Could Nonviolent Resistance Defeat Petraeus' Night Raids in Afghanistan?

Pop quiz on the news: who said this week, referring to the dispute
between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. military commander
David Petraeus over U.S. Special Forces "night raids" that break into
Afghans' homes in the middle of the night:

Many Afghans see the raids as a ... humiliating symbol of
American power.

Was it:

a) Afghan President Hamid Karzai

b) Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich

c) U.S. peace activist Kathy Kelly

d) The New York Times

The correct answer is d, the New York Times. Here is the full

Many Afghans see the raids as a flagrant, even humiliating
symbol of American power, especially when women and children are
rousted in the middle of the night. And protests have increased this
year as the tempo has increased.

It is a striking symptom of the moral depravity of the US war in
Afghanistan that the policy of night raids, which press reports have
suggested is one of the most hated aspects of the U.S. military
occupation among the Afghan population, has been the subject of almost
no public debate in the United States. Newspaper columnists aren't
inveighing against the night raids. Members of Congress aren't
demanding that the night raids stop.

The only thing that has occasioned any public debate about them in the
U.S. at all is that President Karzai denounced them in an interview
with the Washington Post ahead of the NATO summit. And the
response of U.S. officials is: wow, this guy Karzai is really an
unreliable partner. Is he off his meds? He has some nerve complaining
about something that Western press reports suggest is among the
aspects of the U.S. military occupation most hated by Afghans.

And the U.S. military's defense of the night raids is basically this:
we can't stop the night raids, because they are a cornerstone of our
strategy. Is that supposed to be an argument? Petraeus is saying: if
you stop the night raids, you stop the war. If that is true, then that
is all the more reason to oppose the night raids.

Here is a thought experiment whose answer would tell us something
fundamental about the United States: what if Afghans adopted a
strategy of nonviolent resistance against the night raids? Could they
be stopped?

Unlike U.S. air strikes, U.S. night raids require human contact.

Let's suppose, for the purposes of our thought experiment, that there
were a well-organized popular movement in Afghanistan against the
night raids. Let's suppose that this movement went around to respected
Islamic scholars and got legal judgments that the night raids are an
offense against Islam. Let's suppose that this movement prepared to
defend villages where U.S. night raids are being carried out, and
organized committees of unarmed women to implement this defense. And
let's suppose that when a U.S. night raid began, a call would go out
from the mosque, and a group of unarmed women would surround the house
and say to the US soldiers: you're not coming in, and if you try, we
will not move. And let's suppose that some Western NGO issued these
women video cameras, as the Israeli human rights group B'tselem has
issued Palestinians video cameras. And let's suppose that a group of
people in the United States and Western Europe agreed that they would
try to support this movement, by vigorously raising their voices in
protest whenever US Special Forces tried to break the line of

Could the night raids be stopped?

If the night raids could not be stopped, were this thought experiment
to come to pass, that would reveal something very terrible about the
United States.

If one looks at the history of discussion of proposals to use
nonviolent resistance to oppose foreign military occupations, a
standard dismissal runs something like this: "sure, nonviolent
resistance worked against the British in India, but it would not have
worked against the Germans."

Leaving aside the possible implication that the British military
occupation of India was a walk in the park (see: "Amritsar Massacre")
let's suppose that the framework of this criticism is correct. Let's
suppose that there is a kind of number line on which you can place
foreign military occupations, according to which you can rate their
susceptibility to moral pressure. On one point of the number line, you
have the British occupation of India. And on another part of the
number line, you have the German occupation of Poland. And somewhere
in between, there is a dividing point. On one side of the dividing
point, the British side, nonviolent resistance could work. On the
other side of the dividing point, the German side, nonviolent
resistance couldn't work.

Which side of the dividing point is the U.S. military occupation of
Afghanistan on? The British side, or the German side?

If these examples seem long ago and far away for purposes of
comparison, let us consider a contemporary example, which is extremely
relevant to the U.S.: the Israeli military occupation of the
Palestinian West Bank.

As shown in the documentary Budrus, Palestinians in
the West Bank village of Budrus - Palestinian women, in particular -
successfully used nonviolent resistance to defeat the Israeli
military's plans to steal their land. (In the trailer below, note
particularly the scene where Palestinian women push the Israeli
soldiers.) Now, whether such a strategy can be successfully extended
to other villages in the West Bank is very much an open question at
the moment. But at least in this one village, it worked.

So, if there is no chance that nonviolent resistance could work
against the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan, that would imply
that comparing the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan to the
Israeli military occupation of the West Bank on the number line of
susceptibility to moral pressure, the Israeli military occupation of
the West Bank is more like the British occupation of India, and the
U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan is more like the German
occupation of Poland.

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