Saturday, October 13, 2007

Of Hawks and Doves

Sticks and stones...

In the battle to depoliticize the war in Afghanistan, one should expect that the newsmedia would serve as something of an intermediary between opposing political camps. Reporters, it's expected, should be able to recognize the grave importance of war and not seek to politicize it. Right?


Perhaps not so much. In a recent CTV article regarding Stephen Harper's new five-person commission regarding the war in Afghanistan, an unidentified copywriter has resorted to calling names.

"Harper picks Liberal hawk to head Afghan panel," the headline reads.

If one subscribes to some of the conventional wisdom regarding defense policy, all too often wrapped up in bird metaphors, this would seem appropriate.

Yet one should be very cognizant of what they mean before they label someone a "hawk".

This particular issue arises out of the tendency of many individuals to label others as either "hawks" or "doves". "Doves" should require little explanation; it envokes an image of an indivudal devoted to pacifist idealism out of what they would describe as a love of hate and abhorrance of violence. "Hawks", on the other hand, are portrayed as bloodthirsty and prone to combativeness.

In short, "doves" are often portrayed as good. "Hawks", we are meant to believe, are bad.

Yet in Fear's Empire, Benjamin Barber interjects a third concept into the bird analogy camp: that of "Owls". To Barber, an "Owl" represents individuals who, while prepared to fight if necessary (an owl is, after all, a bird of prey), are wary of the consequences of battle, and always seek to temper any eagerness for battle with wisdom. They are forward thinking, and wary of both the potential results of using force and its consequences.

One of the individuals Barber explicitly refers to as an "owl", Michael Ignatieff, currently sits as a member of the Liberal party caucus. And while "hawks" and "owls" both seem to be endangered species in the party caucus, Manley ensures that Ignatieff is at least not alone in this regard among Liberal party members.

Often, one of the most valuable tools in terms of classifying an individual are his public comments. Manley has been very vocal regarding Afghanistan, so this shouldn't pose an insurmountable challenge.

When, following 9/11, he was asked about the prospect of casualties in Afghanistan, Manley was entirely unhesitant. "Canada does not have a history as a pacifist or neutralist country," he retorted. "Canada has soldiers who are buried all over Europe because we fought in defence of liberty, and we're not about to back away from a challenge now because we think somebody might get hurt."

While this certainly does seem like brash or macho comments, further exploration of Manley's previously-recorded comments yields some more interesting results.

Once again, Manley's comments in Policy Options magazine were paraded out as proof of "hawk"ishness. Yet, a more complete reading of the essay in question yields some very different results.

In the essay, he writes, "There is progress by some measures, but progress that is threatened by the security situation, by corruption and by the difficulty convincing Afghans that they should trust the determination of their foreign liberators to see their task through to the end."

"The promise of 2002 has thus far largely been unrealized in the establishment of a true system of rule of law and the creation of sustainable Afghan institutions," he continues. "Police lack adequate training and equipment and are frequently corrupt. Detention facilities are disorganized and inadequate. Courts to try those accused of criminal activity are as scarce as are trained judges to preside over them. The poppy trade proliferates. And most important, the attention of Western governments that was so focused at the time of my visit in 2002 and in the period following has been largely dissipated by the folly of Iraq."

"What is unchanged is that security is the major issue, including for NGOs," Manley explains. "While I did not enjoy the protection of a large band of JTF2 (Joint Task Force 2) soldiers on this trip as I had in 2002, Janice and I were made to understand that security was a total preoccupation."

"It did not take long to understand the essential dilemma facing both NGOs and military forces in Afghanistan," he continues. "Without an acceptable level of security, development is very difficult to bring about. However, unless there is some sign of development progressing, the sympathetic support of the Afghan civilian population is difficult to maintain. In addition, NATO operations that have resulted in civilian casualties have seriously eroded support among Afghans who had hoped for more immediate progress on development following the downfall of the Taliban."

"Regrettably," Manley muses, "history teaches Afghans that foreigners don't have much staying power in Afghanistan. So what clear-thinking Afghan will risk being too closely identified with the 'outsiders'? If they leave in due course as the Soviets and the British have done before, then the consequences for those who cooperate with ISAF for with international non-governmental organizations could be severe, to say the least."

Far from meeting the macho, belligerent stereotype of the so-called "hawks", Manley's essay actually considers a wide range of concerns about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan: the kind of consideration truly wise men afford to any truly important issue.

To Barber, one of the most important traits of an "owl" was the use of wisdom to temper their pugnaciousness.

Wise men know never to negotiate with evil, and certainly not with those who harbour evil.

"Civilized societies have learned many times before that there is only one way to deal with evil," Manley announced as Canadian troops arrived in Afghanistan in October 2001. "We cannot reason with it, we cannot negotiate with it and we cannot buy time to find a better solution. The only way to deal with evil is to strike at its root, to destroy it and to move on."

While "hawk" may be a convenient label for a journalist looking to put a political slant on his story, John Manley is simply not an appropriate recipient for that particular label.

In the meantime, Canadians would be better served by a newsmedia that simply reports on the news, instead of stooping to calling names.

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