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Book Review: Empire’s Ally: The U.S. and Canada February 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Roger’s note: to some degree Canada has always been a subservient servant to U.S. economic and geopolitical interests.  But when I arrived here in 1968 as a Vietnam war resister, it was a different country politically than it is today.  Of course, for that matter, so is the United States.  I never romanticized Canada as the perfect peace loving nation.  Few do any more.  But there was a time when the Canadian government at least did not “go along” with American imperial adventures.  Stephen Harper and what my friend Charlie calls the suposi-TORIES have changed all that.  Today, more than ever Canada is the 51st state, politically, economically, culturally, and with respect to Orwellian surveillance.  Nothing less than a tragedy for peace an justice loving Canadians.


By  (about the author)OpEdNews Op Eds 1/31/2014 at 17:44:38

Source: Dispatches From The Edge

(image by Amazon)

Book Review
Empire’s Ally: Canada and the War in Afghanistan
Edited by Jerome Klassen and Greg Albo
University of Toronto Press
Toronto Buffalo London 2013

Americans tend to think of Canadians as politer and more sensible than their southern neighbors, thus the joke: “Why does the Canadian chicken cross the road? To get to the middle.” Oh, yes, bit of a “muddle” there in Afghanistan, but like Dudley Do Right, the Canadians were only trying to develop and tidy up the place.

Not in the opinion of Jerome Klassen and a formidable stable of academics, researchers, journalists, and peace activists who see Canada’s role in Central Asia less as a series of policy blunders than a coldly calculated strategy of international capital. “Simply put,” writes Klassen, “the war in Afghanistan was always linked to the aspirations of empire on a much broader scale.”

“Empire’s Ally” asks the question, “Why did the Canadian government go to war in Afghanistan in 2001?” and then carefully dissects the popular rationales: fighting terrorism; coming to the aid of the United States; helping the Afghans to develop their country. Oh, and to free women. What the book’s autopsy of those arguments reveals is disturbing.

Calling Canada’s Afghan adventure a “revolution,” Klassen argues, “the new direction of Canadian foreign policy cannot be explained simply by policy mistakes, U.S. demands, military adventurism, security threats, or abstract notions of liberal idealism. More accurately, it is best explained by structural tendencies in the Canadian political economy — in particular, by the internationalization of Canadian capital and the realignment of the state as a secondary power in the U.S.-led system of empire.”

In short, the war in Afghanistan is not about people failing to read Kipling, but is rather part of a worldwide economic and political offensive by the U.S. and its allies to dominate sources of energy and weaken any upstart competitors like China, and India. Nor is that “broader scale” limited to any particular region.

Indeed, the U.S. and its allies have transformed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from a European alliance to contain the Soviet Union, to an international military force with a global agenda. Afghanistan was the alliance’s coming-out party, its first deployment outside of Europe. The new “goals” are, as one planner put it, to try to “re-establish the West at the centre of global security,” to guarantee access to cheap energy, to police the world’s sea lanes, to “project stability beyond its borders,” and even concern itself with “Chinese military modernization.”

If this all sounds very 19th century — as if someone should strike up a chorus of “Britannia Rules the Waves” — the authors would agree, but point out that global capital is far more powerful and all embracing than the likes of Charles “Chinese” Gordon and Lord Herbert Kitchener ever envisioned. One of the book’s strong points is its updating of capitalism, so to speak, and its careful analysis of what has changed since the end of the Cold War.

Klassen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies, and Greg Albo is an associate professor of political science at York University in Toronto. The two authors gather together 13 other academics, journalists, researchers and peace activists to produce a detailed analysis of Canada’s role in the Afghan war.

The book is divided into four major parts dealing with the history of the involvement, its political and economic underpinnings, and the actual Canadian experiences in Afghanistan, which had more to with condoning war crimes like torture than digging wells, educating people, and improving their health. Indeed, Canada’s Senate Standing Committee on National Security concluded that, in Ottawa’s major area of concentration in Afghanistan, Kandahar, “Life is clearly more perilous because we are there.”

After almost $1 trillion dollars poured into Afghanistan — Canada’s contribution runs to about $18 billion — some 70 percent of the Afghan population lives in poverty, and malnutrition has recently increased. Over 30,000 Afghan children die each year from hunger and disease. And as for liberating women, according to a study by TrustLaw Women, the “conflict, NATO airstrikes and cultural practices combined” make Afghanistan the “most dangerous country for women” in the world.

The last section of the book deals with Canada’s anti-war movement.

While the focus of “Empire’s Ally” is Canada, the book is really a sort of historical materialist blueprint for analyzing how and why capitalist countries involve themselves in foreign wars. Readers will certainly learn a lot about Canada, but they will also discover how political economics works and what the goals of the new imperialism are for Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin.

Klassen argues that Canadians have not only paid in blood and gold for their Afghanistan adventure, they have created a multi-headed monster, a “network of corporate, state, military, intellectual, and civil social actors who profit from or direct Canada’s new international policies.”

This meticulously researched book should be on the shelf of anyone interested in the how’s and why’s of western foreign policy. “Empire’s Ally” is a model of how to do an in-depth analysis of 21st century international capital and a handy guide on how to cut through the various narratives about “democracy,” “freedom,” and “security” to see the naked violence and greed that lays at the heart of the Afghan War.

The authors do more than reveal, however; they propose a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan. It is the kind of thinking that could easily be applied to other “hot spots” on the globe.

For this book is a warning about the future, when the battlegrounds may shift from the Hindu Kush to the East China Sea, Central Africa, or Kashmir, where, under the guise of fighting “terrorism,” establishing “stability,” or “showing resolve,” the U.S. and its allies will unleash their armies of the night.

Poets Mirror Feelings of Afghans Caught in Conflict May 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Published on Monday, May 25, 2009 by Reuters by Hanan Habibzai

Intellectuals and poets have a commanding presence in Afghan  society. It is the poets who often mirror the feelings of  ordinary people, revealing much about the mindset of Afghans in  the face of occupation and civil war.

Now, it is the smell of fresh blood rather than the delights  of Afghanistan’s mountains and fields that occupies the poets.  As an Afghan, when I read their works, I am shocked by the state  of my country, and see in that state the failures of my  government and the international community.

When Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential election last  year, many Afghans, intellectuals included, believed the end of  the Bush era meant a let-up in their suffering.

But after the U.S. bombardments on the western province of  Farah on May 4/5, the latest of many in which scores of  civilians have been killed, most have lost faith.

Local elders say the strikes took 147 lives. If true, that  makes the strikes the bloodiest since the war began in 2001,  though the U.S. military accuse civilians of inflating the  numbers.

But focusing on the numbers misses the point. The situation  has devastated Afghans, and perhaps removed the last shred of  faith they may have had in the coalition forces. Farah resident  Hamidullah says: “We got it wrong. Americans came to kill us. We  thought that they were here to make our future better. But no,  they kill children, women, elders and any type of villager as if  they are all Taliban.”

Another local, Khan Wali, who lost his sister-in-law and  another female relative in the air strike, says: “The American  military is trying to prove itself as a hero back in America by  killing innocents.”

One Afghan poet, 28-year-old Samiullah Taroon, was born just  after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and grew up between  decades of war. Once famous for pretty verse about valleys in  the Kunar region, he has now, like his fellow artists, turned to  war and oppression, both foreign and domestic, for his subject  matter:

We have heard these anecdotes
That control will be again in the hands of the killer
Some will be chanting the slogans of death
And some will be chanting the slogans of life
The white and sacred pages of the history
Remind one of some people
In white clothes, they are the snakes in the sleeves
They capture Kabul and they capture Baghdad.

Taroon says the government is a puppet of foreign powers,  and in thrall to warlords and corruption:

A fraud with the name of reconstruction
Takes power and gold from me

As a popular poet, reciting his poetry at rallies where  thousands gather, he is a threat to those in power, and those  who want it. Taroon says he is being followed by an Afghan  intelligence agency, which opened a file on him last year, and  fears for his life.

So what does the government or the Taliban have to fear from  a poet? In Afghanistan, poetry is often recited or sung, and is  hugely accessible to ordinary people, despite high illiteracy.  Poetry contests are attended by thousands.

Poetry has for centuries reflected traditions, history and  the mood of the moment in Afghanistan.

At the Battle of Maiwand in 1880, legend has it that a young  girl named Malalai inspired Afghan fighters to defeat the  British army. When the soldiers grew disheartened and the  British looked like winning, Malalai, tending wounded troops,  recited poetry: 

Young love, if you do not fall in the battle of Maiwand,
By God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame!

The Afghans turned the tables and drove the British all the  way back to Kandahar. True or not, many Afghans believe the  tale.

Pashtun poets have a long history of protest. According to  Afghan historian Habibullah Rafi, 19th-century editor Alama  Mahmood Tarzi infuriated the British with protest poems that  were read throughout the Pashtu speaking world.

When the Russians arrived in 1979, the poetry once again  changed with the fortunes of the people. Ishaq Nangyal’s poems,  written during the 80s and 90s, are a good example of the  resilience shown by Afghans towards their oppressors, be they  foreign invaders or religious extremists:

Even if my head is cut down from my body
If my heart is taken out of my cage with the hands
For the honour of the country I accept all these
I am an Afghan, I fulfil my intentions.

When international forces defeated the Taliban in 2001, many  poets reflected hopes that they would finally bring peace and  prosperity after years of suffering under the Soviet-backed  communist government, the Mujahadeen and the Taliban.

But the suffering of ordinary Afghans continued: poverty  grew, corruption grew and the government’s actions began to wear  down its people. The poets became angry and directed their anger  at the coalition forces.

Following a U.S. military air strike last summer in the  Shindand district of the Herat province, 47-year-old Nader Jan  lost his faith. “We voted for the kingdom of Hamid Karzai to  have a peaceful life,” he says. “Instead we got death. I saw how  Nawabad village came under American attack and more than 100  civilians died, 70 of them children and women. Are the children  also fighting against America? No. I ask, what did they do  wrong?”

A veteran Afghan poet, Pir Muhammad Karwan, mourns a bride and groom killed at a wedding party that was bombed.

Here the girls with the language of bangles
Brought the songs of wedding to the ceremony
With the rockets of America
The songs of the hearts were holed 


© 2009 Reuters

Hanan Habibzai is an Afghan writer who has reported from  his country for Reuters and the BBC, and has recently moved to  London.