Wednesday Night #1363

First, we would draw your attention to last Wednesday’s discussion of China, Tibet & the Olympics – a number of points worth pondering.
Those of you who were with us last week heard about the Spring Concert to be performed on April 26th by Octet Plus, a choir that includes David Oliver and Holly Jonas. It sounds like a delightful occasion and we hope that you will join us there.
We are not sure what to make of Silvio Berlusconi’s return to power – we thought Italians were fed up with him after the last exercise -; among his top priorities: Naples’ rubbish crisis and rescuing troubled Alitalia.
Elections in Nepal drew little attention here, but the strong results for the Nepalese Communist have raised some eyebrows.
Kenya seems to have sorted out its power-sharing problems, but Zimbabwe‘s situation gets messier and messier – no joy from the meeting of the regional
leaders and still no published results.
The Pope’s visit to the U.S. may bring a new focus on the Hispanic population and the plight of illegal Hispanics
Last week we had soothing words from General Petraeus, but this week the situation in Iraq worsens.
And, on the topic of generals, Rick Hillier’s resignation as CDS comes a a surprise to some — not others.
The G-7 Finance ministers and central bankers meeting that ended last Friday doesn’t seem to have contributed much to the solution of the world’s financial crisis, but only time will tell.
World hunger and biofuels remain on our agenda, along with anything you may care to bring to the table.
And don’t forget the Pennsylvania primary on April 22 – any guesses? Obama and Hillary debate tonight

The Report

The Athens-3 Conference organized by former diplomat and Wednesday Nighter, Kimon Valaskakis was by all accounts a great success. The ultimate aim of the New School of Athens is to train planners of and participants in world government, roughly following the lines of the European Union, essential on constantly shrinking planet Earth. It is anticipated that Kimon, Jaime Webbe and Bert Revenaz will give a live report to WN early in May (tentatively May 7).

The glory of war is a myth. In order to preserve that myth, every effort is made to conceal the horrors and dark side of war from civilians. We mourn the dead but conveniently hide the suffering of the maimed and physical destruction of the battleground. We need look no further than the controversy surrounding the Canadian War Museum and the (accurate) portrayal of the WWII Bomber Offensive to understand to what lengths the authorities go to shield the public from the human costs of war. In Québec, the High School leaving history syllabus refers only to economics in discussion of WWII.
Defeats are hidden and victories proclaimed even in battles where death and destruction are the only evident victors. Both sides claim victory at Vimy Ridge, possibly with reason. Viet Nam was not acknowledged as a defeat for the U.S. for some time. The victory of the Allies in World War II seems obvious, but what about leaving Eastern Europe under the control of a régime that was arguably as vicious as the Nazis?
What would be victory in Afghanistan? One answer: A situation in which, once the troops have gone home, the government would be safeguarded by indigenous security and would not be overthrown when the foreign troops depart.
Afghanistan is for both military and civilian officials a source of great frustration. It is axiomatic that wars cannot be won without the implication of indigenous troops, very difficult to achieve under current circumstances. The key to any disengagement of Canadian troops is the creation of a functioning national army or security force. The formation and training of such a force has not been a priority with the diverse NATO commands, partly due to national (theirs not Afghanis’) sensitivities. The military public affairs policies that prevail under the Conservative government only encourage embedding by journalists from the very large media organizations – cost is a huge factor – and those journalists remain ‘behind the wire’ under relatively safe conditions. Reporters who attempt to provide a true picture of the conflict do so at their own risk, without the protection of the military. Those who do take the risk, paint a picture of a very difficult struggle, particularly due to the porous nature of the border with Pakistan and the inability of the border patrol to cope, due to insufficient numbers, motivation, training and equipment compared with the Taliban.
The situation within the areas of Afghanistan controlled by ISAF is improving for civilians, with construction of infrastructure and relative stability in the urban areas. With this improvement, however, comes a more critical view by the population of the corruption of their elected government officials who, because they recognize that following the withdrawal of foreign troops, they will have to deal with the same corrupt people that they had to deal with before their arrival. A similar situation exists in Iraq.

General Rick Hillier’s departure
Taking these elements into account, it becomes increasingly important for military leaders to have politico-diplomatic skills in addition to their military skills while respecting the absolute autonomy of a democratically elected parliament. Sadly, few senior Canadian military officers understand how political and civilian Ottawa functions. While senior officers will study the writings and strategy of any military opponent, it is almost unheard-of that they study the writings of their political counterparts in order to learn how to defend the interests of the military at a political level. It is important for the government to be in a position to weigh the costs, including non-monetary costs, against the advantages of waging war and this is more a military than a legislative skill. It is in the possession of this balanced ability that the strength of General Hillier was most skilled – in the opinion of some, he has been the greatest politician the military has had (and that’s a compliment!). It will be fascinating to see who is the new CDS, but for sure, it will be a pale imitation of General Hillier.

The Arctic
A looming problem for the new CDS and the government of Canada will be the development, definition and defence of the Arctic, despite a lack of appropriate equipment. [The Canadian American Strategic Review – CASR – sums up the icebreaker situation very well] The covering of ice in the Canadian far north and lack of knowledge of what lay beneath have long led to a complacent ignorance of the area as well as the contiguous nature and ill-defined boundary with our Russian neighbours. The recent realization of the wealth that lies beneath the ice presents not only possible political problems between Russia, the United States and ourselves, but military implications as well if we are to deal with the situation in a fair manner. The traditional lifestyle of the Inuit dates back to the pre-European immigrant era, but a combination of Cold War mentality that required a human Early Warning System in the event of a Russian invasion in the Far North and more ‘benevolent’ policies have dictated that they be brought together in communities (where Mothers have access to a grocery store where they can spend the Family Allowance), a social experiment which has largely proven to be a disaster. The Canadian Rangers are also a remnant of the Cold War mentality, however they serve a useful purpose and their role could likely be enhanced to everyone’s benefit.
The inevitable development of the Far North will certainly demand diplomatic, military and civilian wisdom and it is to be hoped that General Hillier’s successor and the government of the day possess the skills required to manage all three, while accepting the integrity of Parliament.

Q. To what extent should the history of events be perpetuated (Kosovo is an example)
A. History might be equated with experience – that qualification that so many young applicants for a job lack. Had Mr. Bush had more experience (sense of history) of Iraq, he might not have made the mistakes he has.

Students do not deserve mythology, they need to understand the realities [and dynamic process of interpreting] of history.


One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1363"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson April 16, 2008 at 4:37 pm ·

    A thoughtful piece from MediaScout Canada Everybody Loves Rick
    “In successfully advocating for his soldiers’ welfare and arguing for the equipment they need to be effective, Hillier can be proud of having done a tough job well and amply demonstrated that he deserves the respect and affection that flow so visibly and easily between himself and his soldiers. However, in pushing so forcefully for the Afghan mission as the post-peacekeeping future of the Canadian Forces, and repeatedly linking political decisions over where and how to deploy troops with our moral obligations to respect them, Hillier crossed a dangerous, if not always clear, line between what we expect from our military leaders and what we demand from our civilian ones.”

Comments are now closed for this article.