For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, our team at CDSN/CSIDS organized an event and created a video. The event brought together those with perspectives on the international dynamics after 9/11 with those having expertise on the ramifications in Canada: the Asia Foundation's Tabasum Akseerformer Ambassadors Sabine Nolke and Kerry Buck, and Imam Navaid Aziz who is a leader of Canada's Muslim community. We taped it:
We also put together a video asking those who served in decision-making posts that day as well the perspectives of today's experts:
We still have much to learn from the past 20 years, but if there is one thing I want folks to learn is this: Green Lantern is not a thing. Huh? Green Lantern is the DC superhero whose ring allows him to create a green version of whatever he wants--he can wish anything into being. What we should have learned from the experience in Afghanistan and the other interventions of the past 20 years is some damned humility about what can be done in the world.
Yet we haven't. Yesterday, a person with whom I appeared on TV a few years ago reposted the link, arguing that we should have confronted Pakistan more assertively as it supported the Taliban.
Our leaders should have confronted Pakistan’s backing of terror networks in Afghanistan from the very beginning. Here’s a discussion I had with @RosieBarton and @smsaideman in 2017. #SanctionPakistan https://t.co/izhEIyx0Rn— Shuvaloy Majumdar (@shuvmajumdar) September 10, 2021
Sure, I agree that Pakistan was/is supporting the Taliban, but in that video, I noted that there was little the US and its allies could do about it. Why? Nearly all of the supplies for the troops in Afghanistan--ammunition, water, fuel, food, etc--flowed through Pakistan. Plus much of the air support flew over Pakistan. The alternatives were Russia and Iran ultimately... not great. So, the US had minimal leverage over Pakistan. The irony here is that the Taliban's victory and the American withdrawal from Afghanistan dramatically reduces Pakistan's leverage.
A tangent about leverage: I was on a TV program this week, and there were five panelists, so I didn't get much of a chance to speak. But I wish I had made a simple and obvious point--that the US and its allies had a lot of leverage in 2002 and damned little in 2021 vis-a-vis the Taliban. So, that affected the kinds of deals one could make.
Anyhow, onto a more local bout of Green Lanterning. I watched a CGAI event that presented Canadian decision-makers of the time--Richard Fadden and Eugene Lang--and the CDSN's Andrea Charron talking about the legacy of 9/11 as well. One recurring theme, especially by Lang, was that Canada has chosen to be dependent for its security on the US. Sure, the US is not as reliable as it used to be (thanks to Trump and the GOP), but WHAT ALTERNATIVE IS THERE? Lang kept saying, we could chose to be less so, and my basic question is how? Spending double on the military wouldn't do it. Triple? It may suck sometimes, but there is no getting away from basic facts--that the US is the only country bordering Canada, that it is way more powerful on every measure, and that collaborating with it is the only choice. Canada could choose to do less operations abroad, but it can't choose not to rely on the US for its own defence against China and Russia.
So, how about some humility? That is the one of the most important lessons of the past 20 years. We have less influence over events than we think, that force is not as effective as we would like (good for breaking, bad for building), that cooperation is hard but necessary, and that we can't wish things into being. It is not so much that there is no "political will" but that there are real constraints that can't be wished away--domestic ones and international ones.
In the comic books, if I recall correctly (I was never a reader of Green Lantern), the adversary of GL is anything yellow, and, yes, this is a reference to cowardice. But it is not cowardice to recognize that one does not have Green Lantern's powers. Indeed, it may be far more courageous to recognize the limits of one's own abilities.
So, I will conclude with an Ultimate analogy. I think, when I played best, it was because I was pretty good at recognizing the limits of myself and my teammates--that I would not throw high throws to my teammates who could not catch the disk over their heads, that I would not throw very far in front of my teammates who were not so fast, that I wouldn't throw hammers to teammates that had problems catching that hard to read throw (and for other reasons), that I no longer try to throw it as long as I used to as I cannot (aging sucks). It is no accident I have been using the following image for years:
|A man has got to know his limitations (and women, too)|