Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Evil deeds and good intentions

I had the following exchange with an email correspondent. I sent out some results I saw from The Globe and Mail that surprised me, got the response below in blue, and then replied to this morning. I post it here because it's the clearest I've ever stated my impressions on the matter.

While of course these results aren't scientific, given that they're indicative of the views of readers of The Globe and Mail — what I'd consider to be a moderately conservative bunch — I have to say they're not what I expected to see when I clicked on the results link...

Monday, Stephen Harper stressed the link between Canada's military presence in Afghanistan and the 9/11 attacks. Do you think those events five years ago continue to justify the NATO mission in the war-torn country?

No: (71%) 11618 votes
Yes: (29%) 4833 votes
Total votes: 16451


The question is too limiting. If the question asked whether there is still value to the mission, I'm sure the answer would be different. There IS still value in freeing people from the oppression of the Taliban. School teachers able to teach (willing) young female students for the first time in decades. There is some real value to THAT.

To balk as the going is a bit tough now is ever so Liberal/NDP, isn't it?


Well, if the question's limiting, it's also honest. Our troops didn't invade Afghanistan to overthrow its government. The reason, in October of 2001, was to capture Osama bin Laden and those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, without the burden of presenting the extradition evidence demanded by both the Afghan government and international law. We also didn't believe them when they said they didn't know where Osama was... I guess after five years of not being able to find the guy ourselves, that might sound a little more plausible to Western ears. Too bad it's taken the deaths of hundreds of soldiers and thousands of civilians to get right back where we started. To play the shell-game with the question of our intentions now is ever so neo-con; a fine new tradition here and elsewhere.

As to balking, it's certainly not a characteristic of the Grits. One prime minister sent in the troops; another kept them there. As for the NDP, I don't recall myself what position they took in 2001, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when emotions were running high and the US had a million people in the streets in Tehran demonstrating in support of them. Speaking only for myself, it's not balking if you never agreed with the idea in the first place.

As a Westerner, I naturally laud the idea of equality, political liberty, education... all the things we value in our own society. But it's wrong to imagine they can imposed from without. Wherever they've been successful, they've had to grow from native soil. They had to be what the people wanted. Where they didn't exist, it was because the urgency to acquire them didn't exist either. It was no easy road here... the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the British voting riots, the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe, the Rebellions of 1837... These are all examples of moments when various peoples rose up and instituted the new values that really, finally reflected where those societies were at. The point is, they were never imposed from without; they blossomed from within. The moment had come; the people wanted it. It seems manifestly obvious to me that Afghanistan is not yet such a nation. Perhaps it never will be. It's not required to be, either.

We do ourselves and our values no favour in associating them, in the minds of Afghanis, with invasion, destruction, incivility, and foreign occupation. Like planting a palm tree in Timmins, the transplant will endure only so long as it's artificially tended. The moment the troops leave, Afghanistan will, naturally, revert to whatever its societal norms designate it to be. If the people want to be rid of the Taliban — and to be honest with you, I don't see much evidence of that — then they'll be rid of them, sooner or later, just as we were with the Family Compact and the French were with the Bourbon monarchy. But we can't do it for them. We can't change minds with guns, only by setting examples. If the change doesn't come from within their own society, it will never stick. The lives of our soldiers are being lost to apply band-aids to afflictions that are psychological, not physical. And worse, we're eroding our reputation as peace-keepers — neutrals who insinuate themselves between two warring factions who want an excuse to step back and work something out — for a reputation as neo-imperialists, riders on American coat-tails, as we once were of British ones. Wading ashore with guns a-blazin' shouting "we'll teach these wogs to live like white people — or else!" is not where we ought to be at this point in history. Wrongs, particularly ones committed to make one's own life easier, are never excused by the defence of "good intentions": getting your grandma to the hospital is a laudable goal — but it you wipe out a family of six people (a.k.a., "collateral damages") running a red to do it, you're still going to jail.

I think it's time we learned to use persuasion instead of force, and what's more, to finally accept that we can't have everything we want, the world isn't obliged to always be just what we want it to be, there are times people are going to say "no" to us (as it their right), and there are some times we just aren't going to win. Ignoring all that just makes everyone else madder and madder at us.

No comments: