|Montreal, November 10, 2001 / No 92|
by Ralph Maddocks
Many, including some libertarians, are beginning to voice opposition to this so called war on terrorism in Afghanistan, and criticism is growing of those libertarians who have joined in the chorus of support for it. Of course it is very easy for us sitting in front of our television screens to second guess the actions of a government which in the main we mistrust. One reads criticism of libertarians for defecting to the left-wing statists and expressing themselves as being in favour of more state control, ID cards and the like. We read criticism of those who have moved towards the so called neocon right-wing and now profess themselves in favour of even harsher measures. Such is the horror of it all that one prominent member of the ACLU has talked of the issuing of "torture warrants" to allow the use of such methods to extract information from the reluctant.
After the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet political system, it seemed that the US lacked purpose. That deficit has now been addressed and today the US is able to look again at the world in the simple black and white terms beloved by Hollywood. Even Usama Bin Laden, when issuing an earlier propaganda video through Al Jazira TV, spoke of the world being divided into two camps "without a third" – the camp of the believers and the camp of the heretics. In the Egyptian paper Al-Ahram, the Islamist movement expert Diaa Rashwan noted that "Bin Laden addressed his comments to only two groups: 'Every Muslim,' and 'America and its people'. He called upon the former to "rise up to the rescue of religion... to remove corruption from the peninsula of Mohamed". Similar bipolar propaganda terms are also used in the USA – "either you are with us in the fight against terrorism, or you are against us," says Bush frequently. "Our war is against terrorists and any state who harbours terrorists."
However, what we are not reading much about, if anything, is how to deal effectively with this terrorism, whether state sponsored or not. We are reminded of Rothbard saying, "The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else." While non-aggression may be a central tenet of libertarian philosophy it does not appear to be one held by Mr. Bin Laden, or others of his ilk. Must it remain unpunished? Another group says that the Americans have brought all of this upon themselves by their interference in the affairs of other countries. It is true that many US governments have in the past involved themselves in matters which they might have better left alone.
Al Qaida (the Base) and Usama Bin Laden its founder and leader, have been in existence now for well over a decade and they are linked to a world wide network of training camps, warehouses, commercial operations and communications facilities. They have been able to raise significant amounts of money from supporters of their cause but especially from the sale of drugs. The Taleban and Al Qaida are mutually dependent, with the latter providing the material, financial and military support. Jointly they exploit the drug trade and one would have trouble existing without the other. Given the noise made by the various western governments regarding drug money laundering it is surprising that the flow of money into the hands of the terrorists seems to have gone largely undetected. We should perhaps ask why it is only now that they seem to be taking the first faltering steps towards controlling this network of shadowy banks and near banks.
Much is made about providing proof that Bin Laden is behind the events of last September. Usama Bin Laden has claimed credit for the attack on the US soldiers in Somalia in 1993 and for the attacks on the US embassies of Kenya and Tanzania. In 1996, after the Taleban captured Kabul, the US government offered to work with the Taleban to expel the terrorists from Afghanistan, but those discussions produced no results. It should be recalled also that the United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 1267, condemned Usama Bin Laden for sponsoring international terrorism and operating a network of terrorist camps and demanded that the Taleban surrender him without further delay. We all know what their answer to that request was. Since the perpetrators of the act are presumably now being ministered to by 72 virgins each we will never be absolutely certain if they are linked to Bin Laden. However, the attack does have a great deal in common with those mentioned earlier. It featured suicidal attackers, co-ordinated attacks on the same day, aimed to cause the maximum number of American casualties, disregarded all casualties including Muslims, there was meticulous long-term planning and no warning was given. Coincidence? Perhaps, but highly suggestive.
Given the immediate past, the range of options available to the US seem, to me at least, quite limited. A country under attack has a clear duty to defend its citizens which must include trying to ensure that it does not happen again. The USA was very obviously attacked by someone since around 7,000 US and other civilians were killed. The US could ignore the whole thing, withdraw from its overseas interests as Bin Laden wishes, construct a kind of Festung Amerika and hope that no terrorist would ever penetrate the wall again. This would grant a licence to the other madmen of the world like Saddam Hussein, Ghadaffi and the like to create all kinds of problems among their neighbours, the least of which might be destroying all the Middle East oil supplies. While this would probably affect Japan and Europe more than North America, it would doubtless mean that the present economic recession would turn into a full scale and prolonged global depression. Such a policy would not improve whatever confidence the US citizens may have had in their elected government.
A request for extradition having failed, some might have preferred that a police operation be conducted against this criminal conspiracy but how would this have extracted Bin Laden? Thus the terrorists would be hunted down and brought before an international court. Successive US governments having refused to affirm adherence to such an institution in the past may well be part of the underlying reason why the US government did not organize a world wide UN police action.
Globalization has not been accompanied by the design or implementation of any globalized mechanisms to deal with what is now emerging as globalized terrorism. We are dealing with a fairly widespread group of terrorists distributed throughout much of the world. The trend to making nation states part of other groupings, as in the European Union, has also meant that those former nation states, are less able to preserve and protect their own borders and narrowly defined interests. There can be no doubt either that some countries have idiotic immigration policies in place, which attract the interest of those with nefarious purposes in mind.
The demolition of New York's World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon brought to the fore, quite naturally, the anger of a people upon whom such destruction had never before been visited by an outside agency. The immediate cause of the US fury is thus obvious. The attacks were certainly not random acts of terror, or the beginning of some Islamic attempt at world domination. They were another demand that the Americans change their policy in the Middle East. Indeed, Usama Bin Laden summarized this under three headings. The Americans have posted troops around the holy places of Islam. Secondly, they have used these forces to fight a war against Iraq, and to maintain a blockade in which many thousands of civilians have died from malnutrition and lack of medical care. Bin Laden carefully ignores the fact that the relevant UN resolution does not prevent the purchase of food by the regime using Iraqi oil funds. The Iraqi famine is the direct result of Saddam Hussein stealing the food for his own cronies, exactly as is happening in Afghanistan today. Has anyone seen even one photograph of a starving Iraqi soldier? Can it be that starvation is occurring only among those ethnic or religious minorities who are not loyal to Mr. Hussein and his generals in a cynical "two for one" propaganda ploy, and not as a result of US action at all?
Thirdly, the Americans have given financial, military and diplomatic support to the state of Israel. Interestingly, Bin Laden has made no mention of Israel giving up more than the occupied territories. There are some Moslems who deny that Israel has any right to exist, but this does not seem to be the overall consensus of opinion. While people like Arafat may wish to destroy Israel, indeed the PLO Manifesto once called for it, the Americans have now a strong incentive in pushing Israel to reach a settlement with its Arab neighbours. Although whether such a settlement will ever be possible is quite another question.
Immediately after the event there was some talk of criminals and of bringing them to justice, but, for whatever reason, proof of Bin Laden's complicity was not forthcoming. The rhetoric then changed and after a few missteps, like calling for a crusade, the "War on Terrorism" was duly declared. This has given Bin Laden and al-Qaida a status they do not deserve. As The Times of London has pointed out, apart from the expedition of the Marines to deal with the Barbary pirates at the beginning of the 19th century, this war will be something entirely new in the American experience. The eminent military historian Professor Sir Michael Howard, for many years Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University, has said that the Bush administration had made a "terrible and irreversible" mistake in calling its anti-terrorism campaign a war. He continued by saying that bombing Afghanistan was akin to "trying to eradicate cancerous cells with a blowtorch". It is of course quite possible that a war fought in conventional terms will be successful within a few years. The nearest parallel I can think of is the hand to hand, cave to cave, combat against stubborn Japanese resistance on the relatively small island of Iwo Jima in 1943. An invasion preceded by three months of air and sea bombardment followed by a month of the most severe hand to hand fighting by US Marines in their entire history. Afghanistan is over
Unlike previous and more conventional wars, the US led activities in Afghanistan seem to be taking place in some kind of vacuum. We see much of a tactical nature but the strategy remains unclear. Even though we are treated daily to the sight of so called smart bombs hitting their targets, very little seems to be changing. A so called smart bomb is a two-edged weapon anyway. The Iraqis showed us that when they pointed out that the "surgical air strikes" to take out their command structures were used to ridicule the US – see how little damage those smart US bombs have done to our homes and factories? The Iraqis were also quick to point out any real damage done to civilians by not-so-smart bombs.
The claims of civilian casualties too must be placed in some kind of context. How do we really know that the Taleban are not using civilians as cover by placing them in or near military targets? It has been reported on at least one occasion that Taleban anti-aircraft guns have been sited on civilian establishments, which means that once detected by an aircraft they will be bombed immediately. This is not to say that civilians have not suffered any bomb damage at all, because if the post-war analyses of the bombing of Iraq and Kosovo are any guide, the percentage of on-target hits is nowhere near as high as the few TV pictures that we are shown would indicate. Leaflets could be dropped giving civilians 48 hours to evacuate, after which the locations become legitimate military targets. It is known that the enemy has not given up on planning further mass murder, so each day of urban safety for them is another day of potential danger for Americans there and at home.
The bombing of whatever infrastructure there was seems to have been completed, all that remains is the rubble surviving the Russian engagement which can be pulverized now into even smaller pieces of dust. The Taleban remain as defiant as ever and the leaders of the Coalition forces seem ever more unsure of what they are trying to do next. We read of forces on the ground but are given little real information, being offered some grainy green pictures purporting to show these Special Forces in action somewhere in Afghanistan. The Taleban propaganda is much more effective than that put out by the smoothly oiled PR cliques of the West. The latter is less effective if only because it seems to be managing to arouse the anger of those countries where Islam is a major factor. Part of the problem is undoubtedly a result of the time difference between Afghanistan and Washington. By the time the US government wakes up, the Taleban has been spreading its message for several hours. The Coalition propaganda effort is not reaching these people, and even if it is they are apparently unmoved and unconvinced. Perhaps dropping leaflets on a population which is 97% illiterate is unlikely to condition their hearts and minds anyway.
Returning to the question of what the US should have done in response to the Al Qaida attacks. The US could have tried, and still could try, to find a proxy who can get close enough to Al Qaida to assassinate its leaders. It could issue letters of marque, a constitutional provision for dealing with such kinds of problems.
Once it has destroyed the country completely along with the terrorists it harbours, the US government and others will have to find and install a new government for Afghanistan. How to do this in a land with a history of various tribes constantly vying to control it is a serious problem. The so called "Northern Alliance" was at one time the "government" of Afghanistan, at least when they weren't killing each other. They too are a rather nasty bunch of quarrelsome thugs whose "legitimacy" comes from the same source as that of the Taleban – the barrel of a gun. The Northern Alliance is not beloved by Pakistan either, so little help has been given to them so far; it being feared that any weapons provided to them will result only in their immediate disappearance and sale to the Taleban. It is also feared that they may prove little different from the Taleban if they achieve power; which is why the US is trying to form some sort of broad based coalition government to run the country after the war is concluded.
To summarize, the options were to withdraw from those places named by Bin Laden, to do nothing at all, to declare war and legalize further acts of terrorism in the USA, or to find a proxy and hunt the terrorists down and exterminate them if possible. The US may have chosen the wrong option, but we had better hope that it is successful before we have to give up even more of our basic freedoms.
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