Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Truth Hurts, Get a Helmet

Blunt? Perhaps. But also "true".

If one were to take statements issued by Iranian state radio as the holy gospel, a person would be pretty convinced that the Iranian people were deeply offended by the comments of Columbia University president Lee Bollinger, who yesterday told Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in no uncertain terms, what he thinks of him.

While the "petty" and "cruel" remarks have seemingly found the most traction in the media, Bollinger's attack was fierce, and pulled no punches.

"Over the past two weeks, your government has released Haleh Esfandi ari and Parnaz Azima and just two days ago, Kian Tajbakhsh, a graduate of Columbia," Bollinger noted. "Tajbakhsh remains in Tehran under house arrest, and he still does not know whether he will be charged with a crime or allowed to leave the country."

"The arrest and imprisonment of these Iranian-Americans for no good reason is not only unjustified, it runs completely counter to the very values that allow you to even appear on this campus," he added.

"But at least they are alive," Bollinger conceded. "According to Amnesty International, 210 people have been executed in Iran so far this year, 21 of them on the morning of Sept 5 alone."

"This annual total includes at least two children - further proof, as Human Rights Watch puts it, that Iran leads the world in executing minors."

"There is more," Bollinger continued. "Iran hanged up to 30 people this past July and August during a suppression of efforts to establish a more democratic society. These executions and others have coincided with a wider crackdown on student activists and academics accused of trying to foment a so-called 'soft revolution.'"

"Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator," Bollinger asserted.

"Why have women, members of the Baha'i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?" he asked. "Why are you so afraid of Iranian citizens expressing their opinions for change?"

Bollinger after went after Ahmadinejad for his denial of the Holocaust. "In a December 2005 state TV broadcast, you described the Holocaust as 'a fabricated legend,'" Bollinger noted. "One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers."

"For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda."

"When you come to a place like this it makes you simply ridiculous," insisted Bollinger. "You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated. The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history."

"Frankly, and in all candour, Mr President, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions," Bollinger said, "but your avoiding them will itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterises so much of what you say and do."

"I feel all the weight of the modern civilised world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for," Bollinger concluded. "I only wish I could do better."

Iran's state radio station had its own response for Bollinger. "The surprising point of the last night meeting is the behavior of the university president," the station reported. It described Bollinger's comments as "full of insult, which was mostly Zionists' propaganda against Iran."

Seven chancellors of Iranian universities also responded to Bollinger.

"Your insult, in a scholarly atmosphere, to the president of a country with a population of 72 million and a recorded history of 7,000 years of civilization and culture is deeply shameful," the chancellors collectively insisted. "Your comments, filled with hate and disgust, may well have been influenced by extreme pressure from the media, but it is regrettable that media policy-makers can determine the stance a university president adopts in his speech."

For his part, Ahmadinejad (as Bollinger predicted) had no answers to this confrontation.

"I think the text read by the dear gentleman here, more than addressing me, was an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here, present here. In a university environment we must allow people to speak their mind, to allow everyone to talk so that the truth is eventually revealed by all," Ahmadinejad replied.

"In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country," he claimed. "We don't have that like in your country. ... In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have this."

In regards to the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad had some rather predictable responses. "Why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price for an event they had nothing to do with?" he asked. "My question was simple: There are researchers who want to approach the topic from a different perspective. Why are they put into prison? Right now, there are a number of European academics who have been sent to prison because they attempted to write about the Holocaust or research it from a different perspective, questioning certain aspects of it. My question is: Why isn't it open to all forms of research?"

One has to question Ahmadinejad's definition of an academic environment. In an academic environment (as one finds at a university), one is not expected to disregard the truth in order to allow a polite reception for anyone, even if they are an invited guest.

The very purpose of these insitutions is to disseminate information. Lee Bollinger did a masterful job of this by not only providing people with important information about the activities of Iran's oppressive regime, but by doing so in Ahmadinejad's presence he effectively did so to Ahmadinejad's face, in the public eye. Ahmadinejad's inability to effectively refute or deny the accusations against his state becomes in effect a masterfully-extracted mea culpa wherein Ahmadinejad practically admitted his state's guilt in these affairs by failing to deny them.

Ahmadinejad was also provided with something he otherwise would not have had: an opportunity to defend himself. He effectively declined, at least on the basis of the grievances raised.

Ahmadinejad (and, conveniently, Iranian state radio, its state FARS news network, and the aforementioned university chancellors) have instead chosen the response most offered by those who know they've been defeated.

They changed the subject, responding not with facts or even denials, but instead with a myriad of questions regarding media pressure, Israel, and Iraq. Some of them may be fair enough questions in their own regard, but they don't serve to explain away the many offences of Ahmadinejad's regime in Tehran.

Unsurprisingly, a statement of solidarity has been released by another authoritarian leader who cannot explain away his transgressions. "I congratulate him, in the name of the Venezuelan people, before a new aggression of the US empire," said Venezualan president Hugo Chavez.

Bollinger should accept the invitations of these individuals to meet them in an open debate, although one simply must expect that an Iranian university simply will not be a conducive site for a discussion of the Iranian regime and its various human rights abuses.

If these seven university chancellors want to confront Lee Bollinger (hopefully, along with a team of similarly informed academics), they should be more than prepared to do so at a site on neutral territory.

And the end of the day, however, the most important thing is this: if the Iranian regime is truly so offended by Bollinger's remarks (all of which happen to share the virtue of being true), they know what they need to do -- change their practices.

If they aren't willing to do so, then one hopes that there are plenty more inviduals like Lee Bollinger who are prepared to hold Iran accountable for its misdeeds. No one should feel obligated to help them hide from the truth.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Canada Must Carefully Examine its Moral Obligations in Afghansitan

We have a moral duty to ourselves, as well

As is perhaps inevitable with any kind of war, the language of morality crept into the Afghanistan mission once again recently, as numerous Canadian envoys have described a potential Canadian withdrawal from Afghanistan as a moral failure.

"If we were to withdraw tomorrow, our allies would feel betrayed," says Michel de Salaberry, Canada's current civilian coordinator in Khandahar. "We've said we'd stay until 2009. Morally, we have to live up to that pledge."

Chris Alexander, former Canadian ambassador to the UN, and current deputy ambassador, agrees. “To refuse fighting the Taliban would mean we are refusing and rejecting our responsibilities, our institutions, ourselves. It would be a worldwide failure and a failure of our souls," he says.

These men are precisely right. Canada does have both a moral and a diplomatic obligation to our allies to remain in Afghanistan. But there's more to be considered.

It’s very important that we not get so wrapped up in our moral obligations to others that we as Canadians forget the moral obligations that we hold to ourselves, and to our own troops.

We as Canadians have a moral obligation to our troops and to our country to ensure that the mission is on the right track. Right now the war in Afghanistan is at a pivotal point at which we can reevaluate the mission, and make sure that we aren’t falling into a number of pitfalls there.

First off, we need to ensure that we’ve conceptualized the mission properly. If we really are trying to foster the development of a sovereign state (let alone a democracy), we need to admit that we have very little direct say in how that state will develop. Transplanting western democratic institutions, policies and philosophies into Afghanistan represents an absolute recipe for failure.

We need to realize that imperialism and communism have both, in turn, failed to tame Afghanistan. Post-modern colonialism is practically guaranteed to meet the same fate.

We have a responsibility to our troops to not over-burden them in Afghanistan, as recent comments by Michael Scheuer contend. We also have a moral obligation to equip them properly, with the best equipment available. We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to bring them home safely.

We must also remember that, as we expend resources and risk Canadian lives in Afghanistan, that Afghanistan, and its government, must also accept that it has a moral responsibility to us -- to build its state (although we must accept that it will build under its own terms) and to work toward finding ways around the divisive tribalism that has rendered it no much a failed state as one that has never actually existed in any practical sense.

Afghans have a responsibility to build a military capable of defending itself against the Taliban insurgency.

We must also remember that, as surely as we have moral responsibilities to our allies, that they also have a moral responsibility to us. Not only do our NATO allies have the responsibility to ensure they provide enough troops to replace Canadians after what now appears to be an inevitable 2009 withdrawal from Khandahar, but they also have a moral responsibility to render more help now.

"We understand the caveats, we understand the constitutional limitations, we understand the political volatility, but NATO cannot fail. This is a no-fail mission," Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay recently announced.

He's right about that.

The war in Afghanistan is a mission that we cannot afford to lapse into failure. Failing to meet our obligations to Afghans, our allies and ourselves will only guarantee that failure, as assuredly as failure on behalf of our allies or Afghans to meet their oblications (to us, their allies and themselves).

"The key word here is long term. The commitment of the international community, NATO amongst it, for the long term is absolutely vital for the Afghanistan's future," Alexander reminds us. "It is not something that can be sorted out in a few months or even a few years."

Our obligations in Afghanistan are important because they are long term obligations. In this sense, we are in a much more convenient position than Afghans themselves -- their obligations are permanent, the ultimate long term.

To lapse in our long term obligations because of short term pain would be the ultimate moral failing. While we as a nation should be very careful about the pitfalls that unvaryingly accompany applying the language of moral capital to warfare, we must also recognize that this is one of those times when it is utterly appropriate.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mulroney Right About Pierre Trudeau

Dion reacts to uncomfortable facts about Trudeau

If anything has become a trend in Canadian politics recently, perhaps it’s Stephane Dion’s great love of criticizing anyone and anything Tory.

In this case, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who has apparently made some unwelcome comments about Pierre Trudeau.

“This is a man who questioned the Allies, and when the Jews were being sacrificed, and when the great extermination program was on, he was marching around Outremont on the other side of the issue,” Mulroney said in a recent interview.

Mulroney also suggested that Trudeau, his practical predecessor as Prime Minister (John Turner may have held the position, but was never elected to it), was morally unfit to govern because he withheld his anti-Semitism from his Jewish constituents.

"I'm sure many people will say because he wants to sell his book, ensuring that people will read a lot of cheap shots about a lot of people, in his one thousand, one hundred pages. Many people will say that, but I'm not here to comment about the book or the motives of Mr. Mulroney. I'm just here to say that Mr. Trudeau has been, indeed, an exceptional individual," Stephan Dion said.

Surely, many people will predictably rally behind Dion and the myth of Pierre Trudeau, but neither that fact, nor Dion’s comments, change the fact that was Mulroney has said is true.

Anyone who has so much as read the surprising Young Trudeau: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada by Max and Monique Nemni (surprising in that it examines Trudeau’s youthful flirtations with fascism despite slavishly trying to dismiss them), knows that the things Mulroney has alluded to are all true.

Trudeau strongly believed in many things that contradict the modern political mythology surrounding the man. He was a separatist. He was anti-Semitic. He sympathized with fascists, and imagined Quebec as something of a fascist French-Canadian sovereign state. He even had a bizarre blueprint for decentralized corporatism (two concepts that are as preclusive of one another as anything).

The book even alludes to an essay, written by Trudeau while still in school, in which he suggests that he would “return to Montreal sometime around the year 1976: the time is ripe to declare Quebec's independence.”

In all fairness, any similarities between the plot Trudeau hatched as a schoolboy and the 1970 October Crisis that he faced as Prime Minister should probably be considered merely ironic.

Apparently, Dion, like the Nemnis, believes that we should disregard these, and many other facts about Trudeau, and instead say only good things about him.

"I am not hear to argue about what happened in the '40s. It's not a good context, considering what Mr. Mulroney is trying to do," Dion said. "When Mr. Trudeau passed away, Mr. Mulroney said that Mr. Trudeau was an exceptional individual who served his country effectively and well. Mr. Mulroney should reconcile his views with what he said at that time."

Yet Dion may want to reconsider whether or not Mulroney’s comments, then as now, require any reconciliation with one another. The fact of the matter is that Trudeau was an exceptional individual. Trudeau did a passable job of governing Canada (although his narcissistic insistence that the constitution had to be patriated, even without Quebec’s support, has opened a constitutional jar of worms that may never be successfully closed), including successfully dealing with the FLQ uprising of 1970 (even if he did step on a few toes in order to do it).

Perhaps it’s Dion, like the Nemnis, who need to reconcile Trudeau’s youthful beliefs with their comical image of Trudeau as “the father of Canada”.

The fact is that the mythical Pierre Trudeau and the historical Pierre Trudeau are two very different individuals. When stripped away of all the rhetoric and partisan imaginings, Trudeau simply becomes yet another politician who, acting largely out of self-interest and civic disinterest, made empty promises that he never intended to keep – as an example, Trudeau meant his grand promises of “participatory democracy” as a promise to make access to information regarding the activities of Canada’s government more accessible – so long as one was a Liberal party member.

What Dion will simply have to accept is that the legacy of Pierre Trudeau is one that is currently in a state of flux. It’s being reevaluated by a considerable number of people, and the Liberals aren’t guaranteed to like what is left over once this process is complete.

It may be discomforting to Liberals to watch the myth of Pierre Trudeau transform before their very eyes, as it has been doing more and more since his death. But it’s a reality the Liberals will have to learn to live with.

Dion would be wiser to convince his party to stop living in the past, as it (and perhaps the country) has been, than to try and keep such myths alive by castigating Brian Mulroney.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ann Lord Affair Reeks of Political Interference

NDP needs to prove lack of political interference in fraud case

Apparently, Saskatchewan NDP justice minister Frank Quennell believes in a funny definition of “political interference”.

Saskatchewan party Justice critic Don Morgan has called for prosecutors from outside of Saskatchewan to examine the case of Ann Lord, who, as the NDP caucus’ director of administration. In 1992, Lord submitted a letter to caucus chair Glenn Hagel and chief of staff Jim Fodey admitting she had inflated cheques payable to her to the tune of $6,000.

She promptly left the province, and, despite claims by the Saskatchewan NDP to the contrary, the case was never pursued any further. The Saskatchewan NDP claims they immediately turned the letter over to the Regina Police Department. Regina police chief Cal Johnston, however, has revealed that Regina’s finest didn’t actually receive the letter until 1994.

Whatever happened in the interceding 13 years remains a mystery.

The coming days, however, may bring some insight. A report on an RCMP review of the case is due within the next few days. However, that report will apparently be directed toward the Saskatchewan Justice Department for review before anything is done, spawning requests from the Saskatchewan party that prosecutors from outside Saskatchewan review the report and make recommendations.

"I've got enormous faith in our Crown prosecutors," Morgan says. "I think [this] just puts them into an incredibly difficult position. But more importantly, it's the appearance of justice being done and that we look like we've been absolutely arms-length and absolutely impeccable with the scrutiny. I wouldn't want the accusation to be made that either it was biased one way or the other.”

Frank Quennell, for his part, has a different view of the Saskatchewan party’s take on the issue.

"Mr. Morgan and (Saskatchewan Party Leader) Brad Wall are trying to politicize a criminal prosecution. They try to do this every time there's something in the media, they play politics with decisions of independent prosecutors and I'm not going to play along with them," he insisted.

At first glimpse, it seems fair enough. Yet, when one considers that this case has been ongoing for 15 years, 13 of which it had been brought to the attention of law enforcement officials, it becomes immediately apparent that this case has never crossed an independent prosecutor’s desk. It seems that no effort has been made to pursue Ann Lord, or recover the money she has admitted to stealing from the public purse.

Yet Quennell seems to believe this is a case that should be reserved for the Saskatchewan Justice department that has at best bungled and at worst covered up this case of fraud for 15 years.

The fact that 15 years has passed with no significant action appearing to have taken place is reason enough to suspect political interference – real, actual political interference (the kind that prevents the NDP from accounting for an embarrassing, if relatively minor, scandal), not the fictional political interference that Quennell is alleging.

The people of Saskatchewan deserve some answers regarding the Ann Lord affair. Frank Quennell should consider himself duty-bound to provide those answers in the most assured way possible – in the form of an out-of-province review.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quebec at the Crossroads (?)

Conservative, NDP victories prove have intriguing implications

Liberals and their supporters all over the country must have felt a twinge of agony yesterday, as they were swept in three Quebec by-elections.

In Roberval-Lac St Jean (formerly a Bloc Quebecois stronghold) Conservative candidate Denis Lebel picked up a shiny, new seat for his party. In Outrement, NDP star candidate Thomas Mulcair won only the second seat the New Democrats have ever held in that province. In the third and final contest, the Bloc Quebecois held on to the riding of St Hyacinthe-Bagot, electing Eve-Mary Thai Thi Lac.

Clearly, the NDP’s victory in Outrement is a key one. Aside from winning its second-ever Quebec seat with Mulcair, a popular former provincial Liberal minster of the environment, the NDP may well be able to translate this victory into real inroads into a province that, as surely as it has often stood between the Conservative party and government, has also stood between the NDP and official opposition status.

Equally profound is the victory of Denis Lebel in a riding that was formerly a BQ stronghold. The Conservative victory in Roberval-Lac St Jean comes at a time when the ridings provincial equivalents (the provincial ridings of Roberval and Lac St Jean) are both held by the Parti Quebecois (held by Denis Trottier and Alexander Cloutier, respectively).

When framed against the recent Quebec provincial election, wherein Mario Dumont’s Action Democratique du Quebec (the closest thing to a Conservative party equivalent in Quebec) supplanted the PQ as the provinces official opposition, it appears that the voting coalition that has supported the Parti Quebecois is splintering.

When one remembers that the Parti Quebecois has traditionally found its support among hard-line separatists, and soft Quebecois nationalists of both conservative and social democratic political bents, it becomes unsurprising that parties like the ADQ, Conservatives and NDP are finding room to gain ground in Quebec.

In the long run, however, any objective attempt at such an analysis has to admit that the Liberals will find similar growth room under such conditions. Just because they didn’t find that room yesterday doesn’t mean they won’t do so in an upcoming election. It’s almost inevitable.

It shouldn’t be assumed that the increasing difficulties of the Parti Quebecois mean separatism is dead in Quebec. That was the mistake that Pierre Trudeau made after the 1980 referendum when Trudeau declared separatism to be dead.

He was wrong. It came back to haunt both Canada and the Liberals, and if we assume separatism has been defeated now, it is guaranteed to do so again.

On that note, these by-elections have also found Stephan Dion in the interesting position of apparently trying too hard to be a leader.“It's my responsibility to win the byelection,” Dion announced in the aftermath. “I take the responsibility for what happened and the responsibility to be sure that next time we'll be stronger.”

While a good many Liberals must be relieved to see Stephane Dion finally accepting responsibility for something (a shame he can’t do so, it should be a little less comforting that he has it, well... wrong.

It wasn’t Stephane Dion’s responsibility to win these by-elections for his party – it was the responsibility of his candidates.

Dion’s insistence that he must be responsible for ensuring the victory of his candidates only underscores the very trait that makes him unpalatable to so many Quebeckers – his great love of centralization, both within the country, and within his party. He could arguably considered unique among Liberal party leaders in that he seems to favour the centralization of responsibility as well as merely power, but that is a point for another time and place.

At the end of the day, the most interesting implication these by-elections will have will be on Quebec’s historical tendency to show a united front in federal elections. Currently, the Bloc Quebecois hold the bulk of Quebec’s parliamentary seats with 50 (as of yesterday the Liberals hold 12, the Conservatives 11, and the NDP hold a single seat, along with one indepenent MP).

If the splintering of the separatist vote continues, it’s apparent that a new party will stand as heir to the distinction of being Quebec’s primary representatives in the House of Commons. It would be foolhardy to count the Liberals out, but with so many Quebeckers having such visceral reactions to Dion, it will be all the more interesting to see where these voters splinter off to. In the wake of the ADQ’s provincial triumph and yesterday’s victory, the Conservatives shouldn’t be ruled entirely out, either. At the same time, the NDP will have a unique resonance with Quebec’s many social democrats.

Canadians may well be witnessing another historical turning point in Quebec. Only time (and further elections) will tell.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Scheuer's Analysis Useful in Continuing Definition of Afghanistan Mission

Canada needs to adjust its goals in Afghanistan

Hindsight is always 20/20.

It’s in this sense that the sharp vision of Michael Scheuer, the author of In Our Enemies’ Eyes should be very much appreciated, even if his observations have come four years too late to make the important difference.

According to Sheuer, Canada and NATO have devoted too few forces to the war in Afghanistan, underequipped them, and given them too many tasks to accomplish.

"They (the soldiers) have to keep Karzai's government in power, they have to defeat the Taliban insurgency, they have to reconstruct the economy, they're supposed to build a democracy, they're assigned to eradicate the heroin industry, and in their spare time they can go after bin Laden,” Scheuer notes.

It’s fair comment.

Sheuer has a very strong point when he refers to what he describes as the lack of focus in the Afghanistan mission (though it may better be described as “overburdening”).

What eventually occurs is a further complication of the Afghanistan mission. Even if the Canadian public could be coaxed into a greater level of support for the mission, we as Canadians still need to continue to define what the mission in Afghanistan is going to be. In that sense, we need to address what our responsibilities in Afghanistan are, what our needs are, and what we are capable of accomplishing.

Expecting Canadian troops on the ground in Afghanistan to democratize that state we must reject as a goal of the mission. Only twice in all of human history has democracy effectively been imposed upon countries with no democratic tradition – in post-WWII Germany and Japan. As Benjamin Barber notes, the defining factor in the success of imposing Democracy on these two states had more to do with the exhaustion of having just exited a 50-year era of imperial warfare, coupled with the reality of possibly having to face it with no support from allies, and sharing only tense international relations with other countries.

Afghanistan does not share this in common with Germany and Japan. First off, the majority of Afghanistan’s struggles have always dealt with some form of internal dischord, be it struggling against unwelcome occupiers such as Britain or the Soviet Union (as opposed to the current state of affairs where non-Pashtun Afghans support the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan), or civil struggles between Afghanistan’s Pashtun majority and its assorted minorities.

While Germany and Japan’s defeats were the defeat of while-defined countries at the hands of equally well-defined opponents, many Afghans cannot even agree on how to define their country in the first place. (This is one of the reasons why a naturally-occurring partition of Afghanistan along tribal lines may be inevitable).

One cannot impose democracy on a state that cannot define itself. Furthermore, as Barber would remind us, we cannot expect to impose on Afghanistan democratic institutions that have taken centuries in the rest of the world to develop it. It shouldn’t be considered Canada’s responsibility to build a functioning Afghan democracy, and we certainly can’t do that at the barrel of a gun.

What can be done at the barrel of a gun is provide Afghans an opportunity to either embrace democracy or reject it, by their own accord, rather than by the decree of an Islamic theocracy. Our troops should not be in Afghanistan to build a democracy, but rather to afford Afghans the opportunity to build their own.

Likewise, rebuilding the Afghan economy is not the responsibility of Canadian troops. That, also, should be considered the responsibility of Afghans themselves. Just as Barber would remind us that we can’t impose democracy by force, William Easterly would remind us that we cannot impose the free market on Afghanistan. The market institutions (banks, courts, etc) that organize our economy have, like our democratic institutions, taken centuries to develop. We cannot transplant those institutions into Afghanistan by force, but we can use force to afford them the opportunity to develop such institutions on their own.

Both of these tasks requires fighting the Taliban, and preventing them from imposing their theocratic rule over those Afghans who do not want it. (Although we may eventually have to accept the establishment of a theocracy over those Afghans who prefer it.)

There is no question that Canada is using force in Afghanistan. What we need to define is how and why we are using that force, and even while “aggression” remains an ill-defined explanation for that use of force, the belief that we will transform Afghanistan into the spitting image of a western democracy is not only out of touch with the on-the-ground realities in Afghanistan, but is the height of hubris: a form of postmodern imperialism.

It has long become an accepted fact among observers of the Afghanistan conflict that NATO has not placed enough troops on the ground to stabilize Afghanistan. Although we typically win when engaging the Taliban, there are not sufficient NATO troops on the ground to secure what has been won. The return of the Taliban to the previously-cleared Panjwar district is evidence enough of this.

More troops are needed on the ground in Afghanistan. Unfortuantely, the ill-advised and unnecessary war in Iraq (which has also served to poison the public opinion environment against Afghanistan) has severely stretched the military resources of the two premier countries wherein the political will to commit to the War on Terror exists. This being the United States and Britain.

This has become something of a catch .22 for supporters of the war in Afghanistan. Even if one rejects the war in Iraq (and there is much cause to do so), one must recognize that the danger argued to be present in Iraq before the 2003 invasion certainly exists there now.

Even though Iraq’s relationship to Al Qaida and other terrorist groups prior to the American invasion was close to non-existent (most Islamic terrorists despised Saddam Hussein as a socialist, and hated his brutal treatment of Shi’ite clergy), Iraq certainly is a breeding ground for terrorists now.

While it may be tempting to see an immediate American withdrawal from Iraq as a boon for the war in Afghanistan (making more forces available to fight the Taliban), one must remember that, unfortunately, an American defeat in Iraq would be as disastrous for the War on Terror as defeat in Afghanistan.

While the United States has certainly managed to turn Iraq into a threat vis a vis terrorism, this doesn’t undermine the fact that this threat exists nonetheless.

Perhaps the greatest failure of the Afgnaistan mission is the failure to properly equip our troops. Consider the case of the late delivery of anti-IED (improvised explosive device) multivehicle systems designed to locate and disarm roadside bombs. While IEDs have been killing Canadian troops at an unacceptable rate for more than a year, these systems will not be delivered to Canadian forces until later this year.

To point partisan fingers over this failure – as some are prone to do – would be improper: even though the Liberals sent Canadian troops into Khandahar without this equipment, the Conservatives certainly haven’t moved fast enough to get it into the field. No matter how many failures can be attributed to either of the parties that have contributed to Canada’s role in Afghanistan, there are failures that can be attributed to their opponents that are just as bad, or even worse.

Eliminating Afghanistan’s opium industry, while appearing to be a common-sense solution to a Afghan problem with street-level Canadian implications, would actually be a mistake. If anything, Afghanistan’s opium industry actually presents an opportunity in terms of manufacturing pharmaceutical drugs – particularly painkillers. While the transition between street narcotics and pharmaceutical drugs presents an excellent solution to this problem, we must remember that it remains the responsibility of the Afghan people themselves to make that transition. We can certainly provide help to this end, and encourage them to make this change, but the transition itself must be made by Afghans.

The definition of missions such as the war in Afghanistan rarely remain static. They change because the natural state of war is unpredictable, and requires such changes. As the scope of the Afghanistan mission changes, so much the Canadian approach.

Michael Scheuer’s recent comments should not discourage Canadians from staying the course in Afghanistan. They should, however, encourage us to accept this critical juncture in the war to adjust our approach in Afghanistan, address the problems as they appear, reassess our responsibilities in the matter, and approach them accordingly.

Scheuer's analysis would have been useful if rendered much sooner. Hindsight, however, is always 20/20. With a little foresight, we need not find ourselves in a position where we’re using that 20/20 vision in regret.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Conservatism is Not Alberta's Culture

Candidate’s intemperate remarks are cause for concern

A storm’s a brewin’ in Alberta. A fire storm.

With many Albertans looking toward the next provincial election (still presumably at least a couple of years away) with conversely optimism (for supporters of the provinces seemingly-resurgent opposition parties) or worry (for supporters of the incumbent Progressive Conservative government), it doesn’t take much of a comment to provoke a mini-controversy.

This has seemingly become the case with Craig Chandler, a nominee for the Progressive Conservative candidacy in Calgary-Edgmont.

In a recent op/ed piece, Graham Thomson seemingly provoked the ire of Chandler, when he quoted from an op/ed article that Chandler submitted for publishing.

“To those of you who have come to our great land from out of province, you need to remember that you came here to our home and we vote conservative,” Chandler, in the article, insisted. “You came here to enjoy our economy, our natural beauty and more. This is our home, and if you wish to live here, you must adapt to our rules and our voting patterns, or leave. Conservatism is our culture.”

"Do not destroy what we have created,” he concludes.

Considering the success that the Albertan Progressive Conservative party has enjoyed in recent decades, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that his comments bear a striking resemblance to the kind of arrogance displayed by Liberals and their supporters when they insist that they are Canada’s natural governing party, and have some sort of monopoly on “Canadian values”.

Not only should Chandler’s comments be considered an indiscretion (toput it mildly), they should be considered altogether unwelcome.

It is true that Alberta has traditionally voted in favour of conservative movements, whether it was the Reform party, the Progressive Conservative Party, the Progressives, or the Social Credit (although, when one considers the sheer amount of government intervention necessary to implement a proper Social Credit program, one wonders whether or not it can legitimately be considered “conservative”). But this hardly means that the Progressive Conservative party is guaranteed to win the next election, nor are they entitled to.

Thomson is entirely right when he writes about “prairie fire storms” continually wiping out complacent governments in Alberta, when (usually new) parties wrestle the throne of long-term one-party rulership away from the incumbent. This isn’t even exclusively a risk borne by provincial governments – the same happened to the federal Progressive Conservative party in 1993, when the Reform party decimated the PCs Albertan holdings.

Many observers feel that a new prairie fire storm is approaching, ready to immolate the increasingly complacent Alberta PCs. Whomever will inherit Alberta’s government when the Tories are reduced to ash has yet to be determined.

Simply put, whomever wins the Tory nomination for Calgary-Edgmont is not guaranteed to be the next MLA for that riding. The recent Liberal victory in Calgary-Elbow is enough to remind Albertan Conservatives that they do, indeed, need to work in order to win the next election, and there’s no time like the present to start.

Simply put, no one in Alberta is obligated to vote for the Tories, no matter how long they have lived in Alberta, or how recently they’ve moved here. Conservatism is not our culture – it’s merely the political expression of our interests, but those interests can – and inevitably will – change.

Chandler will unfortunately have to take his lumps on this particular issue.

If he doesn’t learn from them, then he’ll be better off not joining the Ed "Stalemate" Stelmach election campaign in self-immolation.

Correction - The previously-mentioned Liberal by-election victory was indeed in Calgary-Elbow. My thanks go out to all of you who brought this error to my attention.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stephen Harper is Right, or, Senate Reform or Bust

If the Senate can’t be democratized, then it does have to go

Apparently, Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t have to do or say much in order to provoke a controversy these days.

Lately, it’s taken no more than a single line of a single speech.

While addressing the Australian parliament on Tuesday, Harper discussed the success of Senate reform in Australia, and addressed Canada’s case of “Senate envy”.

“I can’t help but notice, however, that you have done a much better job than us with at least one of our Westminster institutions, the Upper House,” Harper announced. “As one Canadian political scientist I know likes to say, when we look at Australia, we suffer from ‘Senate envy.’”

“In Canada, Senators remain appointed, not elected,” Harper explained. “They don’t have to retire until age 75, and may warm their seats for as long as 45 years. By the nature of the system, they’re not accountable to voters. So it’s a rare pleasure for me to be among Senators who are actually elected by the people they represent.”

“The mandate to govern,” he concluded, “when it is given to you directly by the people, is a great honour and a great responsibility. It’s the very essence of responsible government, and it is the minimum condition of 21st century democracy. Australia’s Senate shows how a reformed Upper House can function in our parliamentary system and Canadians understand that our Senate, as it stands today, must either change or, like the old Upper Houses of our provinces, vanish.”

And while some individuals are falling all over themselves to denounce Harper for musing about abolishing the Senate – and let’s keep in mind that one well-qualified line of one speech certainly doesn’t comprise a commitment to Senate abolition in any way, shape or form – what they really want is to draw attention away from the fact that Harper and the Conservative party are absolutely, 100% right about Senate reform.

That is, that if the Senate cannot be reformed, it must be abolished.

There are even those who, predictably, want to portray this particular line as threatening – as a sign of autocratic tendencies.

Unsurprisingly, these people have resorted to their typical needle-in-haystack searches, resorting to their time-honoured tactic of focusing on minutiae in order to invent a fictional set of Conservative party policies that never existed.

Yet many of them have been conveniently silent about the NDP’s opposition to any form of Senate reform – they favour outright abolition as their option of first choice. And while that certainly says something about the nature of the NDP (perhaps they’re the ones who really have a hidden agenda), it says even more about those who are currently trying to raise a stink regarding Stephen Harper flirting with abolition as an option of last resort.

Apparently, abolishing the Senate is a perfectly palatable idea so long as it’s “Jack Layton and the NDP” who are proposing it, but becomes immediately intolerable the instant that Stephen Harper utters a single word about it.

This isn’t to say that abolishing the Senate is a good idea. But the valuable role that the Senate can fill in Canadian society (and arguably hasn’t throughout at least the past 30 years) only underscores the need for real Senate reform.

This shouldn’t be confused with Louis St. Laurent’s idea of Senate reform, which was to replace retiring Conservative senators exclusively with “good Liberals”. But it’s in consideration of historical stances like Laurent’s that one begins to wonder why it is that the very concept of Senate reform seems so threatening to Liberals.

Then again, as the predominant hegemonic party of modern Canadian political history, the Liberal party has certainly found itself a fun toy in the Canadian Senate, and they certainly don’t seem prepared to give it up. Even when they pay lip service to the idea of Senate reform (as does Stephane Dion), one also has to remember that they oppose any form of Senate reform that would upset the not-so-delicate balance of Liberal hegemony over the upper house.

Abolition is the only tenable alternative to permanent Liberal hegemony over Canadian politics via the Senate. The sheer effort exerted by the Liberals in holding the government hostage in recent months only underscores this.

It’s for this reason alone that Stephane Dion needs to stop simply saying he’s in favour of senate reform – he needs to back up his words, and get behind it. Even if he doesn’t want to support the current proposals on the table – although they’re perfectly reasonable, and will take the Senate light-years toward becoming an actual democratic body – then perhaps he should act like a leader of the Opposition, and formulate his own set of proposals (the goal of the opposition, of course, being to present itself as a viable alternative government).

Yet Stephane Dion and his supporters seem all to consent to live in glass houses and throw stones. When Harper suggests that the Senate should be abolished if it can’t be reformed, they insist it’s because he’s despotic and abhors any kind of opposition, if not an outright sense that they are entitled to permanently govern, even while in opposition.

Whereas the Liberal insistence that the Liberal-dominated Senate is just fine the way it is (quelle suprise!) seems actually despotic, and borne of a sense of contempt regarding the opposition.

This, when one considers that a recent poll has revealled that 79% of polled Canadians were in favour of electing senators, seems all the more out of pace with Canada’s current political realities.

One also has to keep in mind that 12 citizen’s forums held across Canada has noted that Canadians are not in form of senate abolition. In fact, many citizens participating in the forums remarked on the value of the Senate as “checks and balances” on the power of parliament.

Yet in recent years, the Senate has not acted as a check or a balance on parliament when it mattered (as with the implementation of the National Energy Program, or the establishment of arbitrary moritariums on tainted blood claims), and has only tried to be so when it didn’t matter (as with the recent federal budget).

The case is clear: the Senate has not acted as it should, and not only is a reformed Senate necessary, but the Canadian people support it.

If the Liberal party won’t recognize the political will of the Canadian people, perhaps it’s time to take their toy away from them for good.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dion Needs New Take on Federalism

Federalism is not a wedge issue, it’s the foundation of our country

According to John Ivison, Liberal leader Stephane Dion may be looking to the concept of federalism in his continual search for wedge issues to divide Canadians.

This is, quite simply, bad news for Canada.

According to Ivison, the issue is coming down to a conflict between two visions of federalism: Paul Martin’s vision of assymetrical federalism, under which Quebec would be afforded powers and privileges not afforded to Canada’s other provinces, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vision of open federalism, under which the jurisdictions of the federal and provincial governments are defined and defended.

The disagreement is fairly simple: Stephen Harper believes the spending and legislating powers of the federal government should be both limited and enshrined, while Stephan Dion believes they should be limitless.

Each side actually has a case. Harper’s belief in defending provincial powers from federal encroachments actually has historical foundations, dating back to the establishment of the country, and the conflict between John A MacDonald and various provincial premiers (spearheaded by Ontario) over various points of conflict.

Yet Stephane Dion has a fair case as well. There always remains the possibility that the federal government may need to step in and establish necessary programs in provinces that are unwilling to establish them on their own, or act in order to prevent the citizens of some provinces from being unduly disadvantaged.

Enshrined federal spending powers laced with contingency clauses seems like a reasonable compromise between the two views.

But this has little to do with symmetrical or assymetrical federalism.

The fact is that federalism cannot be assymetrical and also be just. Not only would assymetrical federalism entrench inequality (and, thus, injustice) in the short term, but it would commit us to that inequality and injustice in the long term. Worse yet, it would establish it as a foundation upon which the country is established.

Assymetrical federalism represents the same threat to Canadian unity as any coercive policy of official bilingualism ever could. Just as many French Canadian scholars were noted to remark with glee (perhaps naively) how official bilingualism could have been used to transform Canada as whole into a French state (at least as acknowledged by Peter Brimelow), assymetrical federalism represents a tool by which extreme Quebecois nationalists could mould Quebec into an increasingly exclusive enclave, while possessing a disproportionate amount of influence over the rest of the country. Assymetrical federalism may not necessarily transform Quebec into a sovereign state nearly by default, but it will certainly do the next best thing.

The granting of such powers to Quebec would only be tenable under circumstances in which those powers are also extended to the other provinces. Then again, that isn’t assymetrical federalism. That would be symmetrical.

Yet the granting of additional powers to, for example, western provinces has rarely been considered seriously because those in power have rarely considered western separatism to be as threatening as Quebec separatism. On the same not, those men have disproportionately tended to be French-Canadian. One may make of that what they will.

If Stephane Dion is truly prepared to depart from his party’s flirtations with assymetrical federalism, as Ivison has suggested, this is a good thing. But turning to the very foundations of Canada as a wedge issue is not.

It shouldn’t be suggested that Dion should consider federalism topica non grata, but rather that he should engage that topic in a responsible, collaborative manner, not a divisive one.

Any discussion of federalism should seek to unite Canadians, not divide them. There are simply some ways in which a country cannot be divided and still remain whole. This is one of them.

The fact is that no politician can reasonably expect to politicize the very concept on which the country was established without risking the break-up of the country. It is in this sense that Dion’s reliance on divisive issues may finally bear fruit, but it will be very bitter fruit, indeed.

The nature of Stephane Dion's take on federalism is bad news for Canada.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11: A Reflection on Past and Present

9/11 anniversary underscores importance of Afghanistan mission

Yesterday, foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay met with Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad.

The topic of their conversation was probably unsurprising: 9/11, and it’s continuing implications for the war in Afghanistan.

"Let's not forget that on 9/11, terrorism came to our shores on this continent," MacKay announced. "We have to be vigilant and very responsible in continuing to play a role [in Afghanistan]."

MacKay is absolutely correct to speak about responsibility in regards to Canada’s contributions to Afghanistan.

In 2005, Canada was joined by other nations in agreeing international organizations shared a collective duty to oppressed and endangered peoples – a Responsibility to Protect.

Chief among the creators of this doctrine is former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy. Although Axworthy’s support for the Afghanistan mission has always been luke warm at best (he supports the rebuilding of Afghanistan, but opposes fighting the Taliban), Axworthy has recognized that Afghanistan stands, along with Rwanda, East Timor, Darfur and countless other examples, as a historical failure of the international community to intervene in situations that demand intervention.

While it is clearly too late to prevent tragedies in Rwanda and East Timor, it isn’t too late to stem the tide of oppression in Afghanistan. Naturally, however, this is merely a foreign affairs bonus. The war in Afghanistan today remains what it always has been – an effort to stem the threat posed by terrorism.

"[Afghanistan] fell into the hands of international terrorists, drug dealers, warlords and al-Qaida," says Samad. "Do we want Afghanistan to revert and once again become a failed state and become a threat not only to its own people, but to the region and to the world at large?"

Certainly not. This 9/11 anniversary should serve as an opportunity to remember that 9/11 could have been prevented if we had moved on our responsibility to protect – to protect Afghans, protect our allies and protect ourselves – before it was too late.

Most important is this: if the leaders of the western world, including Canada, had sooner recognized the threat posed not only by terrorists (it’s only fair to keep in mind that the hunt for Osama Bin Laden began under Bill Clinton, no matter how many dishonest Republicans insist otherwise), but also by the countries that harbour them, 9/11 likely never would have happened.

Although it is also only fair to admit that the overall effect on history likely never would have changed. NATO would still be in Afghanistan in order to prevent terrorist plots from originating in that country (although a key component of the pretext for war in Iraq would have been absent).

Occasionally having to fight in our defence is the price we pay for enjoying the safety and privilege that our society affords us. Giving other societies (like Afghanistan) the opportunity to embrace them (or, admittedly, choose not to) is a responsibility we owe to the rest of the world.

As Canadians continue to debate the divisive Afghanistan question, and continue to define the Afghanistan mission, this is something that must not be forgotten.

Ineffective Old Arguments Rise from the Grave, I Play Undead Hunter

My. How original of you.

If anyone has ever doubted the tendency of some of the most intractable ideologues to condone behaviour in their cohorts that they would otherwise condemn in others, one needs only refer to some recent ravings at Benediction Blogs On.

In short, Benedict basically drags up the old argument posed by Red Tory, when he argued that Canadian Cynic shouldn't have to accept responsibility for his grossly atrocious Wanda Watkins comments (shorter version: "fuck off, Wanda Watkins, I don't care about your dead son because agree with your politics") because numerous other people have written under pseudonyms.

In the end, his attempts to try to compare Red Tory to people who wrote such literary classics as 1984 and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer really only make him come across as disingenuous.

I mean, say what you like about me and my blog, but at least I don't defend people who tell the mothers of grieving soldiers to fuck off for purely political reasons. And I certainly wouldn't do that for purely political reasons.

Stop me if you've heard this before.

In the end, Benedict takes the amusing route of trying to claim that Red Tory isn't a bully. Yet, someone may want to check in with Joanne and Joanne's Journey, or any of the writers at Canadian Blue Lemons to see if they agree, or perhaps if they feel a little bit bullied.

He also overlooks certain established facts: I've never given a damn about Red Tory's identity. He once freely offered to reveal it to me, but I turned him down in the process of telling him to take a hike. People who castigate me, kiss my ass, then return to castigating me (against their previous word) over essentially nothing (one remember's RT's long and tiresome attempts to try and find something objectionable in my writings, although he never could quite enunciate what that was supposed to be) can generally go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut, in my book.

Red Tory (allegedly Martin Rayner, but he's been too dishonest in the past to ever believe him now) is free to his precious (and ironic, if not outright facetious) pen name, as is Benedict. I have little interest in their identities.

There are some others who need to be outed so their vicious attacks on anyone and everyone who provokes their ill-defined ire can stop. They will be outed. One in particular will be outed at a time of my choosing.

Then there's the "how we know you are who you say you are?" angle. Well, if my Facebook account doesn't convince you, then the citation of my published work (with a publication that doesn't publish under pseudonyms) should.

Then again, at the end of the day, it really matters little: I am who I say I am. The people who know me know I am who I say I am.

Those people who are so cynical and ideologically-blindfolded so as to want to dispute that (for purely political reasons), there really is very little to say about.

Monday, September 10, 2007

September 2007 Book Club Selection: Weapons and Hope, Freeman Dyson

Dyson reflects upon pacifism and its limitations

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Scarcely 20 years ago, the dominant security concern in the entire world was nuclear weapons. Today, it's terrorism.

Yet, despite this drastic shift in the focus of the national security policies of most western countries, many things have remained the same. Weapons and Hope, a book about nuclear weapons proliferation and international stability and security, reveals this simple reality.

Dyson tackles many different topics in his book. Among them are the differences between "warriors" and "victims". Dyson classifies "warriors" as inherently conservative, and were prone to resort to weapons proliferation (be it offensive or defensive, nuclear or non-nuclear) as a formula for international stability. "Victims" Dyson classifies as inherently liberal, and more preoccupied with the threat posed by these weapons and the instability they arguably wrought.

Dyson notes, however, that an ideological boundary divided (and continues to divide) "warriors" and "victims", preventing each from understanding the important concerns of the other. Simply put, neither in "warriors" nor "victims" does Dyson argue that a monopoly on wisdom exists, but rather that engagement between the two are necessary to reach an understanding that can effect a reasonable solution to international conflict.

Dyson, a pacifist, also writes about pacifism, and notes the failings of rigid pacifism in the face of the threat posed by Hitler. Dyson's ability to transform his pacifism into a more pragmatic form of the concept eventually allowed him to join the ranks of Britain's #6 Bomber Command, about which he writes about the book's other major topic.

That is, the tendency of weapons proliferation (and their inevitable use) as a form of resolving international conflict: it continually leads into folly. If the current Iraq war isn't a good example of such folly, then the failure to develop the Identify Friend/Foe systems necessary to make the use of the automated defense gunnery systems developed for use in bombers tenable certainly qualifies. In the end, Dyson notes that the bombing campaign against Germany itself was a historical folly, which likely had little effect on the outcome of the war.

Weapons and Hope remains a very useful book today, in the face of the war on terror. While the war on terror remains a necessary fight against an implacable foe, it has also led to folly, and there remains no guarantee that it will ever give way to a peaceful world order.

Then again, Dyson himself would be the first to remind us that a peaceful world isn't a stable one, and a stable world tends to not be peaceful.

Still Waiting....

Yeah, the RCMP is moving real fast on that "complaint"

Apparently, Canadian Cynic is a little more afraid of having his identity revealed than he would like his readers to believe.

According to a recent posting, Canadian Cynic has allegedly resorted to filing some sort of police report regarding my aforementioned promise to eventually reveal his true identity through this blog.

To date, the number of attempts by the RCMP to contact me regarding Cynic's complaint?


So, one has to wonder about a number of things: did Canadian Cynic really complain to the police, or is he merely lying? My suspicion is, frankly, the latter. If he isn't lying about having filed such a complaint, then he's certainly lying about whatever interest an RCMP officer would feign in the activities of someone who isn't breaking the law.

In the meantime, the hunt for solid evidence of Canadian Cynic's identity, to supplement my mere suspicions, will continue.