Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bush gets it wrong - again

"WASHINGTON, July 27 — The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to eventually total $20 billion at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq.

The proposed package of advanced weaponry for Saudi Arabia, which includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels, has made Israel and some of its supporters in Congress nervous. Senior officials who described the package on Friday said they believed that the administration had resolved those concerns, in part by promising Israel $30.4 billion in military aid over the next decade, a significant increase over what Israel has received in the past 10 years."

The above article from today's New York Times may make sense to someone. Not to me. The US is basically setting out to arm the whole Middle East in order to counter threats from Iran. It's like a principal of a school handing out pistols to students so they can protect themselves from bullies, and then allaying the teachers' concerns about their safety by giving them kalashnikovs! Hopefully then the principal will feel safer in his office assuming that the "good students" and the teachers together will deal with any aggression on the playground and in the classrooms, and he'll be much safer in his office. Never mind that it cost the entire library and textbook budget to make it happen!

If you disapprove of this action, I suggest that you open the link below(you may have to copy and paste it into the URL window), identify yourself with your email address and write to the US State Department something like: "I strongly oppose the proposed multi-billion dollar sale of arms to the Middle East. Such an action will only serve to encourage another arms race and will raise tensions in the area. Please reconsider."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Macleans in Afghanistan

The current Maclean’s (July 23rd edition) features a 5 page plea for support for the mission in Afghanistan. It was written by Sean M. Maloney whose bio-clip from his website ( reads as follows:

Sean Maloney currently teaches in the War Studies Programme at the Royal Military College of Canada and is the Strategic Studies Advisor to the Canadian Defence Academy. He served as the historian for 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade, the Canadian Army's primary Cold War NATO commitment, after the re-unification of Germany and at the start of Canada's long involvement in the Balkans. Dr. Maloney has held grants from the prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for both doctoral and post-doctoral research. He has also been a consultant to NATO, Canada's Privy Council Office, several directorates in the Department of National Defence, and the Canadian Army. Dr. Maloney has extensive field research experience throughout the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central and South-West Asia.

Maloney’s argument is, of course, predictable given his long association with the Canadian military, NATO, etc. He sums it up in his last paragraph as follows:

Given the improving socio-economic situation in Kandahar province, withdrawing now would be like retreating from the beachhead in Normandy immediately after landing. Canada has sacrificed too much to pull our when those incremental measures we’ve talked about for two years are just starting to have an effect.

Well, no, it would be nothing like retreating from the beachhead in Normandy immediately after landing. But I’m sure that’s what it would look like to the military, for whom the war is, in part, a football game in which “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” The militarism in Maloney’s rhetoric gives this sentiment away when he writes:

The troops are tired, but still pumped from the action this morning and keep a close eye out as they return to base. Officially there are 20 confirmed enemy dead, probably more, but the effects of this operation are greater than the body count.

At the same time as Maloney trumpets the achievements of the occupation of southern Afghanistan by NATO, he lets us in on some of the futility. For instance, even though NATO forces may be able to clear out a sector and kill or chase out all the Taliban fighters, an effective police force to maintain order and security in that sector doesn’t exist, and efforts to train and mobilize such a force are fragmented and unsuccessful. In turn, Maloney says, “[this fact] makes governance difficult.” In other words, “success” has to do mostly with the NATO forces having been able to win battles with the Taliban (compare their firepower; anything less would be laughable) and assist in the construction of some schools and other facilities.

Meanwhile, Afghanis have not been doing their part; they cannot police themselves and they cannot govern themselves. In all likelihood, it’s a matter of will as much as ability. Given the rosy future Maloney seems to think is possible—with enough time—why wouldn’t the Afghani response be an overwhelming enthusiasm for taking their future into their own hands?

Some knowledge of Afghanistan and the Taliban tends to make the long-term prospects for peace and security there a bit clearer. Afghanistan is extremely fragmented culturally and politically, power and control there have always followed religious and ethnic lines, and the economy leans very heavily on the drug trade. Without all of these things changing dramatically, the emergence of a unified, democratic state in Afghanistan is highly unlikely.

And what are the prospects of these changes happening? The Taliban would like to see unity under fundamentalist Islamic governance, and history is on their side: in Afghanistan, the separation of state and religion is a foreign concept. The Taliban come out of the Pashtun (Sunni) majority in the country (Afghanistan is 90% Pashtun, 10% Shiite) and it’s a safe bet that this predominant religious faction will play the major role in any unified country of the future. The force attempting to push the Middle East toward Islamic theocracy and the application of Sharia law is broadly based, as we all know if we read the news. I wouldn’t be prepared to guess at this time what the future of that struggle will be, but it’s certain that the conversion of the Afghan people to Western style democracy will not be achieved by NATO troops or reconstruction efforts of “foreigners,” even if they stay for,say, fifty years.

I would urge readers to explore the history of the Taliban at, for starters. The Taliban fighters are currently based primarily in Pakistan, where they have fought the Pakistani army successfully and are presently enjoying a cease-fire arrangement with Pakistan, one that more-or-less ensures them a base of operations for the foreseeable future. This is also the area where Osama bin Laden and his court are hiding out and managing Al-Qaeda’s affairs. But the Taliban is not “the enemy” in Afghanistan—as Maloney calls them—although it is the enemy of NATO forces there. The Taliban are Afghanis who share a philosophy based on a—probably ill-informed—fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran. Their worldview is widely held although probably not in the majority in other Middle East and North African countries. The Taliban-philosophy will be around and thriving long after NATO forces have left Afghanistan.

I lean on the teachings of my Christian faith regarding the hoped-for peace in Afghanistan and a lasting arrangement by which Islamic states and Western democracies can be good neighbours.

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink (Proverbs 25:21 KJV).

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48 NKJV).

It’s amazing how we fuddle up our Christianity by putting a “yes, but” after its directives and principles, even when they are crystal clear. The West should have made itself a good neighbour to the Islamic world a long time ago. Instead, we have exploited their wealth and resources shamelessly and have prepared ourselves to deal with the fallout from this with military might. The USA’s military budget last year exceeded the military budgets of all the other countries in the world combined last. What does that say? (See:

Maloney and others are preparing the way for the impending failure by asserting in advance that “The only way the Taliban can win is to generate doubt and fear in Canada, and hope for a withdrawal of troops.” Right. When failure comes, it won’t be the fault of the military or those who directed it, we Canadian wimps will bear the blame. It’s the same rhetoric hawks in the USA have repeatedly used regarding the Iraq war, and despite massive expenditures and the “surge of troops,” that effort is failing badly. And it won’t be the “wimps” fault, it will be the fault of monstrously flawed goals and planning of the American administration and the militaries naivetĂ© in taking on a mission that was doomed from the start.

(For a sobering view of the extent of the failure of the USA’s war on terror, see the New York Times story at

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Please pass the butter - a reflection on revisionism and the holocaust

Don’t bother me with the facts, my mind’s already made up (popular saying).

In our age, seems to me, anti-Semitism stands as the universal icon of ethnic prejudice and the holocaust as the historical point of reference. So much so that one begins to feel that questioning the facts of the holocaust, contextualizing it historically, even criticizing the behaviour of the State of Israel in any way is somehow encroaching on holy ground. I’m not arguing for the holocaust revisionists here; I’m simply saying that there appears to be undue alarm raised by any historical research that tends to update details of the holocaust, as if such effort is necessarily an attempt to divert blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

And holocaust revisionists do the latter blatantly. Book titles and websites proclaiming that “gas chambers and extermination plans are myths” are easy to find. But what if it turned out to be true that a lot of the Jews we once believed were killed by NAZIs in Poland were actually killed by Poles? Would it make an appreciable difference? Holocaust-denial websites and historical revisionists imply that such information tends to absolve the NAZIs, and are hard at work pushing this faulty logic on the world.

Ah, logic. We don’t teach it well. A website lists the people in positions of authority in the American media who are also Jewish. That list runs to about a hundred names, and put down on paper that way, it implies a message that simply isn’t there. There are thousands upon thousands of people of non-Jewish origin who would be on this list if ethnicity were not its central criterion. It’s logical that a hundred or so would be Jewish in such a company.

It’s tantamount to listing the names of all the people in Southern Manitoba who own businesses and are Mennonite, then putting a huge exclamation mark after the list. It would imply conspiracy, i.e. that Mennonites are so highly represented in commerce in Southern Manitoba that there’s obviously a plan to exclude non-Mennonites.

People of Chinese origin are massively over-represented in the cafĂ© business in rural Saskatchewan. Obviously only conspiracy could account for this, and who knows what sinister plot the whole of world-wide Chinasery has cooked up, of which their presence in such unexpected numbers in rural Saskatchewan is an obvious part? It makes every Chinese person suspect. It makes it easier to believe that they’re serving us alley cats as chicken and mice as shrimp.

A lot of people have no training in logic; they have a hard time seeing through such deceptions.

Below are three logical fallacies from the catalogue that are clearly evident in the arguments of the holocaust deniers and historical revisionists. They are blatant and should be recognizable to every educated person. Obviously, they’re not:

Argumentum ad logicam (argument to logic). This is the fallacy of assuming that something is false simply because a proof or argument that someone has offered for it is invalid; this reasoning is fallacious because there may be another proof or argument that successfully supports the proposition.[1]

Non Sequitur (“It does not follow”). This is the simple fallacy of stating, as a conclusion, something that does not strictly follow from the premises. For example, “Racism is wrong. Therefore, we need affirmative action.” Obviously, there is at least one missing step in this argument, because the wrongness of racism does not imply a need for affirmative action without some additional support. . . . [2]

The argument to logic is applied repeatedly by revisionists. They will attempt to show that the statistics on executions in Auschwitz, for instance, are inaccurate, and will use that as evidence that the holocaust never happened. (They will often follow this up with an Argumentum ad Hominem fallacy, namely, the argument that the researcher of the inaccurate statistics must have falsified the truth and is therefore an evil—or at least untrustworthy—person. This is proof, they say or imply, that the historical record in total and all those who are responsible for it must be dismissed.

The non sequitur fallacy should be recognizable to all of us, but we often fall prey to it. The entire argument that the high number of Jews in the banking business in Germany means that they were responsible for monetary failures in the period before 1933 is a non sequitur, it does not follow in logic, anymore than the argument that the high rate of incarceration of aboriginal people in Western Canada shows unequivocally that aboriginals have criminal tendencies. Much more needs to be shown as evidence for these two things to be logically connected.

There’s nothing wrong with researching matters like the holocaust, and no one should be dissuaded from this by those who might quickly jump to the conclusion that the effort is in support of revisionists and holocaust deniers. The truth is always the truth.

Educating ourselves and our children to recognize the difference between butter and bullshit, however, is essential.

828 words


[2] ibid

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Some flowers and an acknowledgement

Readers of this blog will know that I've spoken very emphatically about the war in Afghanistan and the folly of that effort. Yesterday another half-dozen Canadians and one Afghani were killed by insurgent sabotage of a roadway. Take time to mourn the loss of those lives, or at least to pray for comfort for their families.
I have sent my views to the prime minister and to the minister of defense. Yesterday I got a four page letter from Gordon J O'Conner (Minister of Defense) which was more than a form letter since it addressed some of my concerns directly and was signed by him. It ran to four pages and outlined the reconstruction that is going on, but did not address my skepticism about the democratic nature - or lack thereof - of the Karzai government. O'Conner said that these concerns had been turned over to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter McKay, and I'm awaiting something from him.
Meanwhile, anyone who wants to read O'Conner's letter is welcome to email me at and I'll be happy to send you a copy by return email (pdf format).

This is the best time of year for flower gardeners and I'd like to share some of the wonderful images that nature has prepared for us through a combination of lots of rain, and, this week, heat and sunshine.