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Eric Margolis: Manley report on Canada’s role in Afghanistan justifies failing mission

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ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: As the war in Afghanistan continues, an independent panel report on Canada’s future role in Afghanistan was released today. The key recommendations include a stronger diplomatic position regarding Afghanistan, continuing responsibility for security in Kandahar beyond 2009, with increasing emphasis on training the Afghan national security forces, a thousand additional NATO or allied soldiers, and increased commitment by the Canadian government to bilateral project assistance. If Canada does not receive additional equipment or help from its NATO allies and the Canadian government, the recommendation is for Canadian forces to be withdrawn. To further analyze the situation, we go to the Real News Analyst, Eric Margolis.

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: So, Eric, the Canadian Independent Panel on the Future of Canada’s Role in Afghanistan reported, after three months of arduous work, and interviewing many people, and visiting Afghanistan, they seem to have said, “We’re going to keep doing exactly what we’re doing.”

ERIC MARGOLIS, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: This report, it struck me as having been written before the whole Manley commission, it was already decided, and they wasted a lot of taxpayers’ money flying around and meeting to produce just what the government wanted them to say. And that is a validation of current government policy in Afghanistan. The Conservatives–Mr. Harper has hung his political hat on this little war, as has President Bush. And he desperately needs somebody not only to validate it, but also to open an exit door for him in case Canada wants to skedaddle out. And the obliging Mr. Manley did both.

JAY: I’m going to play a clip for you. Here’s what Mr. Manley said in the press conference about what they make of the current situation in Afghanistan, what he calls the tough facts.


JOHN MANLEY: We have tried, perhaps to some people’s discomfort, to be brutally frank in the assessment that we have included in our report. We don’t believe that Canadians need sugarcoating on what’s going on, and that’s why we have said the security situation in Kandahar seems to be deteriorating, not improving. This is tough. If it’s tough, that’s not a reason not to be there. But we think Canadians are quite prepared to undertake things that are tough, things that are difficult, things that are dangerous, but we’ve got to give them the facts.


Eric, this tough fact which seems to be a revelation to the panel is something anyone that’s observed the situation in Afghanistan has known for quite some time, that the situation’s getting worse. Here’s what The Washington Post said: [text on screen] “The Bush administration’s decision to dispatch an additional 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan raises the question of whether NATO’s participation in the war has been a failure.” “Mr. Gates and other Pentagon officials seem to have concluded that the three NATO countries that have been willing to operate in the South, Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands, have been relatively ineffective.” “ The Pentagon believes they are too averse to casualties, too reluctant to patrol, and too dependent on artillery and air strikes”; and that “British troops [are criticized] for failing to retain control over areas taken from the Taliban and for advancing a ‘colonial’ strategy of backing local militias rather than working with the national Afghan army.” (Washington Post, January 17, 2008.) The strategy seems to be “There is a military solution, and it’s up to us to do it.” What do you make of that, and what do you make of the Manley report in that context?

MARGOLIS: The addition of a few thousand more US marines, and even the retention of Canadian troops, or adding a couple of more thousand NATO troops is not going to make a difference in this war. One has to look at the facts and say that if 160,000 very brutal Red Army troops backed by a “Afghan national communist army” of about another 200,000 could not suppress the Pashtun tribes, it’s unlikely that a NATO force of only 50,000 with a few mercenaries thrown in is going to be able to do so. If the Taliban today had shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons such as the US gave to the Mujahideen, the continued US-western-Canadian role in Afghanistan would become untenable, because the only way western forces can operate there is through massive applications of air power and bombing, and this is due to their small numbers. But nevertheless the western forces are not numerous enough, nor well led enough, to be able to impose a military solution that would lead to the desired political solution, which remains completely elusive.

JAY: Is there really a military solution in Afghanistan?

MARGOLIS: No, there isn’t. The West is not going to win this war. In fact, when I was in India in the spring, I was advised at the very highest level that the prime minister’s office in India had concluded after a lot of study that the western powers, NATO, would be defeated in Afghanistan and would eventually pull out. Pakistanis share a similar view. There is no military victory in a guerrilla war like this. And the only solution is to bring the Pashtun tribes of southern Afghanistan and Taliban and its allies into the political process. Right now they have been largely excluded. The government, the US-imposed government is made up of Tajik and Uzbeks, ethnic minorities, and it’s up to its turbans in drug dealing, controlling 90 percent of the world’s heroin trade. This is an unacceptable situation. It can’t continue. And until there’s political inclusion in Afghanistan, there will be no peace or stability. [inaudible] deals with ugly regimes around the world. I can assure you that places like Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan are certainly uglier regimes even than Taliban in many ways, yet we’re perfectly happy to deal with them. The point is that we have painted ourselves into this corner. We’ve got to get out of it. Ottawa’s done the same thing too, and it needs to broaden its horizons.

JAY: Given the phobia of looking weak in the United States, one does not expect any of these presidential candidates to be able to even discuss the possibility of a negotiation with the Taliban, particularly Mullah Omar. So what we’re likely to see is in fact some kind of buildup, some kind of a continued surge strategy in Afghanistan.

MARGOLIS: Yes, definitely, particularly as the US gets nowhere in Iraq. Even though the government has convinced Americans that things are going swimmingly in Iraq, they’re not. There will be a tendency to go to and fight in Afghanistan, certainly some pressure from the military. But you’re right. Any calls for negotiations will be met with a barrage of calls saying, “You’re being soft on Muslims, you’re being soft on Islamic terrorism,” which is the modern equivalent of being soft on the Commies from the 1950s and ’60s. And it’s just not possible in an election year, certainly not possible for Barack Obama. For him it would be the kiss of death.

JAY: Is it a possibility that a McCain could do such a thing?

MARGOLIS: More possible than an Obama. But Senator McCain, who I respect a lot, has shown a very extreme right-wing, very hard-line view on foreign policy that may even be further hard-line, further to the right than President Bush’s.

JAY: And Hillary?

MARGOLIS: Hillary is oozing in so many different directions it’s very hard to tell what her position is. But she might in fact be able to craft some kind of under-the-table talks with Taliban and be able to live through the experience.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Eric Margolis is an internationally syndicated columnist and renowned book author. He’s a veteran Korea-watcher who specializes in north Asian military/strategic affairs. He’s been all over the DMZ and produced his documentary there last year featuring a segment from Panmunjom on the DMZ. Two special areas of focus:  1. What would a war actually look like if one erupted?  2. The geopolitics of the region – the Koreas, Japan, China, Russia, the US.  Eric was a regular columnist for Japan's Mainichi Shimbun and is a long-time member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.