The War In Afghanistan: 40 Questions and Answers
Michael Albert and Stephen R. Shalom
In the course of our
discussions since the bombing of Afghanistan began, we have encountered certain
questions over and over. Here we assemble those questions and provide answers to
- 1. What is Islamic
Fundamentalism has been on
the rise worldwide. One reason has been the absence in much of the Third World
of a meaningful Left. Without a left alternative to the oppression and
alienation of modern capitalism, many have sought solace in the easy
explanations and promises of intolerant religion. Left organizations in many
Arab and Muslim nations have either been smashed by right-wing forces (often
backed by the major Western states) or discredited by ruthless dictatorships (as
in Iraq) or Soviet-style parties. In this void, fundamentalism flourished.
Fundamentalism was also supported by the opportunism of various states (for
example, the United States supported reactionary fundamentalists, including
Osama bin Laden, against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and aided mullahs
against the Left in Iran; Israel gave early backing to Hamas in an effort to
provide a counter-weight to the secular PLO).
The Taliban, the
rulers of most of Afghanistan, adhere to a particularly extreme and intolerant
variant of fundamentalist Islam. They came to power out of the in-fighting among
the various Mujahedeen (religious warriors) groups following the Soviet
withdrawal. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were the principal international backers
of the Taliban. Pakistani intelligence maintained extremely close ties to the
Taliban and Pakistani troops assisted their rise to power. Most Taliban leaders
and many of its foot-soldiers were trained in the madrassas—religious schools—in
Pakistan set up with funding from wealthy Pakistanis, Saudis, and others in the
Gulf, which taught a version of the fundamentalist Wahhabism that is the state
religion of Saudi Arabia. Despite the anti-American and generally reactionary
teachings of these madrassas, Pakistan has been a U.S. ally and Saudi Arabia has
been one of Washington’s closest allies.
- 2. What is the attitude
in the Arab and Islamic worlds to the September 11 attacks, and the current
U.S. war in Afghanistan?
Every government in the
region other than Iraq condemned the September 11 attacks, and even Iraq sent
its condolences to the victims. The enormity of the slaughter horrified many
people in the region, and there were many deeply felt expressions of sympathy
for those who lost their lives. But a large reservoir of anti-Americanism led
many people to feel that the United States was finally getting back some of what
it deserved, or to believe one of the idiotic conspiracy theories so common in
the Middle East (the Israeli Mossad did it, the CIA did it). Among Palestinians,
a poll in early October found that two-thirds considered the attacks to violate
Islamic law, while a quarter thought them consistent with it. The poll showed
Palestinians angry about U.S. foreign policy, but not at Americans.
But even among
those who were horrified by the September 11 attacks, most people in the region
seem to oppose the war on Afghanistan. (The same Palestinian poll found 89
percent criticizing a U.S. attack on Afghanistan, with 92 percent believing that
it would lead to more attacks on the United States.) Many pro-U.S. governments
were tactfully silent when the air strikes began, sensing the popular
opposition. The unilateralism of the U.S. response was especially criticized;
Iran—which had indicated its willingness to support a UN action—sharply
condemned the U.S. attacks.
- 3. What grievances fuel
hatred for the U.S. in the Middle East?
Anti-American sentiment is
widespread in the Middle East, not just among Islamic fundamentalists. This
anti- Americanism has a variety of sources. Some comes from specific U.S.
policies in the region—backing Israeli oppres- sion of Palestinians, enforcing
devastating sanctions on the civilian population of Iraq, supporting
authoritarian govern- ments, often by deploying U.S. troops on land considered
holy by Muslims. Some comes from resentment of Washington’s economic and
political arro- gance more generally. And some comes from religious opposition
to the secular world, of which the United States is the leading power, an intol-
erance fed by sexism, anti- Semitism, and other reactionary doctrines. One
indication of the weight of all these factors is provided by the videotape Osama
bin Laden released on October 7—not because it tells us anything about the
motives of bin Laden (who is probably totally unconcerned with oppressed or
suffering people, hoping only to precipitate a holy war engulfing the entire
region)—but because bin Laden is an astute judge of what issues inflame people.
In that video, bin Laden referred to 80 years of Muslim humiliation, Israeli
oppression of Palestinians, Iraqi starvation, and the atom bombs dropped on
Japan. America, he warned, “will not live in peace before peace reigns in
Palestine, and before all the army of infidels depart the land of Muhammad….”
He felt these were the issues that people hearing him would be moved by, not an
attack on Western democracy.
- 4. Does trying to
understand/explain the grievances of the people of the Middle East constitute
excusing bin Laden?
When some students killed
a number of their classmates at Columbine high school, people of good will tried
to figure out the causes for such horrible events. In so doing, they were hardly
justifying or excusing the heinous slaughter. The killers may have had some
neo-Nazi sympathies (choosing Hitler’s birthday as the day for their assault),
but this didn’t change our obligation to examine the deeper causes of adolescent
alienation, to discover how schools might contribute to that alienation and what
they could to do reduce it. No grievance of oppressed people can excuse or
justify what happened on September 11. (As a PLO official declared: “It is true
that there is injustice, terrorism, killing and crimes in Palestine, but that
does not justify at all for anybody to kill civilians in New York and
Washington.”) But if we want to understand and reduce the widespread
anti-Americanism that allows terrorism to find fertile soil, we need to attend
to the grievances.
- 5. What is terrorism?
indicate it is creating terror, employing fear for political purposes. More
aptly, terrorism is attacking and terrifying civilian populations in order to
force the civilians’ governments to comply with demands. So Hitler’s bombing of
London was terror bombing, unlike his attacks on British military bases. The
issue isn’t what weapon is used, but who is the target and what is the motive.
For terrorism the target is innocent civilians. The motive is political,
impacting their government’s behavior. Attacks on the public for private gain
are not terrorism, but crime. Attacks on a military for political purposes are
not terrorism, but acts of war.
- 6. Are Bin Laden and his
Bin Laden has issued
public statements calling for the killing of U.S. civilians, among others.
Evidence presented at trials compellingly ties the bin Laden network to
terrorist attacks (the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and U.S. embassies in
Africa in 1998). So even apart from September 11, there is no doubt that bin
Laden and his Al Qaeda network are terrorists.
- 7. Is the Taliban
In its treatment of the
Afghan people—especially women and religious minorities—the Taliban has behaved
in a terrorist manner. It has allowed bin Laden to establish training camps on
its territory and prior to September 11, 2001, rejected UN demands that it turn
bin Laden over to the United States. There have been no specific charges by the
United States regarding any direct Afghan support for international terrorism.
Prior to September 11, Afghanistan was not on the U.S. State Department’s
(rather selective) list of nation’s engaging in state terrorism.
- 8. Is Hamas a terrorist
Hamas and Islamic Jihad in
Palestine engage in bombings of Israeli civilians. Despite the fact that
Palestinians are oppressed, these attacks constitute terrorism. There can be no
justification for blowing up civilians in a Sbarro’s pizzeria or a Tel Aviv
nightclub. These organizations are not the only terrorists, however. The Israeli
government has killed huge numbers of Palestinian civilians. These acts too are
terrorism. One terrorism does not justify or excuse the other. The United States
has been backing—with military, economic, and diplomatic support—Israeli
- 9. Is the U.S.
When the U.S. government
targets civilians with the intention of pressuring their governments, yes, it is
engaging in terrorism. Regrettably, this is common in our history. Most
recently, imposing a food and drug embargo on a country—Iraq—with the intention
of making conditions so difficult for the population that they will rebel
against their government, is terrorism (with food and medicine as the weapons,
not bombs). Bombing civilian centers and the society’s public infrastructure in
Kosovo and Serbia, again with the intent of coercing political outcomes, was
terrorism. And now, attacking Afghanistan (one of the world’s poorest countries)
and hugely aggravating starvation dangers for its population with the possible
loss of tens of thousands or more lives is terrorism. We are attacking civilians
with the aim of attaining political goals unrelated to them, in this case
hounding bin Laden and toppling the Taliban.
- 10. What is the legal
way of dealing with terrorism?
In our world, the only
alternative to vigilantism is that guilt should be determined by amassing of
evidence that is then assessed in accordance with international law by the
United Nations Security Council or other appropriate international agencies.
Punishment should be determined by the UN as well, and likewise the means of
implementation. The UN may arrive at determinations that one or another party
likes or not, as with any court, and may also be subject to political pressures
that call into question its results or not, as with any court. But that the UN
is the place for determinations about international conflict is obvious, at
least according to solemn treaties signed by the nations of the world. Thus, to
pursue a legal approach means assembling evidence of culpability and presenting
it to the UN or the World Court. It means those agencies undertaking to
apprehend and prosecute culprits. It does not involve victims overseeing
retaliation without even demonstrating guilt, much less having legal sanction,
much less in a manner that increases the sum total of terrorism people are
suffering and the conditions that breed potential future terrorism.
- 11. If all terrorists
were pursued through legal channels, what would the international response
have been to the September 11 attacks?
Presumably, if provided
proof of culpability, UN agencies would seek to arrest guilty parties. They
would first seek to negotiate extradition. If a host government failed to
comply, as a last resort they could presumably send in a force to extract guilty
parties. But these actions would be taken in accord with international law, by
forces led by international agencies and courts, in a manner respecting civilian
safety, and consistent with further legitimating rather than bypassing respect
for law and justice.
- 12. If all terrorists
were pursued through legal channels, what would the international response
have been the embargo of Iraq, the bombing of Kosovo and Serbia, and the
bombing of Afghanistan, of a legal prosecution of all terrorists?
These acts, among many
others, violate international law in many respects, not least because they harm
civilians. Presumably, then, were international legal channels strengthened and
respected, aggrieved parties could bring these and other cases to legal
attention, leading to diverse prosecutions, many of which would be aimed at
officials from the U.S.
- 13. Is what the U.S. is
doing consistent with a legal approach?
To not present evidence,
to decide guilt rather than respect institutions of international law, to
prosecute not only presumed culprits but a whole population suffering terror and
perhaps starvation— of course, international law has been violated. Worse, the
mechanism for attaining illegal vigilante prosecution has been a policy that
knowingly and predictably will kill many, perhaps even huge numbers of innocent
civilians. We take access to food away from millions and then give food back to
tens of thousands while bombing the society into panic and dissolution.
- 14. Why is the U.S.
The answer is not to
reduce the prospects of terror attacks. The U.S. government and all mainstream
media warn their likelihood will increase, both out of short term desire to
retaliate and, over the longer haul, due to producing new reservoirs of hate and
resentment. The answer is not to get justice. Vigilantism is not justice but the
opposite, undermining international norms of law. The answer is not to reduce
actual terror endured by innocent people. Our actions are themselves hurting
civilians, perhaps in tremendous numbers.
aside, the answer is that the U.S. wishes to send a message and to establish a
process. The message, as usual, is don’t mess with us. We have no compunction
about wreaking havoc on the weak and desperate. The process, also not
particularly original since Ronald Regan and George Bush senior had similar
aspirations, is to legitimate a “war on terrorism” as a lynchpin rationale for
both domestic and international policy making.
This “war on
terrorism” is meant to serve like the Cold War did. We fight it with few, if
any, military losses. We use it to induce fear in our own population and via
that fear to justify all kinds of elite policies, from reducing civil liberties
to enlarging the profit margins of military industrial firms to legitimating all
manner of international polices aimed at enhancing U.S. power and profit,
whether in the Mideast or elsewhere.
- 15. What has been the
role of the UN in the current war in Afghanistan?
The Security Council
passed two strong resolutions following September 11, but neither one authorized
the use of military force, and especially not unilateral military force. The
New York Times reported (7 Oct. 2001): “A sign of Washington’s insistence
that its hands not be tied was its rejection of United Nations Secretary General
Kofi Annan’s entreaties that any American military action be subject to Security
Council approval, administration officials said.” Still less has the United
States been willing to have the United Nations have control over the response to
terrorism, including over any military operations.
- 16. What are the reasons
to oppose U.S. bombing of Afghanistan?
Guilt hasn’t yet been
proven. Bombing violates international law. Bombing will be unlikely to
eliminate those responsible for the September 11 attacks. Huge numbers of
innocent people will die. Bombing will reduce the security of U.S. citizens.
- 17. Isn’t it obvious bin
Laden did it?
There are many reasons to
suspect bin Laden’s responsibility for September 11 and his recent video
gloating does not lessen these suspicions. But although Secretary of State Colin
Powell initially promised that evidence of responsibility would be presented,
the Bush administration “decided it was not necessary to make public its
evidence against Mr. bin Laden” (NYT, 7 October 2001). The British
government did prepare a document, “Responsibility for the Terrorist Atrocities
in the United States, 11 September 2001,” (www.pm.gov.uk) which sum- marized
real evidence regarding Osama bin Laden’s involvement in earlier terrorist acts
and noted the similarity of the September 11 acts to the earlier acts (no
warning given, intent to kill maximum number of people—true of many terrorist
acts), but provided very little information specifically regarding the events of
September 11. The two crucial claims are contained in these statements,
presented with no supporting evidence at all:
- Since 11 September we
have learned that one of Bin Laden’s closest and most senior associates was
responsible for the detailed planning of the attacks.
- There is evidence of a
very specific nature relating to the guilt of Bin Laden and his associates
that is too sensitive to release. Our guess, having no access to intelligence
sources, is that bin Laden does indeed bear responsibility for the horrible
deeds of September 11.
But wars should
not be started on the basis of our, or anybody else’s, guesses. Certainly public
opinion in the Arab and Islamic world is going to want more convincing evidence.
“A decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” said the Declaration of
Independence, required a public statement of the causes which impelled the
American colonists to a war of independence. Likewise, a decent respect for the
opinion of the international community would require that before any action
evidence of responsibility be presented. Washington might be satisfied with the
evidence, but many others may not be.
We know of
historical cases where U.S. officials have falsified evidence. (For example, in
1981 Washington issued a White Paper claiming to prove “Communist Interference
in El Salvador”; Raymond Bonner promptly showed this to be “a textbook case of
distortion, embellishments, and exaggeration.”) But the issue goes beyond any
deliberate manipulation of evidence. It’s a basic principle of justice that
people should not be judges in their own case. We know of other cases where U.S.
officials were quick to act on totally inadequate evidence (as when they bombed
a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, alleging its involvement in producing chemical
weapons, a claim that dissolved when subjected to examination).
- 18. Is it possible that
there is decisive evidence, but that its disclosure would compromise important
intelligence gathering capabilities?
Certainly it would be
reasonable for a government to refuse to reveal intelligence sources, which
could help prevent future terrorist plots. No one is asking for names of
informants and so on, but conceivably some evidence might point clearly to a
specific informant. Consider, however, the following: (1) the U.S. was able to
present evidence in court regarding the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in
Africa; (2) even if evidence could not be made fully public, couldn’t it be
shared with the Security Council for their assessment? Sharing the evidence with
Britain and the rest of NATO is better than nothing, but not the same as sharing
it with the body having legal authority for international peace and security;
(3) some evidence (its nature and extent unknown) was apparently shared with
Pakistan—before its intelligence chief was sacked for being too sympathetic to
the Taliban. If there is evidence suitable for Pakistan, it’s hard to see why
that couldn’t be made public. Washington, however, does not want to establish
the precedent that it has an obligation to present evidence.
- 19. Didn’t Afghanistan
reject the U.S. demand to turn over bin Laden?
The Taliban ambassador to
Pakistan stated on October 5, “We are prepared to try him if America provides
solid evidence of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks on New York and
Washington.” Asked if bin Laden could be tried in another country, the
ambassador said, “We are willing to talk about that, but…we must be given the
evidence” (Toronto Star, 6 October 2001, p. A4). One report (AP, 7
October 2001) quoted the ambassador as saying that legal proceedings could begin
even before the United States offered any evidence: “Under Islamic law, we can
put him on trial according to allegations raised against him and then the
evidence would be provided to the court.” Washington responded that its demands
were non negotiable and initiated its bombardment of Afghanistan. Was the
Taliban offer serious? Could it have been the basis for further concessions? Who
knows? Washington never pursued it. But do we really want a world where
countries unilaterally issue ultimatums and then unilaterally decide whether the
terms of the ultimatum have been met, cut off further negotiations, and open
- 20. Doesn’t the U.S.
have the right of self-defense?
If under attack, any
country has the right to repel the attack, according to international law. But
the right of self-defense is not unlimited. The standard precedent is the
Caroline case, which held that action in self-defense should be confined to
cases in which the “necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and
leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” Thus, self-defense
would permit the United States to shoot down attacking enemy planes, but not to
wage a war half way around the globe a month after a terrorist attack, a war
that U.S. officials say might go on for years. Instead, this is the sort of
situation that should be turned over to the United Nations for action.
But let’s suppose
someone doesn’t like the above formulation. What norm would we want instead? If
a country’s civilian population is attacked, then that country has the right to
determine the perpetrator to its own satisfaction, issue an ultimatum, determine
on its own the adequacy of the response to the ultimatum, and attack the
perpetrator’s host country, causing great civilian harm. Would we really want
this to be a universal norm? This would mean that Cubans could attack Washington
on grounds that Miami harbors support for terrorists who have attacked Cuban
civilians. Likewise, Iraqis, Serbs, and now Afghans, not to mention Vietnamese,
Laotians, Cambodians, Colombians, Guatemalans, and so on, could all target
Washington on grounds that the U.S. government has attacked or abetted attacks
on their civilian populations and, for that matter, ironically, Washington can
attack itself, on the grounds that it abetted the creation and arming of bin
Laden’s terror network, which in turn attacked the U.S.
Tony Blair said that Britain was acting in self-defense because many British
citizens died in the World Trade Center. But many Indian citizens also died; do
we want India to issue an ultimatum to Pakistan (for its connections to bin
Laden and other terror networks)? Do we want India to then decide whether
Pakistan has met the terms of its ultimatum and if New Delhi decides no, then
war ensues. Is this the morality, legality, and practicality we want to advocate
for international relations?
- 21. Aren’t the targets
being bombed in Afghanistan legitimate targets?
First, if the agent of
attack is illegitimate, no target it attacks is a legitimate one, even if the
target might be proper were the agent someone else. Suppose Saddam Hussein
decided to bomb Afghanistan on grounds he didn’t like the role of the Taliban in
abetting terror in the world and against the U.S. Even if he confined himself to
targets entirely bearing upon the actions of terrorists and not significantly
endangering civilians, still, we would say Hussein was acting illegally since he
had no UN authorization to act and we wouldn’t temper that claim on the grounds
he could be doing worse. The norm is general. Even if the current U.S. bombings
were internationally and legally sanctioned, thus not being carried out in
vigilante style, not all targets are legitimate by any means. There is no
justification in attacking in a manner that puts people at risk of starvation,
that attacks civilian infra- structure, or that carries risk of substantial
If the attacks
had been initiated because bin Laden and his network were demonstrated guilty
and UN legal agencies called for their extradition and the Taliban refused and
it became necessary to pursue the culprits in order to prosecute them, then yes,
there could be a list of legitimate targets for such endeavors, but only if the
seven million people at risk of starvation were not endangered and if means of
assault could be found, which—unlike those currently being utilized—could be
controlled without causing terrible accidents. On October 12, Mary Robinson, the
UN’s Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the United States to halt the
bombing so that food could reach up to two million desperate Afghan civilians (Independent,
13 October 2001).
- 22. But aren’t civilian
casualties being avoided in Afghanistan?
If the question is, could
the U.S. bomb in a fashion to induce greater civilian casualties, of course the
answer is yes, so that in that sense it is avoiding many possible casualties.
And if the question is, is it good that the U.S. isn’t causing more deaths by
our actions, again the answer is yes. But the question arises, why cause as many
as we are? Why aggravate the desperate food situation to the point of possible
calamity? Why attack in a manner that disrupts all social life and, inevitably,
hits many civilians with bomb impact? This is not going to diminish hatred of
the U.S. nor the violence in the region, but increase both. There is no
justification for all this other than the desires to propel a state of war as a
policy that benefits U.S. elites. If the food disaster materializes at the
levels feared by aid and UN agencies, the catastrophe will be without historical
parallel for such a short engagement
- 23. Aren’t U.S. food
drops a sincere effort to help the people of Afghanistan?
The first week’s airdrops,
we’re told, averaged about 37,500 rations per day. One ration is three meals, or
one person day of food. There are between three and seven million people at risk
of starvation. Thus, in order to alleviate the danger, the rate of airdrops has
to increase over the largest drops so far by a factor of between 100 and 200.
Bush pledged $324 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Each ration costs
$4.25. Let us assume that there are only 3 million at risk of starvation, that
every ration will reach one of those people, and that every dollar of that $324
million is going to rations (and not to the planes, fuel, staff, medicine, or
any other item associated with delivery). Under these fantastically generous
assumptions, there would be enough food to feed these people for 25 days. The
reality is much worse: millions are now fleeing the bombing, and will not sow
their crops of winter wheat. Much of the dropped food will land in minefields
and remote areas. Much of Bush’s money will not be spent on food, itself but
means of trasnporting it. And there are probably 7.5 million in danger of
starving, not 3 million. But even in this scenario the money is insufficient to
last for the winter. Also for comparison, $40 billion was appropriated for the
war effort, and a single B-2 bomber costs $2.1 billion.
aggravate the starvation danger faced by roughly seven million at risk people by
creating internal bedlam and cutting off food transport and aid through closing
borders and bombing, and to then drop food for about one out of every hundred of
the at-risk people, assuming all these meals were even accessible as compared to
being scattered across terrain littered with military mines, is not a serious
approach to saving lives. Rather, as the U.S. policymakers and commentators have
repeated ad nauseam, it is a public relations effort aimed to reduce opposition,
and nothing more.
Without Borders, one of the agencies that had been working in Afghanistan, put
it, “What is needed is large scale convoys of basic foodstuffs…. Until
yesterday the UN and aid agencies such as ourselves were still able to get some
food convoys into Afghanistan. Due to the air strikes the UN have stopped all
convoys, and we will find delivering aid also much more difficult.” As for the
U.S. airdrops, “Such action does not answer the needs of the Afghan people and
is likely to undermine attempts to deliver substantial aid to the most
- 24. What about the
anti-terrorism bill passed by Congress, isn’t that a step in the right
We need to distinguish
between privileges and basic rights. Being able to get to an airport just 25
minutes before your flight is a privilege, not a basic right. We should be more
than willing to give up this privilege if it is necessary for security. But we
should insist on an extremely high burden of proof before we’re willing to
scuttle fundamental rights. There are good reasons to think that the provisions
of the anti-terrorism bill go far beyond what is necessary for security. For
example, the definition of terrorism in the bill would cover domestic political
organizations engaging in civil disobedience.
- 25. How about the Bush
administration’s campaign to dry up terrorism’s financial networks?
have been able to finance their operations by laundering their money through
banks. But cracking down on money laundering requires challenging the power of
the banking industry and of the wealthy who use off-shore banks to hide their
assets, something the politicians in thrall to the rich have been loathe to do.
So U.S. officials have failed to use the legal tools they had to investigate
terrorism’s financial trail and have failed to request the new tools they
needed. In May 2001, the U.S. blocked an effort by the OECD (the main industrial
nations) to crack down on bank secrecy. U.S. officials consider Saudi officials
especially uncooperative in freezing bin Laden’s assets (NYT, 10 October
2001). Ultimatums anyone?
- 26. How about supporting
the Northern Alliance? Doesn’t that hold out positive promise for Afghanistan?
The Northern Alliance has
in the past demonstrated a facility for barbarism only minimally less horrible
than that of the Taliban. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of
Afghanistan (RAWA), who have been struggling for years for democracy and against
fundamentalism, have warned against allowing the Northern Alliance to come to
power. This strategy of the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” has been used
before with disastrous results. This was the logic that led to U.S. and Western
support for the Mujahideen, leading to the Taliban, and aid and support for
Saddam Hussein, and so on. It is not hard to predict that support for the
Northern Alliance will, in years ahead, lead to still more travail and horror
for Afghanistan, for the region, and perhaps for the world beyond.
- 27. Should we invade
Iraq? Won’t that be good for Iraqis?
An influential group of
Pentagon officials and national security elites have been urging that the United
States use this opportunity to take military action to depose Saddam Hussein.
Hussein is a monster and many Iraqis would be thrilled to see him go. But going
to war against him without the most compelling evidence of his responsibility
for the September 11 attacks would lead to massive instability in the Muslim
world—with horrific human consequences. A recent meeting of Islamic nations did
not condemn the U.S. Bombing of Afghanistan (thanks to the efforts of U.S.
allies), but all agreed that any further military action would be utterly
unacceptable. Whatever benefit the Iraqi people might obtain from the deposing
of Hussein would likely be outweighed by the horrors of a war in Iraq and of
holy wars from North Africa to Southeast Asia. The best way to help the people
of Iraq would be to lift the economic sanctions that have caused such
devastating hardship. Despite their eagerness to link Saddam Hussein to
September 11, Israeli, Jordanian, and U.S. intelligence have found no connection
(NYT, 11 October 2001). Though both Al Qaeda and Hussein hate the United
States, Hussein is not an Islamicist and Al Qaeda considers him an infidel.
At the moment it
seems as if the State Department, with its strategy of only going after
Afghanistan, at least for now, will prevail over Defense Department officials
who want to go after Iraq. But the United States delivered a note to the
Security Council saying that its self-defense measures might require it to
attack other countries. (Apparently this sentence was added by the White House
to the U.S. note without informing Secretary of State Colin Powell [NYT,
12 October 2001].) Thus, we must await the result of the bureaucratic struggle
within the Bush administration to see whether we’ll go to war against Iraq. Is
this a decision that Congress should have declined to get involved in? More
crucially, is this a decision that should be up to the United States government
rather than the United Nations?
- 28. How about increasing
U.S. defense and military spending?
Does it make sense for
some effort to be made to develop means of better predicting and interdicting
terrorist attacks? Yes. Can one make a cogent argument that a large country
needs some military expenditure to be in position to repel attacks and to even
engage in war should that horrible eventuality come to pass? Yes, though many
will reasonably disagree. But does the U.S. need to spend not only $343 billion
as in the year 2000, which was 69 percent greater than that of the next five
highest nations combined (with Russia spending less than one-sixth what the
United States does and Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, Iran, and Syria
spending in total $14.4 billion combined and Iran accounting for 52 percent of
this total), but still more to accomplish such security? No, the rush to spend
more on militarism has nothing whatever to do with security against terrorism
and has everything to do with military profiteering.
- 29. How about building a
national missile defense system?
Such a system has nothing
to do with protecting against terrorism. Such a system in fact destabilizes
world prospects for peace by propelling a new arms race as well as a launch on
warning mentality in other countries. The system is pursued by the U.S.
government largely as a sop to high tech industry and profit making and should
be opposed on those grounds, as well as that it is dangerous for all humanity.
- 30. How about repealing
the executive order prohibiting the assassination of foreign leaders?
The U.S. government has
been targeting foreign leaders for a long time, perhaps under an explicit waiver
from the executive order, perhaps not. For example, the U.S. air force targeted
not just Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 1986—on the grounds that his barracks
were command and control centers—but (according to Seymour Hersh) even his
family. Today, the U.S. is hitting the homes of Taliban leaders. So it is hard
to imagine that Washington needs a freer hand. In situations short of war, a
basic principle of our jurisprudence is that people should be brought to trial,
not subjected to extra-judicial execution.
- 31. How about using
racial profiling to counter terrorism in the United States?
We need to distinguish
between two different kinds of situations. Consider first the sort of situation
that even strong opponents of racial profiling agree would be appropriate police
work: “Police receive a credible tip that a white man armed with a bomb is
somewhere in an office building. They surround the building and then enter it.
The police examine white men more closely than those who are non-white.” (See
Randall Kennedy, Race, Justice, and the Law, Vintage, 1997, pp. 141,
161.) In these kinds of emergency situations, it would be reasonable to
scrutinize whites more closely (or blacks or Middle Easterners, depending on the
situation). But this is very different from making the targeting of a particular
ethnic group a routine part of police work. Doing so involves two real dangers:
- It’s not likely to be very
effective. The suspected 20th hijacker, a native Moroccan, looks black, not
Middle Eastern. And next time, Islamic terrorists might use an Asian-looking
Indonesian or a white-looking Bosnian. Recall too the pregnant Irish woman in
1988 whose luggage contained a bomb, put there unbeknownst to her by her
- It’s likely to undermine an
important protection against terrorism, namely, the cooperation of the Arab
and Muslim communities in the United States. If these people are treated
abusively, they are not likely to come forward with information needed by the
So what happens
when a Middle Eastern man gets on a plane and the flight crew doesn’t feel
safe? In one notorious case, a Pakistani was removed from a Delta flight after
the pilot said he wouldn’t fly with the man on board. We can sympathize with
the pilot’s concern—reporters have shown how easy it was even after September
11 to board a plane with knives and other weapons—but his solution was totally
unacceptable and discriminatory. The proper solution was for the pilot to say
to Delta that security remains inadequate and demand that an armed air marshal
be put on board. People’s fears are real and legitimate. But we must try to
address those fears in ways that do not scapegoat and abuse Arabs or Muslims
or anybody else.
- 32. What is a War on
Terrorism and why is it now the capstone of U.S. foreign policy?
AWar on Terrorism is a
project of attacking whomsoever the U.S. proclaims to be terrorist. In that
sense it has many aspects. It can be used to assault opponents who are, in
fact, terrorists, or other opponents who are not terrorist but are labeled to
be. It can be used to induce fear in the U.S. population, so as to justify
huge military expenditures, violations of civil liberties, and other elite
benefiting policies much as the Cold War served the same purpose in decades
past. It doesn’t risk serious conflict as the scale of the engagements and
their targets, are entirely up to us. It doesn’t legitimate international law,
and so it does nothing to risk the U.S. being held accountable for our
In other words,
the War on Terrorism, like the Cold War in earlier decades, for reasons having
little to nothing to do with its rhetorical aims, is quite serviceable to
elites, supposing that they are able to convince the population of its
- 33. What about the
role of oil?
Oil, of course, plays a
greater or lesser role in everything political and economic that happens in
the Mideast. U.S. geopolitical and economic policies have as one of their
prime motives maintaining access to and virtual control over oil sources
around the globe. Pursuit of profit per se, and oil profit, are at the
foundation of U.S. institutional arrangements in general and thus impact our
large-scale motives, of course. But the idea that oil is the proximate reason
for the attack on Afghanistan is very far fetched, just as the notion that the
U.S. engaged in the war in Vietnam to gain access to minerals within Vietnam
was far fetched. What is primarily at stake, geopolitically and economically,
is not access to specific resources (or pipeline routes) but the rules of
global interaction, the further delegitimating of international law, the
development of a replacement for the Cold War—in this case, a War on
Terrorism—as well as actual concerns about terrorism itself.
- 34. What dangers will
we face in South Asia and the Middle East as a result of the current war?
Perhaps the greatest
danger is that a Taliban-like regime might come to power in Pakistan as a
result of war-induced destabilization. Unlike Afghanistan, Pakistan is no
minor player: it has nuclear weapons. Even with sober leaders, Pakistan has
pursued highly reckless policies with regard to Kashmir, bringing it close to
conflict with its nuclear armed neighbor, India.
there is the danger that the calls for holy war, largely ignored in the Muslim
world in recent years, will now gain a wider following.
- 35. But won’t the “war
on terrorism” reduce terrorism, and isn’t that worth it?
First, the attacks on
civilians in Afghanistan, and the aggravation of the starvation conditions
there are terrorist acts.
innocent civilians, as has already occurred and will increasingly occur, will
likely create more terrorists in Afghanistan and more widely throughout the
region. The New York Times reported (10/13/01) of an Afghan village
struck by U.S. bombs, with many civilian casualties. “Maulvi Abdullah Haijazi,
an elder from a nearby village, had come to assist. ‘These people don’t
support the Taliban,’ he said. ‘They always say the Taliban are doing this or
that and they don’t like it. But now they will all fight the Americans. We
pray to Allah that we have American soldiers to kill. These bombs from the sky
we cannot fight’.” And when they can’t kill U.S. soldiers, they can at least
join a terror network. This is the bad fruit our rain from the sky
- 36. Wouldn’t changing
U.S. foreign policy under the threat of terrorism mean we are giving in to
Suppose a postal worker
attacks his mates and some folks in the post office one morning. The
government—not the surviving workers in the post office—moves to capture and
prosecute the culprit (not to attack his neighbors, etc.). But hopefully the
government also looks into the conditions that contributed to the postal
workers heinous acts, as well. Suppose it discovers that stress levels in post
offices are abysmal and contribute to anger and personal dissolution leading
to “going postal.” Would the government be giving in to criminal pressures if
it advocated a reduction in stress in postal work? No, on the contrary the
government would be acting sensibly to reduce just grievances that needed
reduction in any event, and which would have the very good by-product of
helping reduce the likelihood of other postal workers attacking their
workmates. The same logic holds in this case. For the U.S. to alter its
foreign policy to not support despots abroad, to not punish civilian
populations abroad, to not support unjust policies by allies abroad, to indeed
try to redress huge injustices of economic impoverishment abroad, are all
choices that should occur in any event, in their own right, and whose
implementation would also, as a desirable side benefit, reduce the conditions
that breed the hate and desperation terrorism feeds on.
- 37. What should the
U.S. have done in response to September 11?
The U.S. government’s
guiding principle ought to have been to assure the security, safety, and
well-being of U.S. citizens without detracting from the security, safety, and
well-being of others. Any response should have avoided targeting civilians or
so-called dual-use targets and should have been carried out according to the
UN Charter. We should have sought freely-offered Security Council
authorization with the UN retaining control of any response.
- 38. What other
policies should our government follow to reduce the likelihood of people
will undertake terrorist agendas?
David Corn offers some
suggestions: a large increase of funding for the public health infrastructure
(which is today inadequate to deal with a serious biological or chemical
terror), funding programs to secure or neutralize Russian nuclear material and
to prevent Russian weapons scientists from being exported, stop exporting
hand-held guns that can bring down airplanes. Having the federal government
take over airport security is a suggestion we made previously; right now the
Bush administration opposes Congressional legislation to this effect because
it will increase big government. Richard Garwin has additional suggestions.
All these make sense. And they are likely to enhance our security, while war
is likely to do the opposite.
- 39. In what ways if
any should the peace movement adjust its positions in the light of September
Peace movements in
industrialized nations before September 11 should have attuned themselves to
unjust and horrific violence that victimized the weak and was engaged to
benefit the powerful. The same holds now. Peace movements in industrialized
nations before September 11 should have opposed unjust wars, particularly
perpetrated by their own countries, and any policies making such wars more
likely or more brutal. The same holds now.
in industrialized nations before September 11 should have examined
institutional causes for wars, seeking to reduce those causes as much as
possible. The same holds now. So did anything profound change calling for
re-thinking by peace movements?
Yes, one thing
did change, quite dramatically. For the first time some of the abhorrent
violence has been turned toward the civilian populations of the developed
nations. This means that defensive motives will enter developed nation’s
calculations vis-à-vis international relations with poor countries not solely
rhetorically, but in fact. Peace movements will have to pay attention to that
new reality even as they also pay attention to on-going structural causes of
war and injustice.
- 40. What should be the
relation of other movements to the peace movement, and vice versa?
Winning gains against
intransigent elites depends on convincing them that to ignore demands will
lead to more losses for them than to meet demands. What accomplishes this is
always the specter of growing numbers of people taking the side of dissidents,
becoming sufficiently aroused and impassioned to work to recruit still more
allies, and to manifest their dissent in demonstrations and civil
disobedience, and especially of growing numbers whose concerns begin to
transcend immediate issues and call into question broader and even more
important institutional allegiances of elites.
movements, anti-racist movements, labor movements, anti-capitalist movements,
ecology movements, feminist movements, movements against capitalist
globalization, movements for great democracy or against incursions on freedom,
and any other social movements will benefit to the extent they mutually
support one another and convince elites that to ignore their focus is to risk
enlarged opposition not only on that issue, but on all others as well. They
will suffer losses in their efficacy to the extent that they are isolated from
one another, or even pitted against one another Peace movements and other
movements should support and even take up one another’s struggles, to the
extent circumstances and resources permit.
This Q&A was prepared on October 17. A longer list of question and answers,
with links to articles and resource material, as well as continuous updates,
can be found on Z’s website at www.zmag.org
- 32. What is a War on