Saturday, October 31, 2009

Who Tried to Hustle the East?

Afghanistan is much in the news as the day of decision nears. President Obama will decide in the next couple of days whether the US will pursue Gen. McCrystal's 'all-new' strategy of defending the cities of Afghanistan. The decision is ultimately about how many more troops will be required to, hopefully, light the light at the end of the tunnel. Obama has already committed 17 000, which, if they're there yet, haven't shown much progress at all, and the General is calling for up to 80 000 more.

Remember the Taliban forces arrayed against them have been estimated at no more than 7 000 and many of them are classed as the $75 part-timers. So when the close to 70 000 US troops on site are matched with NATO's 30 000 and adding in the again estimated 100 000 'contractees' the Taliban should have given up - even if they don't know figurin'. For it's not just the boots, there is the whole panalopy of modern war from AFV's to artillery, Navy Seals and Special Forces, riverine units and massive air power arrayed, and well-used, against them. And that's not counting the 250 000 in Afghan police and army units who are, apparently, as much use as tits on a bull. Despite the lobsided opposition, the Taliban seem to be waxing when by every standard in God's great scheme, they shouldn't be there at all.

And there's the rub. They weren't there at all after Operation Enduring Freedom chased them into Pakistan. But US mismanagement in the form of some 'payback' for 9/11 by citizen soldiers who had no idea what they were doing, aroused the Afghan populace and 'hey presto' the shootin' war was back, but nothing like the one that SF and a handful of Afghan militias won the first time. This time it wasn't the Taliban government, it was the Afghan people. And so this notion of 'killing the bad guys', with all the mean spiritedness and ignorance that went with it, has made all of Afghanistan, even the Northern War Lords' territory, places where no white man is safe. Kid oneself not, the Americans didn't "ignore Afghanistan to go after Iraq", they actually increased the forces in Afghanistan in an effort to 'wipe 'em out'. No, the US military bungled a really good chance to move forward by insisting on doing what they do best .. shooting.

And now the military are back again, blaming the Taliban for their lack of success. And they're saying that the war will be 'lost' if they don't get more resources. And so what if it is a loss? Well there's NATO to think of. NATO that got us through the dark days of WW2 and the gray days of the Cold War. Now looking like some bloated  Mickey D's addict - NATO, which includes virtually every nation in Europe, has decided its work is no longer the North Atlantic, is job is in central Asia. The white man's burden is now to civilize the Asiatic .... again. And this will be as successful as it always has been.

Americans make the noise that they're 'being really careful' to avoid the mistakes the Russians made, the biggest being 'going it alone'. If memory serves didn't President Bush tell the world that, if the world wouldn't fight terror, America would "go it alone"? And didn't he also mention 'with us or against us' as a choice? But that's horsepellets anyway for, if there is a country that should have been able to subdue the Afghans, it is Russia. Everything, except the 'stingers', were pointing its way and even the Afghan allies it had were willing to fight. But Russian militarists 'goofed' just like their US counterparts are 'goofing' now. The US has a myth about its 'stingers', but those Afghans would have beaten the Russians even if they had been on their own, it just would have taken longer. Just like now - they're fighting, and lousing up NATO and no one is helping them.

Kipling had a point when he wrote:

"It is not wise for the Christian white
To hustle the Asian brown;
For the Christian riles
And the Asian smiles
And weareth the Christian down.

At the end of the fight
Lies a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased;

And the epitaph drear,
A fool lies here,
Who tried to hustle the East."

Speaking of those tombstones white, Canada had two more soldiers killed this week. The Canadian CO, Brigadier Jon Vance had some kind words to say about them. He said of the most recent a young Sapper called Marshall, "He had an incredible sense of humour and a contagious grin that never left his face, even during the most difficult moments. He would embrace any situation and always found and shared that silver lining with his mates."

Considering the soldier had been in Afghanistan for a week, I wonder how the Brigadier could know a sapper that well. It's not like they golfed together. But then the Brigadier paints all his boys as grinning innocents, just over there to 'make a difference'.  I don't know about you, but I think a guy with a gun is inclined to make limited varieties of difference, and most of those negative.

The BG continued, "A stable environment is the best defence against insurgents, because they have no way to counter the positive effects that soldiers like Steven bring to bear. ... [H]is death will also sadden the Afghan community where he worked to bring them a better life."

Well they do have some negative ways to counter all that positivity, and for some reason they're willing to use them on guys who are 'only there to help'. Why? They hate our freedoms? They want to abuse their women and don't like children? They're scumbags? Maybe it's because, as a Southern Rebel in America's Civil War told his northern captor when asked why he was fighting, "It's cuzzen you'all down hyah."

Maybe Sapper Marshall and his mates are dead because they were 'over there' and the Afghans didn't appreciate all the help. I would be surprised if the Afghan community were saddened by his parting, he'd only been there a week - hardly enough time to make any difference to their life - for better or worse. Maybe he's dead because somebody thought it was time, again, to hustle the east.

The US is taking casualties at the rate of 1000 per month in Afghanistan, they're dying in handfuls now instead of ones and twos. And winter's coming on. Traditionally that's a time when the Afghans would hunker down and stop fighting. Last winter, for the first time in recent history, they didn't. It remains to be seen if they will take a break this winter. Afghan winters are nasty and NATO troops are hard pressed to operate in the winter mountains. My bet is that the Taliban will be destabilizing, trying to make sure NATO is off-balance again come spring. That's when Mr. Obama's troop reinforcements, if he chooses to send them, would really go into effect.

I hope he's not of a mind to go hustling too.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Whoo Hoos Still Steering the Ship

When the late President responded to his opposition's calls for a voice in deliberations, he wasn't shy about reminding them who 'won the election'. The new guy must have missed that part. For in addition to having a majority in both houses, and having won that last election, he's bending over backwards to be fair to the opposition. So far backwards, however, that he's allowing the 'loonie toons' and 'patriots' who backed Bushco's new American century to screw him out of what little chance for good the rest of the century holds.

Add to that he has a few 'whackos' on the democratic side to deal with, as well. Like the guy who thought it was a good idea to try selling Chicago at the IOC meeting in Copenhagen last week. Sending Michelle, along with Chicago's mayor was all right, but to try the President in a 10 minute sales pitch to cinch a deal with an organization that doesn't like anybody was not a good idea. Consequently President Obama comes home with a 'black eye' rather than a 'feather in his cap' to those Americans who value eyes and feathers - and there are a lot of them. Ollie North - the hero of Nicaragua- was first off the mark accusing Obama of  'fiddling' after 'Olympic Gold' while Americans died in Afghanistan. Of second guessing 'the commander with a plan-der' to win in the Panshirs. As if any plan for Afghanistan could pay-off as well as Ollie's arming the Contras by supplying Iran's weapons needs. Ollie should know about successful plans.

If there is one thing that there have been lots of coming out of Afghanistan it's 'plans' - to date, all unsuccessful. Correct that, successfully, but not yet victoriously. Correct that, if things don't change it won't be a win. I hope General McChrystal's 'plan' would include a novena or six, for prayer seems to be as good as another division at accomplishing anything positive over there. Just for starters though, Obama should 'do a Georgie' - do a 'name that tune' sort of thing - find a general who could do the plan with less troops - just like the Petraeus 'Surge'. (Who can do that plan with less troops? I'll do that plan with a platoon, sir!' Good. You're promoted!) It should be easy, for it's all just media relations exercise anyway, there aren't that many Taliban in Afghanistan left to kill.

If the war in Afghanistan is being lost, it's being lost. Not because the Taliban are winning, or are any better than before, just that the job being done there is worse. The 'mission' is ill-defined and more scattered than ever, the goals aren't measurable. Ground taken is given up or poorly-controlled and now that's happening all over the country not just in 'injun territory'. Explosives and air-power are still being applied massively - in comparison to Iraq. The civil authorities border on barbaric, and the soldiery - many into a third or fourth rotation are beginning to realize that little is being accomplished for all their hard work and sacrifice. The Afghans don't like them, or want them. The only Afghans really "afraid" of the Taliban are living in Kabul and are looking for a way out when the balloon goes up.

Add to that a stated 'new' tactic of 'saving the people' (hearts and minds anyone?). When added to the common tactic of 'killing the militant' and a general soldiery which can't tell the difference between the two, this new strategy is doomed to failure.

In Canada there is a growing fear that our government is planning to extend the Canadian 'mission' beyond the 2011 cut-off. The Minister of Defense was flying that balloon in the press last week. He should consider that, if America wasn't there, would Canada be supporting the other NATO allies in a war? I'd doubt it. If America withdrew tomorrow, would Canadian troops maintain the noble course they've charted for that 'long run' he was talking about? What do you think?

In the news was the recently completed case of a young soldier who shot his tentmate while playing a game of quick-draw. Aside from the dead soldier's family, everybody else seemed to consider the sentence - dishonorable discharge and 4 years in a military slammer -  a little harsh for some horseplay in a war zone.

The defense, we're finding out, presented evidence that such gunplay wasn't all that uncommon among the troopers. Evidence had been introduced of troopers in training holding pistols to each others' heads for fun. This, as far as I'm concerned, is up there with paying to heal wounded warriors who might have been hurt in similar antics. Or like paying a pension to Clem Matchee for trying to hang himself. It's reminiscent of the hazing and horseplay that caused the Airborne Regiment to be dissolved. Soldiers have a nasty streak of the 'little boy' in them, it's that willingness to take a chance that makes them heroes, or war criminals. Discipline and military law are supposed to minimize this, but what happens when the NCOs and officers are 'Peter Panning' too? You get organized chaos. Like in Somalia, and in Afghanistan.

The groundswell of patriots -"If you're not behind our Forces, you should be in front of them"- dopes who take American jingoism and drape it with maple leaves, like we invented that crap - will be turning apoplectic about this 'treachery'. Forgetting for a minute that their sires and grandsires, mine included, along with thousands of others, spent 5 years stopping Germans and Japanese who had the same bullshit mindset. I don't think one of those real 'vets', in his heyday, would have put up with what passes for patriotism, or even 'democracy', today. Their honour has been suborned by the fascists.

And so the tail continues to wag the dog.

Friday, October 02, 2009

We Stand on Guard for Thee. Not you! Thee!

Short sides 'n back types from down in pistol country must be delighted to know, if they do, that Canada is taking the national security 'skeer' up a couple of notches. What they might not realize is that all the black uniforms, baseball caps and glocks are in reality a fund-raiser for the customs and revenue agency. They may have gleaned that from the new 'smartass' approach to the 'welcome to Canada' spiel once offered by pimply-faced summer students, but now in the arena are a generation of police foundations grads and superannuated cops. Our boys, and girls, on the 45th parallel must be receiving lessons in "I don't give a fuck" from somebody.

I had occasion to visit the land of the free home of the brave etc recently. Driving past US customs - notorious sticklers for having things right - was a breeze compared to the coming home again reception. The US border officer was interested in where we were going and what we'd be doing there. She asked about the standard stuff that we weren't supposed to be bringing into the country and examined our documents. She was pleasant, but serious and wished us a good day when she released us. Would to Gord the Canucks could do that. But then I never got to see the 'inside' of the US operation.

The return trip to the Canadian side started off the same way - with a passport check. Then an innocuous 'where have you been and when did you leave the country'? She wanted to get a look at passenger number three which involved tangling with the child-proof lock that kept a door from opening. Questions followed about what we had been doing, what we had, or didn't have with us and then returned to some math quiz - so how many days have you been gone? A muffed answer got a snotty wisecrack - and a heads down, fill-in-a-form thing. The form led to a vehicle check. Which in turn led to the discovery that we were returning to Canada with slightly over a litre of 'illicit' Crown Royal - 4 for $75 at Canadian duty-free on the way out.

That led to a close encounter with the 'inside operation'. If the outside was annoying, the inside was there to put you in your place. A bank of agents -armed, flak jacketed, black ball-capped serious young guys - lined a counter on one side. All assiduously scanning computer screens. If they weren't playing solitaire they were looking at something far more interesting. At last one of them looked up, but he looked like he was about to pass a massive turd as he took my ticket. "Driver's license" he keyed in some info, waited, keyed in some more. He asked how much liquor I had, and was surprised to hear that the three of us had 5 litres. The gal outside, who'd wanted to see passenger three, only checked two occupants. A 'friendly' agent next to him thought to ask about ages lest one of us didn't count for booze importation. The other agent keyed in some more and told me I owed $74 in duties. I remarked that it was a lot of duty compared to the price of the booze. He told me he'd done me favour because it should have been more. He sent me over to pay the cashier.

The cashier was more personable and I asked her if she would tell me why I owed more in duties for a litre of booze than I would regularly pay with all the duties and taxes imposed in a liquor store. She told me some stuff about taxes on the duties, but I still couldn't understand how the booze had almost doubled in regular price. She was telling me that because I was 'over' the duties were now payable on all the booze. I replied that had I known this, I would have left the bottle at the last rest stop. A civilian employee said something quietly to her and she offered that I could 'abandon' the bottle in lieu of paying the duty. At $74 I thought that a good idea. I was directed, with a printout, back to the agent from which I'd come.

"The agent at the cashier's desk tells me I can abandon that bottle, I think $74 bucks duty is a bit too high."
"Yeah, but you've already paid it." he said.
"No, I haven't." I replied.
"Well where did you get this receipt?", he asked.
"The gal at the cashier's wicket gave it to me, to give to you." This last induced another bimmie face.
"You're going to abandon the liquor?"
"Yep! Can I go get it?"

When I returned, I thought the agent really had needed a dump for he was nowhere to be seen. The others either didn't know where he'd gone, or didn't think I needed to know where he'd gone. So I stood in front of his empty station holding a bottle of CR and looking more stupid than usual. Eventually he returned a supervisor in tow. Like 'unringing' a supermarket sale, he had to 'unring' the duty impost. It was then that he discovered the duty was really only $21. I asked him if there was any other information I could provide that might him lower the duty even more.

I paid the $21 and kept my hooch.

On the way out I passed a body-builder in Tshirt and jeans with a gold badge on his belt and a pistol under his arm. A sheaf of paper in hand. Parked beside our car was an unremarkable white van with 'Government of the USA' stencilled unobtrusively on the door. A larger version of the first guy was lowering a set of steps at the rear door of the van. Then he took a look around Canada while he waited.
We didn't wait to see who their passenger was to be, my buddies wanted to leave before a wisecrack about booze and national security got us arrested.

$75 bucks, $21 bucks - 10 cars at a time raking in $2,000-$3,000 an hour in duties and imposts. With the odd chance of finding a load of dope or catching a sneaky 'enterer'. Or maybe even having somebody drop an imported pistol on the ground. Jobs the border service has always done but with less service now and and a lot more negativity.

Somehow I don't think that a pick-up truck full of patriots from down south would get the same attention, unless they were of a coloured persuasion. I'd love to see what they'd do to their head honcho 'BIG Jim' VanLoan - an Estonian refugee with a Dutch name who looks like an Indian. But they'd probably recognize an asshole as 'one of their own'. I think they've all been transferred from EI - cutbacks in that ministry to fill a burgeoning 'war on terror' - and everybody else.