February 05, 2008

No longer a republic

Back when people (like me) were saying the U.S. should follow its Constitution and declare war before invading Iraq, the inevitable response from war backers was that if Congress didn't want the war, it didn't have to fund it.

I see the creeping erosion of American liberty has now reached the point where Congress now can't do that, either.

So, how are those dictatorial primaries coming along?

Posted by BruceR at 02:50 PM

February 04, 2008

A good start?

Alex Neve and Jason Gratl, in the Globe online today, arguing why Afghanistan's jailers need to be held to Canadian Charter of Rights standards:

"Does this mean that Canada has to take over the justice system in Afghanistan and start... shipping over lawyers? Clearly not."


(The whole piece, like Neve, et al's entire argument, is a massive exercise in question-begging. They are not, in fact arguing in court that prisoners of Canadians, while still in Canadian military custody, "cannot be treated in ways that expose them to serious human-rights violations such as torture, arbitrary detention or 'disappearance.'" No Canadian would argue with that. No, they're arguing that Canadian soldiers abroad can only turn over any detainees they have to a system with comparable individual legal protections to Canada's, or face prosecution at home. Which is a case that, if won in court, would basically preclude almost all Canadian peace enforcement missions or peacekeeping, of any kind. You think we had our own jails in Cyprus or Suez? Neve is really arguing that, contra Bono, the world does not, in fact, need more Canada, regardless of whatever future massive human rights violations might seem to warrant Canadian military intervention, because we can't trust the jails of any country that might benefit from that kind of presence. It is an argument for just staying home and clucking instead, even if Neve and Amnesty don't want to cop to it.)

Posted by BruceR at 12:56 PM

February 03, 2008

Afstan vs East Timor: a comparison

The NDP leader is saying the Afghanistan mission should be more like the UN mission in East Timor. The Torch says much of what needs to be said about that. A couple more things it misses.

I'm sure Layton wasn't actually thinking of the 2005-06 crisis that occurred after the UN pulled out for the second time, apparently prematurely, which has resulted in 1,000 soldiers from New Zealand and Australia being redeployed to the country (for a Timorese population of 900,000, those are roughly equivalent per capita numbers to NATO's in Afghanistan, interestingly enough). No, he was certainly peering back through rose-coloured glasses at the independence movement of the 1990s, and the foreign support for those Timorese freedom fighters.

Only one thing. The UN sort of failed there, too. The UNAMET mission in 1999, set up to oversee a peaceful referendum that everyone expected would result in independence, was driven out of Timor by force by local irredentists after the vote was lost. UNAMET was not a military mission, so no shame in them leaving once the shooting started, but it forced the UN to commission INTERFET (ie, Australia with some help) to go in shooting and stabilize the situation (much like NATO in Afghanistan). Only once the shooting stopped did the UN come back. (Of course, when it left again, the shooting started again, and Australia had to intervene again, which is where we are now, but never mind.)

There's four useful historical lessons from the experience in East Timor, none of which Mr. Layton seems to have grasped. One is that nation-building takes a long time: over eight years so far in East Timor's case, with an armed stabilization force still in country. Two is that the only effective response to an attempt to subvert both the UN's will and a fair election by force is with some force of your own. Three would be that there are some people, like Suharto hatchetman Eurico Guterres, that you simply can't negotiate with. Fourth and finally would be that Mr. Layton's "enormous impact" did very little for the up to 200,000 Timorese who died in the 24 years of Indonesian occupation while the West stayed out of it. If you could ask them, they'd probably have preferred a more forceful response, sooner.

A lot of us in the military and out are old enough to remember the Timor experience. The four lessons we learned, above, the lessons that elude Mr. Layton, have a lot to do with why we're supportive of the Afghanistan mission now.

Posted by BruceR at 02:58 AM

February 01, 2008

A quiet plea

I feel compelled to use what little weight I might have to say to any American who's reading this: Hey. I'm Canadian. Like all Canadians, Americans are my #1 spectator sport. I find you all hugely entertaining to observe anthropologically, and I know you pretty well by now. That applies doubly to Democrats, who are after all, really just Canadians on the wrong side of the border.

So take some third-person perspective? Hey, I was right around this same time four years ago about Kerry, after all. At this point, I can't see the argument for anyone but Obama. At all. He's what you guys need right now. Clinton, for all the obvious dynastic and war-voting issues, is clearly the second choice to me (still superior to the Republican opponents, of course).

If you nominate Obama, it will be a Democratic blowout, a transformative moment in your history. If you nominate Clinton, it will be much too close for comfort for you. I really can't understand why Democrats wouldn't go for the sure thing here, and if you don't, well then you deserve whatever comes next. That's all I'm saying.

Posted by BruceR at 02:11 PM