Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

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

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases