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Canada out of Afghanistan

This has nothing to do with peacekeeping.

Murray Dobbin 19 May

Murray Dobbin is an author, commentator and journalist. He is the author of five books and is a former columnist with Financial Post and Winnipeg Free Press. He is a board member of Canadians for Tax Fairness and on the advisory council of the Rideau Institute. He lives in Powell River, BC.

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Harper's war.

Brian Mulroney was fond of saying "Give me twenty years and you won't recognize this country." But he was a piker compared to Stephen Harper who is changing the ethics and political culture of this country faster than Mulroney ever dreamed.

The most obvious case in point is the vote on May 17 that extended Canada's participation in the occupation of Afghanistan until the spring of 2009. The next step in this appalling transformation of Canada into a lap dog of US imperialism will not be far behind. We will agree to NATO's "request" that we take over command of the whole sordid enterprise. It is almost certain to come out at some point that Mr. Harper pushed NATO to make the request.

None of this, of course, should come as any surprise from a man who is infatuated with everything American and contemptuous of his own country and what it has stood for, for decades. Harper has always detested Canada's peacekeeping role, schooled as he was by the Yankee lovers at the Calgary School of political science and its intellectual guru, Tom Flanagan.

How could this happen in a country that is deeply suspicious of American military adventures and committed to the principles of multilateralism?

Harper's no Reagan

A good deal of the answer lies in the decay and political corruption of the so-called "natural governing party," the Liberals. The danger Canada faces at the hands of Stephen Harper is not dissimilar to that experienced by the US, despite the enormous differences in political culture. I am reminded here of Ronald Reagan and one of the reasons he was so popular. Most people forget -- if they ever knew -- that in polling on actual issues, a majority of Americans disagreed with almost everything Reagan did.

So why was he so popular? Because people looked at Reagan, then looked at the Democrats, and concluded one simple thing: Reagan, at least, was a man who believed in what he was doing. Voters were so tired of the opportunism and lack of political principle on the part of the Democrats that they supported a president simply on the basis that at least he believed in something.

The danger in Canada is that many have come to the same conclusion about the Liberals. They have always been a party of opportunists, with an uncanny instinct for where the middle is. Under Paul Martin they were truly a party without principle, vision or ethical core. People remember.

But Stephen Harper is no Ronald Reagan. He is mean, condescending and viscerally arrogant, and his nature will ultimately betray him. Until it does, however, he can do enormous damage. In a parliament with a separatist party, the Liberals trying to divine what the opportunistic thing to do is on any given issue, and the NDP sticking to its bizarre line that Canadians want it to "make parliament work," Harper has been given lots of room to maneuver.

While the vote to extend the occupation is history, its consequences are not irreversible and that is just what Canadians committed to peace and the international rule of law should be working towards. Canadians are divided on this issue in part because they rightly care about the fate of soldiers' lives, but also because the facts are elusive and the peace movement is weak. Yet the facts are overwhelmingly on the side of Canadian values and against the Afghanistan adventure. Just as the debate in the Commons began, the Polaris Institute revealed just how much this commitment has distorted Canada's role in the world. The decision to support the US in Afghanistan (which the Liberals admit was done to appease the US over our decision to stay out of Iraq) has already cost $4.1 billion since Sept. 11, 2001.

What happened to peacekeeping?

Afghan and related operations account for 68 percent of the $6 billion spent on international missions during that time frame. Equally disturbing: according to Polaris, during that same period Canada devoted a mere $214 million, about three percent of international mission spending, on United Nations missions. Our "peacekeeping" is a joke: We now have just 59 military personnel devoted to UN missions. Canada, which virtually invented peacekeeping, once ranked among the top 10 contributors to UN missions in terms of military personnel. We are now 50th.

Equally important, however, is the actual nature of this farcical "humanitarian" effort. So few investigative journalists know the facts or will tell them, it is not surprising people are bamboozled by the warmongers. But one who does have the jam to tell the story is columnist Eric Margolis. He is worth quoting:

"Afghanistan's complexity and lethal tribal politics have been marketed to the public by government and media as a selfless crusade to defeat the `terrorist' Taliban, implant democracy, and liberate Afghan women. Afghanistan is part of the `world-wide struggle against terrorism,' we are told.

"None of this is true. In 1989, at the end of the Soviet occupation, Afghanistan fell into anarchy and civil war. An epidemic of banditry and rape ensued. A village prayer leader, Mullah Omar, who lost an eye in the anti-Soviet jihad, armed a group of `talibs' (religious students), and set about defending women from rape. Aided by Pakistan, Taliban stopped the epidemic of rape and drug dealing that had engulfed Afghanistan, and imposed order based on harsh tribal and Sharia religious law."

The Taliban stopped the production of opium and heroin -- except in the area controlled by the Northern Alliance: the thugs, drug pushers and rapists who are now Canada's "allies." The Taliban were hardly humanitarian and imposed an extremely harsh Sharia regime on the country. But with them gone, the epidemic of rape has returned and our "allies" are responsible for 80 to 90 percent of the world's heroin.

Wrong from the start

It is important also to revisit the original relationship between the US and the Taliban and the US invasion. The US poured millions into Taliban coffers until, says Margolis, about four months before 9/11. It was only cut off when the regime refused to sign a contract with US oil giant Unocal to build a pipeline south from the Caspian Basin to Pakistan. It is also surely relevant that the Taliban knew nothing of the plan to attack the US. (The plot was hatched in Germany.) Much was made of the fact that the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US. But Bin Laden was a national hero wounded six times in the anti-Soviet struggle -- which the US financed. When the Taliban offered to turn him over to an international tribunal upon seeing evidence of his guilt in 9/11, the US refused. And then invaded. This was by any international legal standard a totally illegal war, which could only have been justified if Afghanistan threatened the US. It is also an illegal occupation.

This is the "mission" that Stephen Harper, Yankee sycophant and budding warmonger, has "extended." The mission is not intended to ever end because its purpose was and is to ensure the US permanent access to Mideast oil and Afghani land for pipelines. But end it will -- just as every other colonial occupation of Afghanistan has ended -- when the occupiers tire of bleeding. Too bad dozens of Canadian soldiers, who should be peacemakers, will have to die to teach us an old lesson.

Murray Dobbin writes his State of the Nation column twice monthly for The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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