Manley Afghanistan Panel: Much Armour No Brains

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Speaking Truth to Power: Too Much Armour Not Enough Brains
by Richard Sharp
Sirs and Madam, I have read that you are unabashedly pro-American, regardless of her folly, and that your mandate has been manipulated by the like-minded Harper government, whose pro-war position is well-known.
Panel president, John Manley 
However, I believe most Canadians prefer to trust that you will have the collective integrity to tell the whole truth about the deeply flawed Canadian military mission in Afghanistan.

America is the greatest military and economic empire the world has ever known, by far, and we are their best friends in many, many ways, but they have seriously lost their way in the world with their wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and “terrorism” generally.
If you report in favour of peace, you can in fact help our friends get back on track. America’s century can still be, but only if it stops its bullying ways.

Canada’s International Standing at Risk
An open letter to the Manley panel on Canada’s war mission in Afghanistan from a concerned citizen.
Dear Mr. Manley and respected panelists:
There is a reason most Canadians want this mission to end, whether immediately or as scheduled in early 2009. There is no vital national interest to protect by waging war in an impoverished nation that did us no harm and has never, ever been successfully “pacified” by invaders. Quite the contrary.

This is about Canada’s place in the world. Are we a nation of peacekeepers or not? Will we support and even fight for the Americans no matter how illegal, genocidal, wasteful and unwinnable the war? Is this goodbye to our international reputation and added value in global diplomacy as an “honest broker?”

History is not kind to those who wage war without just cause and the verdict is already in on the Bush administration. It has committed the worst foreign policy blunders in American history, making the Vietnam War look like a piker. They had the sympathy of the world after 9/11. But they blew it.

Public opinion polls place the United States government at record lows, everywhere, especially in the Muslim world but also in Europe, South America and here at home. President Bush is the most reviled American president of all time by the most (Internet) informed public ever. Political leaders likened to Bush poodles have been falling like flies.

Notwithstanding the fear mongering, cheerleading, self-censorship and other complicities of the mainstream media and other neocon mouthpieces in North America, the secret is out. The emperor has no clothes.

How can Canada possibly benefit by going down with this sinking ship? Better we cut our losses and give the Americans sound and friendly advice that they cut theirs. Because it’s going to get a lot worse and the madness has to stop.

These wars are illegal and unjust…

Those who argue, “Afghanistan is not Iraq” are most mistaken. It is only slightly less in violation of a whole slew of international laws, charters and conventions than the Iraq war. Take your pick: violating the sovereignty of nations and the legal concept of just wars, the use of horrendous weapons of mass destruction, the mistreatment of prisoners, the killing of civilians, the destruction of non-military targets and on and on.

Bush’s unnecessary wars have cost as many as a million lives, overwhelmingly civilian, and many millions more have been maimed for life. Tens of millions have been forced to flee their homes and countries. Those too poor to escape suffer ongoing devastation and extreme hardship. Whenever the wars end, “unexploded ordinance” and radioactive and chemical leftovers will kill and maim tens of thousands more for years to come. Mostly children.

It is unbelievable that the Bush administration’s multi-trillion dollar “war on terror” started in Afghanistan, against possibly a few hundred Islamic fanatics living in caves, with possibly a few million dollars in the bank. The Taliban government was willing to negotiate handing over bin Laden. That the United States refused talks and invaded anyway constituted the highest of all war crimes. That Bush administration browbeating and bribes later achieved a modicum of UN support and NATO authorization will never erase this historical fact.

Both wars and military occupations are of long-suffering Muslim nations, thanks in no small part to a century or more of British, American and Soviet imperialism. Iraq was a true cradle of civilization and, despite a decade of genocidal UN sanctions based on American lies, it was easily the most progressive Muslim nation in terms of women’s rights, universal health care and education, affordable utilities and more. It has been bombed back to the Stone Age (based on more American lies). Oil production facilities and pipelines were protected, of course.

Afghanistan suffered a similar fate, but there was less infrastructure and fewer national treasures to blow up (or allow to be looted).

Afghanistan is also the source of most of the original prisoners kidnapped and then hooded, gagged, solitary confined and otherwise tortured at Guantanamo Bay and in other American gulags. Thousands and thousands have been held for up to six years without due process. Many are being held on the incredible word of secret, bribed informants whose identity and allegations they aren’t allowed to know, let alone fairly contest.

The treatment of “enemy combatants” is a truly sordid mess and a lasting shame on us all. That both the Martin and Harper governments have allowed the Canadian child soldier, Omar Khadr, to be held for over five years is beyond belief. Is everybody who fights back when the Americans invade other countries a terrorist?
An attack on our rights and freedoms…

It appears we’re all potential terrorists now. Our security agencies have played on our false fears (of crime, terrorism, etc.) to grab more money, power and self-serving secrecy. Our hard-won rights and freedoms have taken a major hit. Without the slightest relationship to actual threat, we are getting herded, sniffed and searched at airports and borders. We are the targets of a dizzying array of new, often untried technologies to better identify us as we move about, to intercept our once-private communications and to build secret files on us, involving an unimaginable merger of government files with those of banks, airlines, telecommunications companies and other corporate snitches. Say hello to the global surveillance society.

Fearsome enemies, secret files, fingerprinting, random searches, constant surveillance and demands to show identification used to be the defining characteristics of totalitarian regimes. We might now expect it when we travel or come from certain countries, but also when we attend unthreatened events or buildings. And, increasingly, we have to check our privacy at the door when we go to work (or school), or even stay home and log on to the Internet or use any kind of phone.

History will not be kind to the United States regarding its so-called war on terror. George Bush as global spymaster, chief of police, chief magistrate, prison warden and executioner? Hillary Clinton for that matter? No thanks.

Incredibly wasteful…

We are witness to the biggest, most one-sided orgy of military and “security” spending in history, including the Cold War which (surprise) was also based on a grossly exaggerated (Soviet) threat. The American defence budget has skyrocketed to over half a trillion dollars a year, constituting 50% of global military expenditures (and foreign purchases of American killing machines compounds the remainder). Our $18 billion places us 13th in the world, 6th within NATO and the Harper government’s spending spree on offensive weapons is just getting warmed up. He wants us to “punch above our weight” in the international arena. Emphasis on the punch.

The other brutal distortion in the global economy caused by America’s wars is the price of oil. Imagine if the American-inspired oil embargo against Iraq had been lifted back in the 1990’s, when the (lack of WMD) evidence was in. Not only would it have saved hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, the price of oil might still be under $40 a barrel and the huge transfer of money from all of us to totally undeserving OPEC countries and Big Oil could have been avoided. We in the West can mostly afford higher oil prices but they have devastated poorer nations.

The Americans don’t need our military help. What they want is our cover. Yet, for just a fraction of the money that continues to be wasted on war and transferred to oil profiteers, we could have saved and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of impoverished people in Africa, Asia and here at home, through improved access to water and sanitation, food, shelter, health care, micro credit and so many other caring and peaceful measures. How can we continue to condone this insanity?

And unwinable...

The last place any country wants to be is at war for a losing cause. Yet, there isn’t the slightest chance that the United States and NATO can win in Afghanistan, in five or fifty years, with or without Canada. It has repelled all invaders for centuries.

We are not just fighting the Taliban or Al Qaeda, whomever they are. We are also fighting so-called warlords and drug lords, opium farmers, mercenaries and, most importantly, Afghanis whose only motivation is to fight foreign occupation.

As in Iraq, they are being joined by jihadists and guerrillas from other countries, increasingly drawn to what is quite rightly seen as an American and Western war against Islam and the Arab world. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in this world and their hatred for us is growing. There is an unending supply of fighters willing to give up their lives to attack their occupiers/oppressors, anywhere. They will never go away and even military "experts" are talking in terms of decades.

Isn’t it clear by now that Western wars of occupation don’t work anymore? That there will be increasing human bloodshed until we leave? And that the threat of terrorism at home will increase in tandem, no matter our clumsy attempts to build fortresses around our borders and watch and search everyone?

America’s war on terror has been a colossal, fraudulent failure, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but across the board. Such unnecessary death and destruction. Such a huge loss of human potential and resources. So many unwarranted rollbacks of our rights and freedoms. So many peaceful alternatives.

Attack human suffering, not us.
That’s the most effective way to fight terrorism.

That’s why billions and billions of citizens the world over are so repulsed by the Bush administration. Too much armour. Not enough brains.

We have lost our way on national defence and security...

There is a stark reason the United States and Canada are meeting stiff resistance from other NATO countries concerning their demands for more combat troops. These countries know they cannot kill every rebel or dissident, short of genocide. Many are asking what is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization doing in Afghanistan, anyway? Yes, an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all members but, to repeat, Afghanistan didn’t attack the United States and certainly poses no risk to NATO members.

The vast majority of Canadians support just wars, such as in self-defence, World War II and UN-authorized peacekeeping interventions to prevent genocide. Otherwise, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Who has attacked us lately? Wasn’t 1812 the last time? Who might attack us now? The answer is “Nobody,” and if you asked a London bookmaker of the odds against that, a million to one sounds about right. China or any other country couldn’t wage a conventional war against us. We’re too big, we have guns, it would cost too much and for what? Plus, we’re members of NATO and NORAD, meaning an attack against us is treated as an attack against our allies.

The obvious truth is, Canada really only goes to war in support of our allies. Europe and the United States, in particular, owe us big time. We entered both world wars in defence of freedom years before our American friends.

It’s all over for us in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States or, let’s say it, a nuclear attack by the United States. Our “sovereign space” would be the likely “battleground.” The only other national defence threat of note is a terrorist attack and our offensive military mission in Afghanistan is increasing that threat every day we’re there.

It is one thing to defend our allies when attacked but it is quite another to support their invasion and occupation of defenceless and destitute countries, in violation of just about any international law you want to name. Our Department of Defence needs a new name: Department of Offence.

It is one thing to catch foreign spies and dangerous subversives and quite another to spy on one’s own citizens in ways Orwell or Huxley could not imagine possible. How about Department of Surveillance?

Canada-US relations are important but…

We rightfully claim to be America’s best friends and, until this trumped-up war on terror began, we enjoyed the longest unguarded border in the world. We are best trading partners, on very pro-American terms. They practically own us!

But right now, the United States is a rogue state and this makes for a truly dangerous world. A likely Democratic victory a year from now may not change things much. Jimmy Carter was elected on a strong peace platform and it took all his might to reduce the military budget from $300 billion to $295 billion. The military-security-industrial complex is that powerful.

The best we can do is speak truth to power and try to persuade them to come to their senses about their wars and occupations, arms control, weapons in space and so on. And avoid getting snagged into any more wasteful military and security projects. We don’t need more frightful killing or surveillance technologies where the vendors get the profits and we get the tab.

There is only one rational and humane alternative...

The situation today is clearly many times worse than the Vietnam War. Millions and millions of innocent Iraqis and Afghanis killed, maimed for life and forced to flee. Horrid “living” conditions far worse than before they were attacked and occupied. There is growing worldwide revulsion at the Bush administration and Canada desperately needs to step clear.

Our soldiers are being killed, we are wasting our money and, more importantly, our international reputation. The Taliban government was ruthless, but there were and remain much more genocidal regimes requiring international intervention, notably in Africa. Under the auspices of the United Nations, and in the name of peacekeeping, that’s where we should be.

Canada should therefore confirm that it will meet its NATO commitments but otherwise announce a halt to all offensive activities in Afghanistan, and the complete withdrawal of all offensive fighters and equipment by February, 2009.

Canada should immediately engage its NATO allies to re-examine our timid acquiescence to the American manipulation of our treaty and military mandate.

Canada should work with NATO, Muslim and other nations to present a credible peace plan to the UN, including:
  • the unilateral cessation of all offensive military activity by NATO and American forces
  • a truly UN-authorized peacekeeping force, mainly comprising Arab/Muslim forces, supported by neighbouring nations and with Canadian assistance, if requested
  • a truce, reasonable amnesty, national reconciliation and peace talks among all Afghan parties
  • leading to agreement on human rights, the distribution of spending and truly free elections.

Contrary to the tired mantras of our failed leaders, talking with the enemy is good! Canada used to excel at handling ceasefires, keeping the parties at bay but dialogue going, amnesty issues, exchanges, etc. Because we were trusted.

Canada should agree to pay a fair share of the costs which, in any case, would be a fraction of current military spending. This includes an offer to negotiate reparations to Afghanis who, through no fault of their own, have suffered so much for so long.

Last time I looked, in the case of Canada alone, 90% of spending was going to military operations and only 10% to aid. This ratio will be a useful tool in measuring Canada’s progress towards peace.

Canada should also review a litany of Canadian military arrangements with the Americans that amount to blatant and also secret support of their Iraq war. Iraq didn’t attack us either and we should have no part of it.

In the interests of accountability, our Chief of Defence Staff, General Hillier, must go. He pushed for this war to play with the big boys and, in his own haunting words, to “kill scumbags.” He put our soldiers in harm’s way for nothing. He is not fit to lead.

Finally, we have to take a good hard look at our security agencies and their technology toys used to watch, identify and search us wherever we go and what/whomever we do, say, write, buy, associate with, etc.

I hope you will find this a contribution to your deliberations. Please remember that I represent the great majority of Canadians who believe in just wars, and just wars only, and hold their rights and freedoms dear.

Richard Sharp is a longtime advocate of peace and privacy.

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