Category: Global Issues

Global Issues

on the Making of a Monster

A close friend, Erin Baines, has a truly amazing article in last weekend’s Globe. I have been hearing details of this story for a year or so now, and have been enthralled. You will not hear a better case, or read a better story, that so dramatically displays the challenges, hypocrisies and frustrations of international justice.

Through her work in Northern Uganda, Erin learned that Domic Ongwen, one of five leaders in Joseph Kony’s rebel movement indicted by the ICC for war crimes, had actually been abducted as a child soldier. This means that he is, as Erin and Stephanie Nolan describe, “the first person to be charged with the same war crimes that were committed against him.” Read the whole remarkable piece – if this lead doesn’t grab you, you have no soul:

GULU, Uganda — From the time he was a tiny child, his parents coached him: Use a fake name. Say you are from the west. Lie about your family.

If ever the rebels get you, they told him, make sure they don’t know where your family is – or none of us will ever be safe again.

The rebels did get him, when he was 10 years old. And when they snatched him, walking home from school on a red dirt Ugandan road, green grass high above his head on either side, he did as he had been told: He lied and said his name was Dominic Ongwen.

And so it is by that name that he now stands indicted for seven counts of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The rest is here.

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

Oped in Embassy Magazine

Dave and I have the following piece in this week’s Embassy. It is in part based on research I have done on the US bombing of Cambodia with Ben Kiernan, an overview of which can be read in this Walrus article.

Embassy, May 7th, 2008
Afghanistan Another Iraq? Try Another Cambodia

Of the many complexities to emerge from our mission in Afghanistan, one is particularly troublesome. Almost one-third of the Taliban recently interviewed by a Canadian newspaper claimed that at least one family member had died in aerial bombings in recent years, and many described themselves as fighting to defend Afghan villagers from air strikes by foreign troops.

This should come as no surprise. Last year, the UN reported that over 1,500 civilian were killed in Afghanistan. In the first half 2007, this casualty rate had increased by 50 per cent. The NGO community and NATO remain at odds over who is accountable for a majority of these deaths.

What is indisputable, however, is that air sorties have increased dramatically. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, sorties doubled from 6,495 in 2004 to 12,775 in 2007. More critically, aircraft today are 30 times more likely to drop their payloads than in 2004.

Civilian deaths are a moral tragedy. Equally importantly, however, they represent a critical strategic blunder. It has long been known that civilian casualties benefit insurgencies, who recruit fighters with emotional pleas. While an airstrike in a village may kill a senior Taliban, even a single civilian casualty can turn the community against the coalition for a generation.

This presents military commanders with an immensely challenging dilemma: Accept greater casualties in a media environment where any and all are scrutinized, or use counterproductive tactics that will weaken the enemy in the moment, but strengthen him over the long term.

While the choice is almost impossibly difficult, it is not new. Surprisingly, the case of U.S. air strikes in Cambodia offers a chilling parallel.

Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped over 2.7 million tonnes of munitions on Cambodia, making it potentially the most bombed country in history.

While the scale is shocking, the strategic costs were devastating. Over the course of the bombing period, the Khmer Rouge insurgency grew from an impotent force of 5,000 rural fighters to an army of over 200,000, capable of defeating a U.S.-backed government.

Recent research has shown a direct connection between casualties caused by the bombings and the rise of the insurgency.

Because Lon Nol, Cambodia’s president at the time, supported the U.S. air war, the bombing of Cambodian villages and the significant civilian casualties it caused provided ideal recruitment rhetoric for the insurgent Khmer Rouge.

As civilian casualties grew, the Khmer Rouge shifted their rhetoric from that of a Maoist agrarian revolution to anti-imperialist populism.

This change in strategy achieved stunning results. As one survivor explained:

“Every time after there had been bombing, they would take the people to see the craters…. Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told…. It was because of their dissatisfaction with the bombing that they kept on co-operating with the Khmer Rouge, joining up with the Khmer Rouge, sending their children off to go with them.”

Compare this to what one Taliban fighter explained to a Globe and Mail researcher: “The non-Muslims are unjust and have killed our people and children by bombing them, and that’s why I started jihad against them. They have killed hundreds of our people, and that’s why I want to fight against them.”

The coalition risks repeating the same mistakes, and like the Khmer Rouge 30 years ago, the Taliban are capitalizing on its misguided tactics.

Amazingly, in Cambodia, American administration knew of the strategic costs of the bombing. The CIA’s Directorate of Operations reported during the war that the Khmer Rouge were “using damage caused by B-52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda.” Yet blinded by grandeurs of military might, the sorties continued.

The Khmer Rouge forced the U.S. out of Phnom Penh, took over the country, and the rest is a tragic history.

We know our tactics in Afghanistan have a similar effect. Civilian casualties drive a generation into the hands of an insurgency we are there to oppose.

Initially Canada deployed without Leopard tanks and CF-18s with the goal of prioritizing personal engagement and precision over brute military might. Today, however, our allies’ tactics—and increasingly our own—do not adequately reflect strategic costs incurred by civilian causalities. In addition, Canada has not allied itself with other NATO members—particularly the British—to reign in the coalition’s counterproductive use of aerial bombings.

Cambodia offers a powerful example of aerial warfare run amok. What is Canada doing to ensure we don’t relive the failures of the past?

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

Toronto Star Oped: 2011 is a date, not a goal

Patrick Travers and I have an oped, here, and below, in the Star today on the recent NATO summit in Bucharest.


2011 is a date, not a goal

Reinforcements are welcome but do not address Manley’s sweeping critique
Apr 05, 2008
Patrick Travers
Taylor Owen

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters in Bucharest that the French troop commitment to Afghanistan represents a “significant and historic re-engagement.” The truth is somewhat less dramatic, particularly when measured against the Manley panel’s comprehensive and wide-ranging recommendations.

Certainly, the injection of additional resources is good news. It frees American forces to offer more assistance and provides a badly needed show of unity within NATO. But these relatively minor additional resources must be seen in context.

Although allied support will shore up flagging Canadian capacity, the overall mission remains under-resourced. The contributions pledged in Bucharest do not meet the 10,000 troops demanded by ISAF commander Gen. Daniel McNeill before the summit. Even counting the Afghan National Army, there are still fewer forces available than the minimum levels experts identify as necessary for successful peacebuilding operations.

More importantly, the government’s success in Bucharest was largely due to a careful reframing of the Manley report. While the panel did emphasize the need for additional troops and helicopter support, it also went much further.

The critiques were sweeping: too many civilian casualties, incoherent counter-narcotics policies, widespread corruption in Afghan institutions, insufficient diplomatic effort, failure to communicate the mission to Canadians, poor interdepartmental co-ordination, and a lack of civilian participation and oversight. Our strategy, as well as our capacity, is flawed.

The report emphasized this point explicitly when it identified “harmful shortcomings in the NATO/ISAF counter-insurgency campaign” caused by “inadequate co-ordination between military and civilian programs for security, stabilization, reconstruction and development.” The conclusion that “these and other deficiencies reflect serious failures of strategic direction” could hardly be clearer.

Luckily, the panel provided a blueprint. Its recommendations were rooted in the principles of “3D” or “whole-of-government” peacebuilding. Three successive governments have claimed that they are implementing this new approach to rebuilding failed states, but reality has yet to match the rhetoric. In particular, four challenges still need to be addressed.

First, co-ordinated and comprehensive policy-making demands exceptional clarity. Diplomats, humanitarians and defence experts may view the same issues in strikingly different terms. If we are asking them to work together, as we are, we must provide them with clear goals. For Canada in Afghanistan, this has been lacking from the start and the decision to extend the current mission does little to solve the problem.

Second, much of the Canadian debate about our role in Afghanistan has omitted the international context. We are a modest contributor in a 35-member coalition. Success or failure in Afghanistan depends crucially on the actions of our allies. In this sense, it is hard to see the benefit of an arbitrary extension to 2011. If the international effort to stabilize Afghanistan lasts longer, as it almost certainly will, then we need to be clear about what both Canada and ISAF expects to accomplish in next three years. Our commitment has to be viewed in the context of the larger strategy.

Third, peacebuilding demands balance. According to the Manley panel, “for best effect, all three components of the strategy – military, diplomatic and development – need to reinforce each other.”

Not only has this not happened, but the degree of integration has also been difficult to determine from outside observation. The government has consistently failed to provide the verifiable information, clear benchmarks, and concrete timelines to necessary to judge Canada’s mission accurately.

Fourth, strategy begins in Ottawa. Harper has taken steps to improve co-ordination between the departments contributing to the mission, but old habits remain. The Manley report underscored that new and more creative solutions are needed for this bureaucratic deadlock.

Other countries, such as the U.K., may provide an example. They have explored alternate means of encouraging departments to work together when managing complex peacebuilding missions. This may be a rare instance of bureaucratic turf battles mattering deeply both for Canadians and for the success of the mission.

Neither the political compromise that extended our involvement in Afghanistan nor recent developments in Bucharest address these challenges. If we are to avoid finding ourselves in the same position in 2011, a more comprehensive re-engagement is needed.

The Manley panel should have sparked a full and informed public discussion of these issues. Instead, the opportunity was largely lost in political manoeuvring. It is past time we had that debate. Otherwise, we are condemning Canada’s mission to reliving its past.

Patrick Travers is a doctoral student at the University of Oxford. Taylor Owen is a Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford and an Action Canada Fellow.

Global Issues, US Politics

Samantha Power

I am disappointed that Power has stepped down from the Obama campaign. She was more than a mere Obama policy adviser, she was his liberal internationalist Condi. She is also someone for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect, not to mention a fair dose of envy. It was her early engagement with Obama following his Senate win that first made me think that he might be something different. Her subsequent involvement with the presidential campaign further solidified my support.

I perhaps admire her most for her willingness to jump into the political world from her safe and successful academic career. She clearly did it because she felt passionately for his candidacy, an emotional engagement that is too often lost in the ivory tower. I think it is safe to say that she found this position somewhat awkward. You simply cannot speak in the same way as a partisan that you can as a scholar. It is a different public positionally.

The following interview on BBC’s Hardtalk only confirms this. You can tell that she is uncomfortable in the partisan role, but shows admirably how an academic can engage in politics in a meaningful way. This is precisely the type of political discourse I think we need more of.

It is also no coincidence that she has had a similar career to Michael Ignatieff (someone for whom I also have a great deal of respect), who has likewise attempted to bridge the academic-political divide. It is not a comfortable place to be, but I respect those of all political stripes who try with integrity. I hope her experience does not dissuade others from taking the leap.

Global Issues

On the Timeliness of Timelines

It is often difficult to disentangle the debates on Afghanistan and Iraq.  The two are not the same, as Tony Cordsman demonstrates convincingly in his latest brief.  Part of the problem of course is the rhetoric used for both tends to slip into the same fight against islamo-fascism story.  In this regard, Harper’s shift in language in Canada has been particularly unhelpful in distinguishing the conflict Canadians supported (Afghanistan) from the one they widely did not (Iraq).

One issue that gets improperly conflated between the two is the issue of timelines.  If timelines are good in Iraq, as the Democrats are telling us in the US, then surely they should then be good in Afghanistan as well, as the Liberals in Canada claim?  In fact, I would argue that timelines are good for US engagement in Iraq, and not for NATO engagement in Afghanistan.  Let me explain.

In Iraq, a significant majority of the population (lets say 80%), view Americans as occupiers and actually support attacks against them.  In Afghanistan, on the other hand, a significant majority of the population (some polls say 90%), support NATO presence.  In Iraq, therefore, the timelines would serve to demonstrate to a unsupportive population that the US is not permanently occupying their country. A positive thing, and likely to bring local support to their side.  In Afghanistan, the lack of a timeline would show Afghan’s that the international community is committed to staying long enough to fight off the resurging Taliban, who by all accounts are making progress in the south and convincing local populations that it is better, in the long term, to side with them.  A timeline in Afghanistan would support the rhetoric of the Taliban and likely drive support to them. 

Timelines are good in Iraq because they will serve to convince the unsupportive population that the occupation is not permanent.  Timelines are bad in Afghanistan because they would suggest to a supportive population that it would be in their long term interests to side with the resurging Taliban.

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

Oped in Toronto Star: From Kandahar to Carnegie

David and I have the piece below in this morning’s Toronto Star. It tries to link the supply side of the opium problem (our failing counter narcotics initiatives in Afghanistan), to our failure to address the domestic demand side of the issue. Closing Vancouver’s Insite supervised injection site would be a major step backwards, both in our strategic capability to address the challenges posed by poppy production in Afghanistan, and in our moral responsibility to help our own citizens in need. The opium problem begins at home, and harm reduction is a key component of this fight.

Failed strategy connects Afghan fields, city streets

In the coming months, under the leadership of the former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, U.S. private contractors will likely attempt to fumigate poppies in Afghanistan. Around the same time, the Canadian government will decide whether to shut down the Insite supervised injection site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The two policies are inextricably linked and unambiguously bad.

In April, the United States appointed William Wood, nicknamed “Chemical Bill,” its new ambassador to Afghanistan. In his previous post, Wood championed and oversaw the fumigation of large swaths of the Colombian countryside. The result? For every 67 acres sprayed, only one acre of coca was eradicated. Moreover, production increased by 36 per cent. In addition, the spraying negatively impacted legitimate crops, contaminated water supplies and increased respiratory infections among the exposed populations.

Wood is in Kabul for a single reason – to execute a similar plan in Afghanistan. Poppy production, once held in check by the Taliban government, is exploding – up 60 per cent in 2006. Poppies yield 10 times the value of wheat, so it is unsurprising that about 10 per cent of an otherwise impoverished Afghan population partakes in the illicit poppy harvest. It earns them upwards of $3 billion (U.S.) a year, or roughly 65 per cent of Afghan GDP.

The short-term economic costs and long-term development and health impacts of fumigation will be borne by those whose livelihoods are both directly and indirectly connected to poppy cultivation. Spraying could easily cause public opinion to turn against the Karzai administration and NATO forces, further compromising the mission and increasing the danger to Canadian soldiers.

Given the increased risks this policy poses to both our soldiers and the overall mission, the government’s silence is unconscionable. Others have not been so quiet. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently observed that there is little international support for fumigation. He announced an alternative policy to wean farmers off of opium, one that includes an ambitious plan to top up payments for legal crops, such as wheat.

Such policies, however, are only part of a long-term project. Success will require a holistic view, one that understands the connections between the consumption of illicit drugs in places like Vancouver and their cultivation in Afghanistan. Specifically, this means tackling the demand for opiates. Although 90 per cent of world heroin comes from Afghanistan, the vast majority is consumed in western countries. Blaming Afghan farmers for the problem is as hypocritical as it is ineffective.

Reducing the cultivation of poppies in Afghanistan begins not on the streets of Kandahar, but on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Fortunately, such policies exist. Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site, offers a real first step toward reducing poppy cultivation. This small storefront provides drug users with a sanitary and safe place to inject in the presence of registered nurses. The result: 21 peer-reviewed studies document how Insite diminishes public drug use, reduces the spread of HIV and increases the number of users who enter detox programs.

But Insite does more than get drug use off the street. It is a portal into the health-care system for addicts who are too often shut out. Drug users who visit Insite are an astounding 33 per cent more likely to enlist in a detoxification program. Indeed, Insite has added a second facility, called Onsite, that capitalizes on this success by allowing drug users to immediately access detox and drug treatment services on demand.

Sadly, the Harper government remains ideologically opposed to Insite. It is unclear if the federal government possesses the legal authority to close the site but there is significant concern it will attempt to do so within six months.

The Conservatives should be looking to scale Insite nationally, not contemplating its closing. A national network of injection sites could dramatically reduce heroin use in Canada by channelling more drug users into drug treatment programs. Diminishing the demand for heroin would in turn devalue the poppies from which it is derived. Changing this economic equation is both safer and more effective than fumigation if the goal is shifting Afghan production from poppies to legal crops. Admittedly, Canada’s share of the global consumption of heroin is relatively small, but our success could provide a powerful and effective example to the international community.

To many Canadians, Afghanistan is a world away. But the lives of drug users outside Vancouver’s Carnegie Centre and those of our soldiers in Kandahar are bound together – linked by the international opium trade. What we do in Afghanistan shapes events in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and vice versa. Canada’s soldiers, drug users and ordinary citizens deserve a government that recognizes this reality.

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

Quick thoughts on ‘The Unexpected War’

Janice Stein and Eugene Lang have written a great book on the first 5 years of the Canadian engagement in Afghanistan. I won’t review it in full, but a few of quick points.

First, this is a very effective model for a foreign policy book.  Lang was on the inside, so we are privy to the story as it evolved in Cabinet.  Stein is a great writer, and brings an analytic clarity to the work that complements the policy wonk writing of Lang.  She also has the academic and intellectual credibility that clearly led to impressive access to candid interviews with the real players in this story.

Second, this book both praises and damns Hillier.  The story of how he romanced Graham and Martin is important, and clearly demonstrates his intelligence and revolutionary spirit within the military bureaucracy.  He is the Canadian Rumsfeld.  However, there is little doubt that he oversold the military’s capability to do both Afghanistan and Darfur – a clear precondition for Martin’s support of going to Kandahar.  What’s more, he also was not honest on his intentions to stay longer than a year, advocating for an expanded role before we even deployed.   One is left wondering whether the PMO’s case for Andrew Leslie as CDS instead of Hillier was prescient.

Third, the military hysteria around US relations is a knee jerk reaction that undermines Canadian foreign policy. It has got to change.  Time and time again, Stein and Lang detail the exaggerated warnings by the military of the consequences of not aligning with US policy.  Iraq and BMD were supposedly death nails in US-Canada relations.  Neither proved to be even remotely the case.  There is a reason that the DM positions controlling our military are split.  Civilian military leadership may not be good at procurement, but they do know politics.  Related, this point seems particularly important now that we have a government that is more sympathetic to the types of arguments the military were making regarding streamlining with the US military.

Fourth, the story Stein and Lang tell of the federal bureaucracy, and their clear inability/unwillingness to implement any real form of integration is proof that if we are serious about 3D, or any such integrated peacebuilding model, then a laissez-faire approach is wholly insufficient.  The British model of incentivised funding structures, in their case Conflict Pools, is going to have to be considered much more seriously than it has to date.

Fifth, the military component of our mission is engaging in tactics that Stein and Lang believe fundamentally undermine the mission.  What’s more, the balance between the three D’s of the mission are so disproportionately weighted to the military that the impact and effectiveness other the two are significantly marginalized.  I agree with both points, as Patrick Travers and I argued here. Stein and Lang, however, fail to draw out the consequences of such a critique. What are the implications of this argument?  Seems to me that the logical conclusion to their damning assessment is to either address the unbalance and the tactics that threaten the mission, or get out and stop pretending that we are doing something we are not.

Or, maybe these critiques don’t actually matter. Perhaps integrated peacebuilding is just a rhetorical tool to sell counterinsurgency to a country which wants to peacekeep. In which case, as you were…

Global Issues, US Politics

Four morning U.S. FP questions

1) Should/must Hamas be part of any Mideast peace talks? 2) Should the US keep permanent bases in Iraq, and should US companies get ‘first rights’ to Iraqi oil contracts? 3) Is decreasing violence in Baghdad because a) the surge is kicking ass, b) forced religious segregation/killing is almost complete, c) they just are waiting until the surge is over to start fighting again, or d) all of the above? 4) What does the answer to 3 mean for a continued US presence in Iraq?

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

The review I wish I’d written

The best book reviews are those that avoid the easy shots, the type of superficial critiques that can be made of any book, and go straight for the gut. Such reviews don’t quibble with details, or point out obvious biases, but rather go after the central thesis of the work. They challenge the core principle.

Such a blow is struck in Leslie Campbell’s review of Naomi Klein’s new book, The Shock Doctrine, published in the Literary Review of Canada.

In much the same way Potter and Heath nailed it re. No Logo, Campbell’s review is so powerful because it fundamentally challenges the central tenant of Klein’s new work, that she is providing a progressive alternative to the conservative market forces driving, in her view, global inequality. Moreover, it does so from the heart of the left – The author is linked the to the federal NDP.

Campbell’s core critique is that Klein is not progressive at all, she is actually a conservative. As he puts it:

“A hankering for the old days (in Klein’s case, the era of John Maynard Keynes) and suspicion of change are the hallmarks of true conservatism. Reminiscent of the Canadian Tory wag who once quipped that the Magna Carta was “too much, too soon,” Klein’s admiration of Keynes and the “mixed, regulated economy that created the New Deal” can sound quaint and dated. New Deal economics transformed North America, but positive innovations since then, many based on encouraging entrepreneurial wealth creation and liberalizing trade arrangements, deserve more attention. Also, in critiquing selected international economic transitions—most notably Russia, Poland, South Africa and Iraq—Klein occasionally sounds nostalgic for a past that was, for many people, at least as negative as the present.”

This can of course be said of much of the left writ large, where nostalgia has in many regards replaced progressivism, in any meaningful and historically accurate sense of the term. Certainly in Canada, there can be little doubt that the NDP are the most conservative party in the country (save perhaps the Bloc’s view of Quebecois Nationalism).

Understandably, conservatives are not too pleased with their new bedfellows, but on the central point, Jonathan Kay agrees with Campbell:

Leslie’s got it right: As with many anti-corporate activists, Klein’s vision for the world is essentially old-fashioned and sentimental. She imagines workers organizing into small-scale collectivist cottage shops of the type that globalization and technology rendered obsolete generations ago. The economic model Klein wants for developing nations is essentially the same one our own grandparents eagerly cast aside when modern capitalism made them rich after the Second World War.

Kay goes on to provide some useful clarity on conservatism and capitalism re. the Klein review, but this is somewhat tangential to Campbell’s critique.

I will avoid the temptation to go further, only to say, there is an emerging progressivism that moves beyond the highly conservative restraints of the socialist left. Something these guys are early champions of. As Campbell concludes, it is tired and out of date:

The book winds down with a rather familiar defence of “democratic socialism” (good socialism as practiced by Hugo Chavez) as opposed to “authoritarian Communism” (bad socialism as practiced by Stalin) or social democracy (cheap sell-out of socialism practiced by Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder and their ilk). To those in left-wing circles this is a hoary and tired debate, but Klein resuscitates it as brand new, quoting 1970 memos from Kissinger to Nixon like newfound gems. To have the young and talented Klein, hero to a generation of wired, plugged-in idealists looking for a place in the world, concluding that the political future is “markets existing alongside the nationalization of the banks and mines” is almost as discouraging as having to fight the powerful, unaccountable multinationals she skewered so skillfully in No Logo.

Lest anyone think I, or I think I can safely say Campbell for that matter, are arguing in favor of conservatism. Quite the opposite, as it is the very drift of much of the left that concerns me. More on this later though…

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

A Good and a Bad…

… move by the Harper government. First the good. Along with other Commonwealth members, and in notable contrast to Bush’s recent statements, Canada has led the way on suspending Pakistan from the Commonwealth.

Now the bad. The current government is trying to shut down the supervised injection site in Vancouver. The site has been an unqualified success, and serves as a portal to getting people into the health care system. If anyone thinks these people should just be locked up, watch this short but tragic globe and mail documentary. That’s right, just lockin’em up will do it. Nonsense. This gets directly into a discussion of the seriously flawed irradiation policy that will likely be undertaken this winter in Afghanistan. I’ll have more on this asap, but just to muddy the waters a bit, Canada exports almost as much illegal narcotics as Afghanistan. Perhaps we should start at home, or, shockingly, with the demand side of this problem.

Lest one think these are unrelated, the war in Afghanistan has brought to light wider international issues that directly effect our potential success. Both Pakistan and the opium trade are serious destabilizing forces in Afghanistan. Dealing with both is therefore critical to our continued involvement. As Dave and I argued, here, there are deal breakers in this war. The status quo on both Pakistan and the global opium trade, are unsustainable.