FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Blasting our way to peace

by George Monbiot

The Guardian

The armchair warriors have proved no more merciful in victory than the Northern Alliance. Yesterday’s Sun gave two pages to an editorial entitled “Shame of the traitors: wrong, wrong, wrong … the fools who said Allies faced disaster”. Christopher Hitchens raised the moral and intellectual tone of the debate in the Guardian yesterday with this lofty sentiment: “Well, ha ha ha and yah, boo –It was … obvious that defeat was impossible”. Such magnanimity suggests that it is not Afghanistan which we have bombed into the stone age, but ourselves.

But almost everyone now agrees that this is the end of history, all over again. The sceptics have been routed as swiftly as the Taliban. George Bush and Tony Blair, with the help of their daisy cutters and cluster bombs, have ushered in a new, new world order, the long awaited golden age of democracy. But have the warriors of the west, both actual and virtual, really won? And if so, what precisely is the prize?

There’s no question that the rapid advance of the Northern Alliance took hawks as well as doves by surprise. All of us, warriors and sceptics, overestimated the difficulties of capturing Kabul. But the Telegraph’s repetition of Mrs Thatcher’s injunction –“just rejoice, rejoice” –may prove to be a little premature.

It would be rather easier to measure the success of the west’s war aims if those aims had not shifted with every presidential announcement. But a few key questions may help us to determine how much the B-52s have achieved. The first and most obvious is: will the advance of the Northern Alliance lead to the overthrow of the barbarous Taliban? The answer is, almost certainly, yes –although they may persist as a guerrilla force. The question this then raises is, will it improve the lives of the Afghan people? Almost everyone appears to believe that it will. But we would be foolish to forget that just five years ago both Afghans and western diplomats welcomed the Taliban’s capture of Kabul, as it relieved the inhabitants of the murderous dominion of the men who now run the Northern Alliance. Yesterday the Telegraph claimed that the Northern Alliance’s “fearful violence” towards Arab and Pakistani soldiers “is a shocking reminder of the fact that Bin Laden’s zealots have been a hated army of occupation”. Well, perhaps. But it is also a shocking reminder of the fact that the Northern Alliance can be just as brutal as the hated regime it has displaced. To the claim Polly Toynbee made on these pages yesterday that “nothing could be worse” than the Taliban, one can only respond: don’t tempt fate.

The Northern Alliance’s willingness to cooperate with western plans for Afghanistan is also questionable. Four days ago, we were told that its soldiers had been persuaded not to advance on Kabul, and this was judged a victory for the west. Now they have taken Kabul, and this too is hailed as a victory for the west. That the military action has not gone according to plan, in other words, is presented as a vindication of the plan.

Given that the Northern Alliance has so far shown little interest in doing as the west requests, why should we assume that it would be prepared to abandon its military gains for a “broad-based” political settlement? Countless comparisons to the outcome in Serbia have been made, as if this somehow offers proof that armed intervention leads inexorably to democracy. But Serbia, unlike Afghanistan, already possessed a mature democracy movement. Where is the Afghan equivalent? Where are the moderate leaders with whom the west wants to replace the Taliban? Who among all the named credible candidates does not have blood on his hands? And will the fiercely independent Afghans accept the writ of the UN? Or, given that both Russia and the west have strategic and energy interests in central Asia, will it come to be seen in the same light as the Soviet occupation?

Will the advance of the Northern Alliance save people who are at risk of famine in Afghanistan? It will almost certainly save some of them. Much more aid is now entering the areas which have come under Northern Alliance control, though, like the retreating Taliban, the Alliance fighters have been looting supplies and commandeering UN vehicles. But for thousands the help is likely to have arrived too late. The interruption of supplies during the eight weeks in which they should have been stockpiled for the winter means that many of those living in the valleys made inaccessible by snow will die before they can be reached.

Will it lead to the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden? Possibly. Will it free the world from terrorism? No. Will it deliver regional or global security? Probably not. The Northern Alliance’s gains represented a bounty for Russia and a blow for Pakistan, whose government is now facing a far graver test in victory than it would have faced in defeat. Even in Britain, a new poll by the Today programme shows 80% of Muslims opposed to the west’s war.

But, as well as asking what this war has done to Asia, we must also ask what it has done to us. And here, it seems to me, the bugles sounding victory for civilised values are also sounding a retreat.

The first and most obvious loss is our repudiation of the very basis of civilisation: human rights. The new terrorism bills in America and Britain have required the suspension of both the US constitution and the UK’s human rights act –it seems that in trying to shut the terrorists out, we have merely imprisoned ourselves.

One of the last smart bombs deployed in Kabul destroyed the offices of al-Jazeera, the only truly independent major television station in the Arab world. Al-Jazeera has consistently provided a voice for Muslims opposed to US military intervention in Afghanistan, as well as airing Bin Laden’s inflammatory videos. A few weeks ago Colin Powell sought to persuade the emir of Qatar to close it down, without success. Its destruction suggests that free speech and dissent have now joined terrorism as the business of “evil-doers”.

The second loss to the west is the triumph of war-war over jaw-jaw. The partial victory in Afghanistan appears to have convinced both governments and commentators that we can blast our way to world peace. No serious attempt was made, before the bombing began, to differentiate between just and unjust war. Justice in war, as almost every philosopher since Thomas Aquinas onwards agrees, requires that the peaceful alternatives should first have been exhausted. There is plenty to suggest that the initial aim –to capture Bin Laden –could have been achieved without recourse to arms. The Taliban twice offered to hand him over on receipt of evidence pointing to his guilt: a much lower barrier to extradition than western governments would have raised. We appear to have made no attempt to discover whether or not they could have been taken at their word. Now justice appears to have been redefined as success, and war as the only route to peace.

This new triumphalism is sliding effortlessly into a new imperialism. It conflates armed and ethical success, munitions and morality. If this is a victory for civilisation, I would hate to see what defeat looks like.

George Monbiot is a columnist for The Guardian. An archive of his columns can be found at http://www.monbiot.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail