April 20, 2010

The phrase "stick a fork in it" comes to mind

It's nice of Prof. Stephen Saideman to try and resurrect some form of a post-2011 Afghan mission in the opinion pages of the Globe, but surely he's got to see that the ideas he proposes -- perpetuating the PRT and the OMLT presence -- are probably non-starters in the current detainee-allegations-laden realm of public opinion.

There are only two real jailors in Afghanistan. The NDS and American forces. Rightly or wrongly, it's hard to see public support swelling any time soon for any new Canadian mission that turned any detainees our forces were involved in taking over to either of them, unless certain outstanding issues could be said to have been resolved first. Both the OMLT and the PRT (in its police mentorship and other judicial reform aspects) have to work closely with Afghan security forces, including the NDS, and, if current headlines are any indication, their members would necessarily be accused of complicity, sooner or later, in any eventual reports of their excesses if either of those components were to be extended now.

(People like Prof. Saideman who still want to salvage something from this one might be better off advocating in their opinion pieces for a perpetuation of some form of air presence, seeing as it's somewhat harder to take detainees from a helicopter.)

The same concern of course would extend to any involvement in the UN's troubled Congo mission helping the Kabila government suppress its insurgency there, should it involve more than a handful of Canadian troops. Not only are Congo's troops certain to be even more, erm, unruly than their Afghan counterparts, but Kabila has been even more strenuous than Karzai in saying all UN troops must leave by 2011, thanks very much, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

What we're really seeing here with the most recent detainee allegations (now in Britain, as well), and the lack of good options in Congo, is the real-world limitations that always existed with the whole liberal-idealistic "Responsibility to Protect"/failed-states-intervention doctrine, as the level of military co-partnering with abusive state agencies that would be involved in any such "friendly" intervention seems to be simply inconsistent with Western countries' human rights obligations. It's always been an issue with any kind of foreign internal defense or counterinsurgency assistance mission: in 1962 John Paul Vann was trying strenuously, and generally failing, to keep Vietnamese soldiers he was advising from executing detainees in his presence. (Joseph Conrad's "decent young citizen in a toga" could have told you the score, for that matter: "the fascination of the abomination... the powerless disgust.")

The simple and perhaps only way to avoid it all, of course, is to withstand those concerns, often from some of the same human rights advocates, for the West to "do something" when these sorts of what are essentially civil wars occur, and avoid offering military support to the governments of failing states at all. Which, it should be noted, until about 1960, around the time of the first failed UN Congo mission, was very much the default Western middle-power position (see also, "Spanish Civil War, non-interference in").

The roads not taken in Afghanistan for the ISAF coalition on the detainee issue were simple and clear-cut, too. ISAF could have turned detainees over to the U.S. system; although you may recall some people having issues with that some time ago. Or it could have demanded early on that the Afghan government accept that insurgent suspects could not be handled properly by its so-called criminal justice system and embark with the Afghan army in building some sort of joint detainee detention facility where Geneva rules could apply. This would have essentially meant forcing the Afghan president and his government to do something they strenuously didn't want to do (admit they were fighting a civil war, basically), and trodding all over their sovereignty that way really hasn't been the West's style all along here. (If a country doesn't have sovereignty over its own courts and prisons, it doesn't have sovereignty over much.) And that has brought us to the current impasse.

Posted by BruceR at 11:40 PM