afghans are now voting for their own government. The Taliban are not the Vietcong. We are on the right side of this conflict, the only question is whether we are going about it in the right way.

    2. Don’t try and argue that women are worse off now. That’s insane. Under the Taliban, women had NO rights, were denied medical care, were denied education, were denied any kind of independent voice. Today there are female politicians, female reporters, girls going to school, and access to medical care (especially for pregnant women). It’s not nearly as good as it should be, but hell, that’s going to take some time.

    RAWA should not be relied on for a coherent position. Their spokeswomen (most significantly, Malayai Joya) openly admit that civil war would erupt from an international withdrawal, and then call openly for a withdrawal of international forces. RAWA would have no influence at all were it not for antiwar groups who use them for their own domestic political agenda.

    If you truly care about Afghan women–as we all should–support the work of the Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. They are building orphanages, funding education programs, and giving aid to feminist media organizations.

    Once again, we can disagree about the politics of the war. But that doesn’t mean you need to attach yourself to lazy, bad arguments.

    : )

    Brian Platt

    p.s. Here’s a much more relevant quote from B-G Larry Nicholson: “We’re doing this very differently,” Nicholson said to his senior officers a few hours before the mission began. “We’re going to be with the people. We’re not going to drive to work. We’re going to walk to work.”

    Doesn’t sound like such a McNamara mission when you don’t quote him selectively, does it?

    • reneethewriter permalink
      July 13, 2009 10:07 am

      Thank you Brian for taking the time to respond and to visit this site. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. R

  6. reneethewriter permalink
    July 8, 2009 8:39 am

    Dear Derrick and marakardasnelson,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Derrick – wow – a pleasure to read your analysis. The ideas of “nation-building,” of “foreign aid/intervention,” “helping others,”
    “being a ‘good internationalist’,” preoccupy me and trouble me. A scan of my posts on Canada and A/Stan to date will show this. I grow increasingly despairing of what’s going on “over there.”

    marakardasnelson – i very much look forward to your post/interview with the “young U.S. soldier” – just the phrase makes me feel protective of him. One space that my writing seeks to claim is to honour the soldier, these young people who go and do things for us; while at the same time to insist on a discussion that gets beyond sloganeering about Patriotism etc.

    A key question for all readers/participants on this blog:
    Does it make sense for the U.S. to “surge” their troops in the thousands against the Taliban and other “bad guys” without an examination of how pre 1979 and during the Soviet invasion of A/Stan, it was the U.S. that heavily funded/propped up/grew The Taliban in the first place? Why is the role of the U.S. in A/Stan in the 1980s not brought into today’s discussion in new stories?

    For example, i may have this wrong, as I write from memory but wasn’t their a series of fundamentalist “warrior” groups in A/Stan, who in the 1980s benefited from arms and funding from the U.S. similar to the contras in Central America and didn’t these armed fundamentalist groups target educated and “liberal” Afghans with the blessing of the U.S.?

    So we have the disquieting absurdity that US soldiers -a new generation – will now be fighting/hunting down the very groups that possibly their fathers helped to build up?

  7. marakardasnelson permalink*
    July 7, 2009 10:19 pm

    Interesting post, Renee. I actually had dinner the other night with a young U.S. soldier currently training for the Special Forces. He had been based for about a year in Eastern Afghanistan, and had quite a lot to say about the U.S./Canadian presence there, and why it was, in his views, necessary for these forces to stay. I’ll be writing about this soon, and would love to hear your reflections about what he has to say.

  8. derrick permalink
    July 6, 2009 11:55 pm

    This week in the news, the week that Robert McNamara dies, the President of the US is opposing an apparently-rightwing military-backed coup in Central America and is calling for a democratically elected head of state to be returned to power, although there is no necessary indication that said head of state is de facto amenable to American interests in the region.

    I guess I am interested in this as a rephrasing of the Monroe Doctrine – 20 yrs ago, Obama would have authorised that coup. Yet we are still nation building in Afghanistan, and Obama was elected on a relatively ‘anti-war’ tide – he certainly took strength through the primaries for his early opposition to invading Iraq – while still calling for a re-investiture of troops in Afghanistan. Our two ruling parties have managed to place exactly one notable policy beyond the day-to-day thrust of pre-election posturing: our non-Arctic foreign policy.

    But I will say this – between last year’s federal election and our recent provincial election, maybe the most frequently raised point of disagreement with NDP policy was our opposition to Canada’s “mission” in Afghanistan. Our base still sees the ‘Kingdom of God on Earth’ but now without borders. This is again what Robert Kaplan talks about but at home, not overseas – there is not even much of a fight; we attach our own idealism to Canada’s adventures, a happy country of liberal internationalists before even examining the question at hand.

    Canada has so successfully cultivated a reputation as international do-gooders that we give humanitarian cover to other nations. In Sudan, in the late 1990s, when we continued to allow Talisman Energy to invest in the Darfur region despite all evidence that our money was fueling genocide, other countries followed – if Canada’s in there, it can’t be all that bad, eh? Pierre Pettigrew was our Minister of International Trade, Jean Chretien was our Prime Minister.

    There is a section in Underworld where DeLillo does a Lenny Bruce skit, mocking the names of JFK’s foreign affairs team: Dean Rusk, Roswell Gilpatrick, Adlai Stevenson, McGeorge Bundy. It is probably for better than for worse that this class is dying out – the non-partisan (as I recall, McNamara was a Republican serving under Democrats) white male cultured foreign policy brains. But they are as tied up as anything in the whole muck of the postwar thing. (e.g.”How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission” which is why i knew his name before, say, Nixon or LBJ.) And then, at the end, the only holdover Obama kept from Bush’s cabinet was his Secretary of Defense.

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