Guest blogged by Winter Patriot
Here's a quick roundup of some relevant stories from far away and even farther. Let's see whether you can spot any connection between these stories and some others, from near and even nearer:
In Great Britain, as you may already know, there is open revolt among the governing Labour Party.
From September 6th:
Gordon Brown scents victory as Blair suffers massive revolt
After three hours of bad-tempered talks with Tony Blair, the Chancellor still wore a big smile.
Mr Brown had apparently won a promise that the Premier will finally come clean about his departure plans.
But sceptical allies of the Chancellor were still asking: Can we really believe Blair this time?
Blairite MPs feared the Premier was being pushed to the brink of losing power as:
The day of drama, unmatched since the downfall of Margaret Thatcher, left Mr Blair at bay and Labour's claim to be a disciplined political force in tatters.
If you're not familiar with British politics this may make no sense to you. You may be thinking "Labour? That must be like Work, with a U thrown in. And Party, well we all know what that means. So this must be an umbrella group, then; some people who work, and some people who party."
I'd forgive you if you thought of it like that, but it's not quite right. More on that later, maybe ...
But that was four days ago. And things didn't work out quite so simply for Gordon Brown. They never do.
Senior government figures are threatening to make the contest a bitter referendum on Brown's personal integrity after last week's vicious bout of infighting. They spent Friday discussing their choice of candidate and the mechanics of a bid after concluding they could no longer support him.
This follows a serious breakdown between the two rival camps, culminating, according to one very close confidant of Tony Blair, in the Prime Minister telling friends: 'I have never known how mendacious he [Gordon] was, how full of mendacity.'
Did you catch that?
Not just mendacious but full of mendacity.
He's a glib, cocky and articulate little prick who spears his opponents with both adjectives (like "mendacious") and nouns (like "mendacity")!!
Nice fancy-pants words there, Tony.
Who cares what they mean?
(adj) intentionally untrue : "a mendacious statement"
So ... is this not the world's all-time most ironic example of the line about the kettle and the pot?
Who could possibly imagine Tony Blair calling anyone mendacious?
Only a glib, articulate, cocky little prick, a natural-born leader full of mendaciousness who can't quite get the kids to stop fighting.
After a week of bitter infighting and pressure from his rival and onetime ally Gordon Brown, Mr. Blair was forced on Thursday to set a 12-month time-limit on his continued tenure after nine years in office.
But the feuding has continued.
Mr. Blair said, "We are not going to win if we have personal attacks by anybody on anyone because it turns the public off and makes them think we are interested again in ourselves and not in them."
Right! We have to show that we are hungry for power but we want that power for the public and not for ourselves. Again! Gotcha, Tony!!
Gordon Brown must be wondering whether he wants the job after all!
Those seem like one event to me. I mean, did the polls go south before or after Britain aligned its foreign policy with America's? Or more to the point, if hypothetically just suppose pretend if ever Britain were to cut herself loose from the Americans, would that result in a gain or a loss at the polls? Or maybe we should look at it from a different angle: suppose Britain remains in lockstep synch with the Americans on all "foreign" matters. How much and in what direction could those polls be swayed?
Here's something else American readers might not understand right away: in Britain, probably because their system of government is so much more primitive than ours, it still matters what people think --- and an unpopular government can be toppled in a heartbeat!
Some kinda primitive! But I digress...
Nor can we assume that the next US president will favour early troop withdrawal. It will be difficult for any presidential candidate to campaign as anti-war without appearing un-American. In any case, most of the presidential hopefuls have a track record of supporting the Iraq war.
So it is likely that Brown, struggling to control a party accustomed to flexing its muscles and from which he cannot demand loyalty, will trail in the polls, and will not reverse Blair’s unpopular foreign policy positions.
So ... the next British Prime Minister --- no matter who --- is going to be bound by a blood oath, one sworn in his absence, no less: Stay The Course!
Staying the course is not going to be easy; it was never going to be easy; only the maddest of hatters would even bring the word "easy" close to a phrase like "troops in Afghanistan".
Britain has fallen down a rat-hole.
Into the Long War
Instead, the past few months have seen a Taliban revival that is causing concern around the world and may suggest that the 2001 war is actually far from over.
Some analysts were predicting a Taliban resurgence last summer, but that did not happen, almost certainly because the Taliban were developing their capabilities and planning for the longer term.
Instead, it has been this year that has seen the upsurge, most worryingly with Taliban units able to operate in groups of a hundred or more, in marked contrast to their much smaller-scale activities in recent years.
... where stuff like this happens with ever-increasing frequency:
The bombing was one of the most powerful to shake the capital since American forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001. The U.S. military issued a statement confirming the deaths of two American soldiers and said two others were wounded.
The Afghan police at the scene put the toll at 11 civilians and five American soldiers killed, including a woman soldier. Witnesses said they saw three American soldiers lying in the street. Other soldiers might also have been killed, they said, as the blast ripped apart the armored Humvee, making it hard to believe anyone inside could have survived.
Soldiers later pulled shredded American uniforms off the trees and picked up body parts. A seat from the Humvee was left hanging in a tree.
Kabul residents said they were bracing for still more violence as they prepared to mark the five-year anniversary on Saturday of the death of the warlord Ahmed Shah Masood, who was killed by two Qaida suicide bombers in an assassination linked to the 9/11 attacks. The Kabul bombing came amid a sharp escalation of violence in Afghanistan, where NATO and American military commanders are waging an offensive to crush a Taliban insurgency that has revived with unexpected strength this year.
Suicide bombers have struck more than 50 times in the last year, killing more than 100 civilians. Most often the attacks have come in the country's south, where the insurgency thrives.
But don't worry! We support the troops! We've got your back!! Yes Indeed and Jolly Good, Old Chap! ... and Let's Roll! too ... but in the meantime it turns out that Britain originally promised to send more troops to help the troops already there; then didn't send 'em. Guess who got ambushed? Oops!
Lieutenant General David Richards, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, planned to use the 800-man force as troubleshooters, sending them into any area where fighting broke out.
However, John Reid, then the defence secretary, was so angry at the reluctance of other Nato countries to supply troops that the offer was retracted.
Reid, who famously said that he hoped British troops would leave Afghanistan without firing a single shot, indicated that the UK would send no more troops other than the 3,300 men to be based in Helmand province.
Last week the US general in charge of Nato made the obvious link between the shortage of troops and the casualties faced by the allied forces in southern Afghanistan.
Appealing to Nato countries to send more soldiers, General James Jones, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said: “It will help us to reduce casualties and bring this to a successful conclusion in a short period of time.”
Well, that's what they say. That's what they always say ...
But would sending 'em have been an even bigger mistake?
We may find out soon because NATO wants more ...
NATO planners have said they want 2,000 to 2,500 extra troops, plus helicopters and transport aircraft, to fuel the offensive in the south.
“Our collective assessment is that we are satisfied with military-related progress to date, particularly in the north and in the west but less so in the south,” Gen. Ray Henault, a Canadian who was chairman of the talks, said at a news conference.
“Raising the number of troops will be a political decision,” he added.
Hmmmm ... a political decision? Hmmmm ... hadn't thought of that before!
What to do? What to do?
Well, what are our frozen friends thinking?
Funny you should ask. There's a loud and growing chorus of "get us outta there" being sung in The Great White North:
On Saturday, NDP delegates at a party convention in Quebec voted overwhelmingly in favour of leader Jack Layton's call for a pullout.
About 90 per cent of more than 1,500 delegates voted for a "safe and immediate" withdrawal from the region, which has seen a spike in Canadian casualties recently.
Sustained applause swept over the convention floor after officials announced the vote results.
"We have a really strong show of support from our members here today," Layton told reporters following the vote.
"Now we're calling on Canadians to join with us in calling on the Harper government to change the track he's currently on with (U.S. President) George Bush."
Oooh, a great many Canadians are very unhappy with their new pro-US minority government ... and for a variety of reasons:
"When it comes to those issues affecting human security on this planet, our government is dramatically and significantly failing to take action," Layton told reporters.
"All of the focus has been on the issues and the world view as identified by George Bush and what he regards to be the greatest threat," Layton said.
Thus, he said, the Conservatives are ignoring crises such as the AIDS pandemic, global poverty and climate change.
"The toll is taken in lives. This isn't political rhetoric," he said.
Speaking at the convention was an Afghan parliamentarian who says Canadian soldiers are fighting to sustain a government that includes murderers, rapists, drug-dealers and warlords.
Malalai Joya says the new government is just as repressive as the Taliban and is even more dangerous because it has powerful international support.
"They are like brothers of the Taliban and this is the main reason why the security situation in Afghanistan is getting worse and worse," Joya told Canadian Press.
... so the battles continue, have continued, will continue, have always continued, will always continue ...
Ali Shah Paktiwal, head of the police crime bureau, said officers were checking every main intersection in Kabul after Friday's blast near the US embassy, which killed at least two American soldiers.
A resurgent Taliban have mounted daily attacks during the summer, primarily against foreign forces in the south where Nato took over security from the United States at the end of July.
Many military officials and analysts say the fighting in Afghanistan is now heavier and worse than Iraq.
More than 2,300 people have died his year in the Taliban resurgence that has led to the heaviest fighting since US-led troops toppled the hard-line Islamists.
The guerrillas have moved beyond small-scale hit-and-run operations to pitched battles and larger strikes, sheltering and training in Pakistan despite efforts by Islamabad to stop them.
What to do? What to do?
The mixed messages don't really help much, truth be told.
But a different assessment seemed to come from Warsaw, where a Canadian general said at least 2,000 more North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops are needed to battle the region's unexpectedly strong insurgency.
"There's good indication that they are on the brink of collapse in a number of different areas," said Lavoie, commander of Canadian troops on the ground in Afghanistan. He gave few details as to how he reached the conclusion.
"Like most insurgents, they don't have the sustainment ability to have long, protracted engagements. What we see is mostly hit-and-run tactics."
Mostly Hit-And-Run Tactics? This is worth mentioning? This is surprising?
Sniff Sniff Sniff. Fishy Fishy Fishy. They're using hit-and-run tactics! Who could have guessed??
What to do? What to do?
Gen Henault urged member states to send "all the people and the capability" that had been signed up to.
"We are currently at about 85% of the requirements and want the remainder," he was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
Officials from Turkey, Germany and Italy have expressed reluctance to move their troops from reconstruction work in safer parts of Afghanistan to the troubled south, our correspondent adds.
Of course, all this is doing the people of Afghanistan an enormous amount of good:
A Christian Aid survey of 66 villages suggests farmers in the worst affected areas have lost all their produce.
The aid agency is urging the British government and international bodies to give money to prevent people starving in north and west Afghanistan.
The crop failure comes as fighting continues in the south between the Nato-led troops and the Taleban.
Most of the water has dried up in the provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor, and the wheat harvest is down by 90% to 100% in parts of Faryab province, the study indicates.
The Afghan government has set up a drought appeal which needs £41m.
Well, not all the people are starving. In fact some of them are making money by the kilogram!
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the area sown to opium poppy has increased this year by 59%, and reached 165,000 hectares against 100,000 hectares last year, while the gross opium harvest will amount to 6,100 tons.
Afghan experts maintain that this year opium will be exceedingly rich in morphine. A mere seven kilograms of raw opium will produce one kilogram of heroin.
This ratio is very rare. Usually it takes from 10 to 15 kilograms of opium to make this amount.
UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa has dispelled the illusions about Europe's potential anti-drug action at the international conference on Afghan drugs in Moscow. In his words, pilot ISAF involvement for the destruction of opium fields and chemical labs did not produce the desired effect in 2005, but only generated tension in relations with the locals. Now the efforts will concentrate exclusively on logistics and training of the Afghan personnel.
Inadvertently, Maria Costa also put an end to the myth about "caravans with drugs" next to the U.S. and ISAF troops. There are caravans indeed, but with precursors rather than drugs both in Afghanistan, and especially around it. Precursor is any chemical reagent, which takes part in the production of a toxic chemical by any method. From two to six tons of acetic acid anhydride is a reagent required to produce heroin from one ton of raw opium.
Maria Costa said that more than 10,000 tons of this anhydride was brought to Afghanistan last year to produce heroin from the 4,000 tons of raw opium harvested. This was a real caravan of more than 500 twenty-ton trailers.
The acetic acid anhydride is not made in Afghanistan, and is only available in China, India, and Russia. It is a real mystery how such caravans can remain unnoticed in Afghanistan with its poor road network, or in approaches to it.
It can't ALL be about money, can it? No, not quite!
On Tuesday, the Pakistani government signed a “truce” with militants who have resisted Pakistani military efforts to gain control of the region, which is roughly the size of Delaware. The agreement, which lets militants remain in the area as long as they promised to halt attacks, immediately set off concern among American analysts.
Al Qaeda’s surviving leadership is suspected of using the border areas as a base of operation to support international terrorist attacks, including possibly the July 2005 London subway bombings. Meanwhile, the Taliban leadership is widely believed to be using another border area to direct spiraling attacks in Afghanistan.
“There’s a link with broader international terrorism,” said Robert Grenier, the former top counterterrorism official for the Central Intelligence Agency. “There’s a link with what is happening in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda, such as it is now, really has its center of gravity in the area.”
Analysts say the problem in the border region is an explosive mix of conditions: a lack of government authority, a vast amount of weaponry and the rise of Islamic militancy. Until the 1980’s, the area was ruled by local tribes, whose brute self-government kept the population isolated and impoverished but allowed for a degree of stability.
In the 1980’s, the American-backed anti-Soviet jihad unfolded in the region and began to wear away longstanding tribal structures. Huge piles of weapons and cash empowered Islamist organizations to open dozens of training camps, hard-line mosques and conservative religious schools along the border. In the 1990’s, the Taliban emerged there.
Huge piles of weapons and cash from where?
The Taliban emerged how?
You can start connecting the dots now ...
But no matter what sorts of connections you make, always remember: there's
One friend Britain must stand by
He should state, categorically, that whatever our reservations, whatever our irritations, Britain will stand with America. Not because Britain is a weaker power that has little choice, or in the hope of some quid pro quo, but because it is the right thing to do.
The post-Blair foreign policy should above all seek to elevate the British public’s vision above the trials and errors of the past five years. It should remind the people that America represents still, as it has for the past 60 years, the last best hope of freedom.
One would hope for a slightly sharper analysis, at this point, surely. Dismissing all the deliberate and clearly criminal behavior of the Bush administration(s) as "trials and errors"??? Puh-lease!
But on the other hand, "elevating the British public's vision" might be a good idea --- if their collective vision could somehow be elevated to the point where they could recognize what they --- and we --- are dealing with here!!
Oops! I nearly forgot: If you're a world leader, it almost never hurts to be away from home during a domestic crisis, especially if you can can spend some of your time impersonating a statesman.
The prime minister's meeting with Mahmoud Abbas comes a day after he met the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Mr Olmert said he was ready to meet the Palestinian leader to advance peace efforts. It follows Mr Abbas's calls for fresh negotiations with Israel.
Mr Blair will not be meeting the leaders of the Hamas-controlled Palestinian government.
Well then. I guess that's settled, too.
What else? Only one question still outstanding, I believe. And the question is: Why?
Why is Tony Blair such a glib and cocky articulate little prick?
Because that's exactly the type that was needed to play the role he has played --- the role he will allegedly vacate before the end of May, 2007. Supposedly.
Many Americans do not "get" this. And that's easy to understand, because in America, the type needed to play the corresponding role is almost the opposite: a glib and cocky inarticulate cocky little prick.
And you see, the glib and cocky inarticulate little prick we have in America right now is so thoroughly incompetent --- not so much "intellectually challenged" as "comprehensively defeated" --- that I would have bet (Euros to crumpets) on the glib and cocky articulate little prick being in office long after the glib and cocky inarticulate little prick was dismissed. Or hanged. Or both.
But apparently I was wrong. This makes twice so far that I've been wrong. Oh well. No wonder I don't make my living at the racetrack! But don't tell anyone, and I'll cover for it by insisting I've never been wrong at all, and if that doesn't work I'll call all my critics "crazy conspiracy theorists" ... and it that fails, I'll do my statesman impression.
Should keep me going till the spring, anyway ... maybe even longer ...
Hey, Wait!!! I've got an idea!!
What if I Launched a Peace Mission???
"The majority of people here, I'm sure, want to see what the majority of people in my country want to see, which is a Middle East that is stable, and democratic, with people living side by side in peace. It is very easy to be pessimistic in the light of everything that has happened recently, but I do believe that with good will and the right leadership it can be done," he said.
Sure, Tony. But where is "the right leadership" gonna come from? Unless it turns up by next May, you're cooked!
Ahhh, well, never mind. You're cooked anyway.