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Rebels, good ones and bad

Here’s a little ethnic joke: How do you clear a swimming pool of 100 Canadians in 10 seconds or less?

You stand at the edge, and say, “Please get out of the pool.”

I am writing this column from Toronto. According to all media sources, we are now under “lockdown” for the “G” Summits. The authorities have told us to “expect significant delays” in all traffic.

Result: The city is empty. The roads are clear. If it weren’t for the helicopters, it would be quiet, too. One e-mail correspondent mentions driving all the way from the suburbs downtown in less than half an hour. Normally it would take hours.

True, there’s a little armed camp, for a few blocks around the Metro Convention Centre, behind wire fences. But that’s a pinprick on a map of the city. There’s nothing of significance within that camp, unless you count the headquarters of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as significant. Or hold “world leaders” in some unnatural awe.

“O dark dark dark, they all go into the dark, the vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant.”

That was T.S. Eliot’s take on the famous, generally, and it is worth devoting a moment to considering all the big names in 1937, the year he began writing East Coker. “The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters, the generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers, distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees, industrial lords and petty contractors.” How many can you name?

Of course, from a newsman’s point of view, this is not a very constructive way to cover a major political event. But someone should be showing the death’s head at such gatherings, and I hereby volunteer this public service.

In Sunday’s column, I shall dwell on the farce of it: of the leaders themselves, and their thousands of “wind catchers” hustling about, processing nearly meaningless documents that were drafted months ago. The idea such a horde can thoughtfully discuss even the lunch menu, under these circumstances in the available time, is too absurd to present to adults.

Our Bay Street bankers and lawyers have provided a nice touch. They’ve all been instructed to dress casually today, lest the anarchists we all assume to be prowling the streets, spot them in their elegant suits, seize them and eat them. I’m sure they have followed the memos, that many are disguised as anarchists themselves, and half are working from home, the lawyers carefully ticking off the kitchen clock in six-minute billable intervals.

My reader will guess I do not carry a brief for violent anarchists. Along with my hero, Baudelaire, I’m with the gendarmes on that one. When the revolutionists start lifting the cobblestones, I raise my standard with the bourgeoisie.

But, really, what cowards! The one day in their whole lives when wearing a three-piece suit counts, and they funk it. I’d rather be drinking with (retired) General McChrystal and the lads.

– – –

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the war goes on. The appointment of Gen. Petraeus this week, to replace McChrystal in command, is probably good news. Like stock market investors, soldiers need confidence in facing the unknown, and President Obama has wisely appointed the author of the successful “Surge” in Iraq. The same Obama who, a few short years ago, preened himself in Senate hearings, directly at this general’s expense, now needs Petraeus to save his own bacon.

Obama had no choice but to cashier McChrystal after that Rolling Stone article revealed the contempt in which the general’s staff held the president’s staff, to say nothing of the president himself.

McChrystal’s real “problem” was being a brilliant special forces commander, which is a good thing, except when your command is not special forces. Such men think differently, not only from the politicians in Washington, but also from the more politic mainstream military. It is worth mentioning all the outrageous, even puerile remarks recorded in the report by Michael Hastings, were spot on the money: that contempt was expressed for contemptible men.

I was reminded of other special forces personalities: brave, intelligent, quite decent guys, who would nevertheless not make suitable guests at a sherry party. They get along perfectly with their own kind, and also with primitive tribesmen. Apparently, McChrystal was even shown a copy of the article before it appeared and didn’t grasp how explosive it would be. He may have thought it was just a good yarn.

The whole operation is still rotting from the head, however. Between Obama, McChrystal, Joe Biden, Robert Gates, Richard Holbrooke, Karl Eikenberry, and Hamid Karzai, we had inhabiters of seven distinct planets. It does not surprise me that the two closest on this list were McChrystal and Karzai. I only wish four of the remaining five were not still orbiting.

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