Thursday, November 18

LIKE EATING SOUP WITH A KNIFE



In 1968, on a remote, little known, and otherwise unimportant hilltop outpost in Vietnam, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army gathered. History records it as the siege of Khe Sanh. For what seemed an eternity, the enemy shelled the hilltop fortress: mortar rounds, rockets, and artillery. Many Marines were wounded by shrapnel or blown away completely.

When the enemy melted back into the thick, dark green, triple canopy of the Vietnamese jungle, so did the raison d'etre of Khe Sanh. Its significance existed in direct proportion to the concentration of enemy forces that surrounded it.

Like much of counter-insurgency warfare, it is about attrition for conventional forces: kill as many as you can, or, at least until they relent or are coerced to become politically pliable. The problem for the occupying conventional force, whether it is Vietnam, Iraq, Israel in south Lebanon, France in Algeria, etc. is that insurgents cannot go home. They are already there. And there is a never-ending supply of manpower.

Simply put, the Viet Cong and NVA were willing to lose longer than America was willing to win. Will the same be true in Iraq?

Fallujah has some interesting historical precedents, and one I like to look at is Khe Sanh. The Marines stayed there back in 1968 because that's where the battle was. It was where the enemy was dug in. So, the Marines dug in more. Similarly, Fallujah was where the insurgents were supposed to be. However, we now know that most melted away when the Marines gathered to attack, the civilian population--the alleged non-combatants--were allowed to leave.

It has now been estimated that three-quarters of the Sunni insurgents did, in fact, leave. Now the question becomes, what have the Marines really won by taking Fallujah? Those that stayed there were already committed to dying. Those that chose to leave preferred to return and fight again.

The recent controversy surrounding the killing of the wounded insurgent is a testament to the problem: counter-insurgency, the kind of war Colin Powell refused to fight, is unwinnable when the population turns. Moreover, the mounting frustration from fighting it, and the nature of fighting amateur civilians, also engenders a kind of nihilistic Apocalypse Now attitude and brutishness that removes the moral high ground. The result is a reinforcement of the downward spiral for the occupier, in this case, America in Iraq.

Powell knows that America neither has the military doctrine, the kind of forces needed, the amount--most estimates say at least two more divisions--or the political will, to fight a protracted counter-insurgency.

Rarely is such a war a war of necessity; therein lies the essential problem. It is also why American political will is alloyed, impatient, and questioning.

Ask the Vets of Khe Sanh. When the enemy moved away, so did the hilltop's strategic significance. And in Iraq you are not fighting a city or a place, or even a military front structure as in WW1 or WW2 or Korea. In Iraq you are fighting a mood, an interpretation, a culture, a feeling. Perhaps unconsciously, the very facts regarding the nature of counter-insurgency led to an unintended irony: the code name for the Marine operation in Fallujah was called “Phantom Fury”.

History shows us that tribal geography, while still mass in the scientific sense, is too mercurial to crush with a boot. Lawrence of Arabia said it best: "Fighting guerillas is like eating soup with a knife".

Monday, November 8

BUSH: A UNITER NOT A DIVIDER ... IN CANADA

George W. Bush's re-election illuminates an important point about Canada: We often define our identity by what we are not.

That we are not Americans, posited pyschologically in such a transnational culture where New York and Los Angeles are cultural capitals for Canada too, is no small thing.

Bush 43's victory is just as alienating south of the border, given how those big coastal cities feel just as disenfranchised.

Does that mean we, in Canada, do not subscribe to prioritizing "moral issues", as ascribed to those in Ohio at the exit polls? Are we in Canada less moral?

No. In fact, we Canadians possess the greater morality. Our progressiveness better facilitates Christian notions of humility, tolerance, non-violence and acceptance.

Canada's concept of multiculturalism is underlined by the notion of loving your brother as yourself (that is the inherent ideal); a concept whose moral antecedent is the precept of being equal before God.

Pot smoking and abortion? Michael Coren may disagree, but those are blatant baubles of permissiveness that distract from our overall, over-arching approach: We show restraint.

One historical example is our treatment of Native populations. While America practiced outright genocide--something Hitler himself referenced during his assault on Russia--Canadians practiced live and let live within the confines of military neutralization. Similar restraint was shown against the French (neutralized not eradicated) and with the Indians more recently at Oka. And even in October 1970 during the FLQ crisis. (A show of force as a deterrent, without overt oppression that would bolster and solidify a popular ethnic uprising.)

While the FLQ wanted to goad the Feds into over-reaction, they didn't. Whereas, in America, a much oppressed and justifiably violent Black minority was brutally attacked and punitively terrorized by a State agency. (See: Dr. King versus the famous homosexual, J. Edgar Hoover.)

Police and State militia riots against the public have been common: The Civil War, Kent State, the '68 Democratic Convention In Chicago, Seattle a few years ago, all through the South for decades and decades.

Add to those examples the Patriot Act--exercised with much more enthusiasm and much less restraint than our version here--Nixon's IRS attacks on enemies of the state--which often meant comedians and authors--the House Un-American Activities Committee, Mcarthyism, etc.

The list of foreign nationals and populations that have been subjected to outright devastation, and administrative torture by Jesus-loving America, is just too long.

I believe America refers to that list often. In fact, the list of American atrocities and conquests is formally taught. The list is called "American history".

History, like the nightly news, is often bloody--and it often excites us. Of course, Canadian history, by contrast, is not unlike Jesus or Ghandi.

By the standard of American history, those two hippies were boring until they themselves were the victims of violence.

While the bloodied, and bloody, War President gets ready for four more we, here in Canada (especially Ontario and Quebec) recognize that we share a mutual antipathy for the cultural half of America that Bush cultivates and represents.

Family values? Well, crazy Uncle Sam that shows up but at the family reunion farting, with a shotgun in one hand, and the Bible in the other, isn't expelled exactly--just sighed at. People get out of the way. Roll their eyes, and quietly excuse themselves. The rest of Uncle Sam's family may even be really nice people.

This "rest of America", the America of the multi-cultural cities, sighs along with us too.

You're not alone, Canada. Just more aware that outlook and perspective, more than blood, is thicker than water.

God Bless Canada.