A bit like trying to fight girl rabbits by chucking boy rabbits at them, but with a whole lot more death and not nearly so much fluff.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the US has a long and on-going history of launching international ventures which are clearly terrorist either by their own official definition or by the obvious one - the use of terror for political reasons - justified because according to the official line their targets are themselves terrorist.

This is not just a US thing of course; selective interpretations of the words terrorist and terrorism have been used to justify coercive political violence by everyone from the Nazis through to the Serbs, and most of Europe and elsewhere in between. I mention the US in particular mainly because their latest 'war on terrorism' looks alarmingly like a terrorist war. In the short term its main victims will be the near-starving people of Afghanistan, already victims of the devastating war with the Soviets and of the Taliban regime that US money helped set up in the first place. In the slightly longer term, the cycle of violence triggered by the massacring of innocent civilians looks likely to be catastrophic on all sides.

I guess it's worth saying a bit more about why exactly I disagree with the US response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

1. I believe it is almost certain to increase the chances of further terrorist attacks.

Even if you were to destroy the entire Al-Qaeda network, as long as there are thousands upon thousands of people who wish death and destruction on the USA your country will not be safe from the threat of terrorist attacks. Terrorism is, alas, not such a difficult thing to pull off, for those with access to the right scientific knowledge and resources - or a plan as ingenious and unexpected as the mass hijacking. This is especially true when the people bent on your destruction are willing to give their own lives in its pursuit.

Destroying what is called the Al-Qaeda network, particularly by military means, in any case seems unlikely to be accomplished. With every levelled village, every halted aid convoy, people will be signing up for this and other violently anti-American groups in their droves. Those who have already signed up will be itching to put their plans into action. Whether they are part of a larger network is almost irrelevant.

2. I believe it is almost certain to kill more civilians than the attack which provoked it.

As of the end of 2001, reports were suggesting several thousand civilian casualties in Afghanistan as a direct result of American military action. This figure looks pretty grim, but it is tiny compared to the number of people who are likely to die, or to have died already, as a less direct consequence. At the start of this war, around 7 million Afghanis were in imminent danger of starvation, being sustained by food aid. One of the first actions of the US government in this conflict was to demand that the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan be closed, cutting off almost all aid of any sort.

Later, convoys were allowed through in dribs and drabs; however, many agencies understandably stopped operation for much of the lead-up to Afghanistan's harsh winter, making it impossible for anything like sufficient food to make its way to the mountainous regions before the weather made them unreachable. We will never know exactly how many people will have starved to death by the end of winter thanks to US actions, but it could easily be many thousands.

If not war, then what?

America is very proud of its ideals regarding liberty and justice. However, the idea of pursuing the criminals behind the September 11 attacks through the courts seems barely to have registered on the national consciousness. The Taliban's offer to hand over Osama bin Laden to be tried in a neutral third country was spurned by the Bush administration, who instead chose to begin bombing that day.

Trying the terrorists in court, rather than launching military action, was the course supported by the vast majority of people in very nearly every country surveyed by Gallup soon after the attack, whatever might have been said about 'the international community' being behind America's attacks. Perhaps a trial would have had some success in discrediting bin Laden and his cohorts as the bullshitting murderers and bad Muslims that we all believe them to be.

Still, it is fair to say that inevitably many suspects would never come to trial. Also, it is easy to see how a nation might find it hard to feel good about itself without causing some big explosions, after seeing some of its most important buildings blown up. So a perhaps a military campaign carefully targetting Al-Qaeda would have been justified, or at least understandable. I wonder, though, whether careful targetting is compatible with weeks of bombing from hundreds of miles away, with next to no troops on the ground and obviously inadequate intelligence on the region? Doesn't that sound like an approach which is almost certain to kill at least as many innocent civilians as actual terrorists? Isn't the whole point of this supposed to be that we're the ones who don't kill and terrorise civilians because it serves our ends?

  • That Gallup poll in full: http://web.archive.org/web/20020210175405/http://www.gallup-international.com/terrorismpoll2001.htm
  • RAWA on the Pakistani border closure: http://rawa.fancymarketing.net/border2.htm
  • Afghan refugees and starvation: http://www.refugees.org/world/countryrpt/scasia/afghanistan.htm
  • Medecins sans Frontieres on the humanitarian catastrophe: http://www.msf.org/countries/page.cfm?articleid=CFED22E5-FA0C-4A65-B389A1284772F382

mr100percent says re Fighting terrorism with terrorism: I thought you were going to point out Don Rumsfeld's speech that in order to fight terrorism, sometimes you have to cause it.

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