A war that is supposed to help feed the desperate people of Afghanistan
will in fact help starve them.
A war supposedly brought on by Taliban intransigence was actually provoked
by our own government.
A war that the majority of the American people believe is about their
grief, anger and desire for revenge is really about the cold-blooded
calculations of a small elite seeking to extend its power.
And a war that is supposed to make us safer has put us in far greater
danger by increasing the likelihood of further terrorist attacks.
Let’s take those points in order.
Our undeclared war on Afghanistan is the culmination of a decade of U.S.
aggression with a humanitarian façade.
Once the natural sympathies of the American people were touched by the
plight of the long-suffering Afghan people, public opinion swung toward
helping them. In response to this, the administration concocted the most
shameless and cynical cover story for military strikes in recent memory.
The idea, leaked last Thursday, went like this:
- The Afghan people are starving, so we need to do food drops. (Never mind
that all those experienced in humanitarian aid programs are opposed to food
drops because they are dangerous and wasteful, and, most important,
preclude setting up the on-the-ground distribution networks necessary to
making aid effective.)
- We need to destroy the Taliban’s air defenses before doing food drops.
- The transport planes may be endangered by the Stinger anti-aircraft
missiles that the United States supplied the mujaheddin in the 1980s when
they were fighting the Soviet Union, and some of which ended up in the
- We have to destroy the Taliban’s air defense. Because so much of it is
mobile, we have to bomb all over.
The bombing will seriously hinder existing aid efforts. The World Food
Program operates a bakery in Kabul on which thousands of families depend,
as well as many other programs. A number of United Nations organizations
have been mounting a major new coordinated humanitarian campaign. These
efforts were not endangered by the Taliban before, but the chaos and
violence created by this bombing -- combined with a projected assault by
the Northern Alliance -- will likely force UN personnel to withdraw, with
disastrous effects for the Afghan people.
To add insult to injury, in the first day the United States dropped only
37,500 packaged meals, far below the daily needs of even a single large
refugee camp. With 7.5 million people on the brink of death and existing
programs disrupted, this is a drop in the bucket compared to the damage
caused by this new war.
Those who starve or freeze will not be the only innocents to die. It should
finally be clear to all that “surgical strikes” are a myth. In the Gulf
War, only 7 percent of the munitions used were “smart,” and those missed
the target roughly half the time. One of those surgical strikes destroyed
the Amiriyah bomb shelter, killing somewhere from 400 to 1,500 women and
children. In Operation Infinite Reach, the 1998 attacks on Afghanistan,
some of the cruise missiles went astray and hit Pakistan. Military
officials have already admitted that not all of the ordnance being used is
“smart,” and even the current generation of smart weapons hit their target
only 70 to 80 percent of the time.
Contrary to U.S. propaganda, civilian targets are always on the list. There
are already reports that Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, was
targeted for assassination, and the Defense Ministry in Kabul -- surely no
more military a target than the Pentagon -- and located in the middle of
the city, has been destroyed.
This is standard U.S. practice. In the Gulf War, virtually every power
station in Iraq was destroyed, with untold effects on civilians. A
correspondent for al-Jazeera TV reported that power went out in Kabul when
the bombing started, although it was restored in some places within hours.
Targeting of any pitiful remnants of civilian infrastructure in Afghanistan
would be consistent with past U.S. policy.
George Bush said we are not at war with the Afghan people -- just as we
were not at war with the Iraqi people or the Serbian people. The hundreds
of thousands of Afghans who fled the cities knew better.
Military analysts suggest that the timing of the strikes had to do with the
weather. Another possible interpretation is that the Taliban’s
recently-expressed willingness to negotiate posed too great a danger that
peace might break out. The Orwellian use of the term “diplomacy” to
describe the consistent U.S. policy of no negotiations -- accept our
peremptory demands or else -- helps to mask the fact that the
administration always intended to launch this war.
The same tactic was used against Serbia; at the Rambouillet negotiations in
March 1999, demands were pitched just high enough that the Serbian
government could not go along.
In this case, the Taliban’s offer to detain bin Laden and try him before an
Islamic court, while unacceptable, was a serious initial negotiating
position and would have merited a serious counteroffer -- unless one had
already decided to go to war.
The administration has many reasons for this war.
- The policy of imperial credibility, carried to such destructive extremes
in Vietnam. In perhaps the last five years of direct U.S. involvement
there, the goal was not to “win,” but to inflict such a price on Vietnam
that other nations would not think of crossing the United States.
- The oil and natural gas of central Asia, the next Middle East.
Afghanistan’s location between the Caspian basin and huge markets in Japan,
China and the Indian subcontinent gives it critical importance. A
U.S-controlled client state in Afghanistan, presumably under the exiled
octogenarian former king, Zahir Shah, would give U.S. corporations great
leverage over those resources. Just as in the Middle East, the United
States does not seek to own all those resources, but it wants to dictate
the manner in which the wells and pipelines are developed and used.
- The potential to push a radical right-wing domestic agenda. War makes it
easier to expand police powers, restrict civil liberties, and increase the
This war is about the extension of U.S. power. It has little to do with
bringing the terrorists to justice, or with vengeance. Judging from initial
polls, the war has been popular as the administration trades on people’s
desire for revenge -- but we should hardly confuse the emotional reaction
of the public with the motivation of the administration. Governments do not
This war will not make us more secure. For weeks, many in the antiwar
movement -- and some careful commentators in more mainstream circles --
have been saying that military action was playing into the hands of Osama
bin Laden, who may have been hoping for such an attack to spark the flames
of anti-American feeling in the Muslim world. Bin Laden’s pre-taped speech,
broadcast on al-Jazeera television after the bombing started, vindicates
“Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” Bush said on Sept.
20. Bin Laden’s appeal to the ummah, the whole Islamic world, echoed this
logic: “The world is divided into two sides -- the side of faith and the
side of infidelity.”
The American jihad may yet be matched by a widely expanded Islamic one,
something unlikely had we not bombed. Remember, we have seen only the
opening shots of what many officials are calling a long-term, multi-front
war in which the secretary of defense has told us there will be no “silver
bullet.” The administration has clearly been preparing the American people
to accept an extended conflict.
Bin Laden’s world is Bush’s, in some strangely distorted mirror. A world
divided as they seem to want would have no place in it for those of us who
want peace with justice.
All is not yet lost. The first step is for us to send a message, not just
to our government but to the whole world, saying, “This action done in our
name was not done by our will. We are against the killing of innocents
anywhere in the world.”
The next step is for us to build a movement that can change our
government’s barbaric and self-destructive policy.
If we don’t act now to build a new world, we may just be left with no world.
Rahul Mahajan serves on the National Board of Peace Action. Robert Jensen
is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas. Both are members
of the Nowar Collective (www.nowarcollective.com). They can be reached at