Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A War on Civilians?

President Bush has declared a “war on terror,” and political leaders such as House minority leader Dick Gephardt insist that “this is not a strike against the people of Afghanistan.”

But the evidence is accumulating that our current military campaign is indeed, as most of the world sees it, being waged against the Afghan people.

Consider this statement from Admiral Michael Boyce, Chief of the British Defense Staff. Referring to the bombing campaign, he said, “The squeeze will carry on until the people of the country themselves recognize that this is going to go on until they get the leadership changed.”

It seems clear from this statement that Admiral Boyce sees the punishment of Afghan civilians, including their children, as an important part of the US/British strategy. On September 16 the New York Times reported that our government had demanded from Pakistan “the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan’s civilian population.”

Food shipments fell drastically, although the border has remained porous, especially to those who pay bribes. The Taliban is even able to make money by exporting things as big as logs.

In recent weeks the UN World Food Programme has increased its shipments. But these are still far short of the amount needed to prevent mass starvation during the winter. The increased risk to truck drivers, the breakdown in law and order, and other disruptions due to the war are taking their expected toll.

There are currently about 5.3 million people receiving food aid, and this is expected to increase to 7.5 million in the near future. In about two weeks winter will begin, many roads will become impassible, and people will have to rely on stockpiled food. Relief groups have called for a halt in the bombing so that food – as well as blankets and medicines – can get through before it is too late. But their appeals have so far gone unheeded.

And everyone acknowledges that the air drops of food from US planes are so small that they are little more than an exercise in public relations.

What is terrorism? Edward Herman, Emeritus Professor from Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, has offered a politically neutral, straightforward definition of terrorism that is difficult to argue with: “the use of force or the threat of force against civilian populations to achieve political objectives.”

A strategy to “squeeze” Afghanistan, through bombing and starvation, “until the people of the country themselves . . . get the leadership changed” would certainly qualify as terrorism under this definition.

Most Americans would like to see Osama Bin Laden, and anyone else that was responsible for the atrocity of September 11, brought to justice. But they would certainly be ashamed if they knew that their government was pursuing a strategy that involved starving hundreds of thousands, and possibly even millions, of innocent people.

Of course this is not the first time that our government has used collective punishment, or terrorism, in order to achieve its political goals: there was Nicaragua in the 1980s, Vietnam prior to that, and many other examples. In fact, by any objective definition of terrorism – one that includes the terrorism of states as well as individuals – the United States has been its largest single sponsor over the last half-century.

This war is different, in that it originated with a horrific terrorist attack on Americans. But the collective punishment of the people of Afghanistan is no more excusable than the crimes of September 11. As such, it will only inspire more hatred and terrorism against us.

There is no military solution to the problem of terrorism within our borders. We will have to change our foreign policy, so that our government does not make so many enemies throughout the world. Those who collaborated in the crimes of September 11 will have to be pursued through legal and political channels, including the United Nations.

A good start would be to cut off the major source of Bin Laden’s funding and support, which is not in Afghanistan but in Saudi Arabia. The Bush Administration has done very little on this front, due to a combination of big oil and other “geopolitical” interests. Our government is willing to risk American lives, at home and abroad, and kill any number of innocent Afghanis, but it is apparently not willing to risk disturbing its relations with the Saudi royal family.

Going the legal route won’t boost the President’s approval ratings the way a war does, nor will it make the world fear our military power. But at least we won’t be fighting terrorism with more terrorism, and fueling an escalating cycle of violence. CP

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.

More articles by:

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

October 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall
Ipek S. Burnett
The Assault on The New Colossus: Trump’s Threat to Close the U.S.-Mexican Border
Mary Troy Johnston
The War on Terror is the Reign of Terror
Maximilian Werner
The Rhetoric and Reality of Death by Grizzly
David Macaray
Teamsters, Hells Angels, and Self-Determination
Jeffrey Sommers
“No People, Big Problem”: Democracy and Its Discontents In Latvia
Dean Baker
Looking for the Next Crisis: the Not Very Scary World of CLOs
Binoy Kampmark
Leaking for Change: ASIO, Jakarta, and Australia’s Jerusalem Problem
Chris Wright
The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting
Muhammad Othman
Daunting Challenge for Activists: The Cook Customer “Connection”
Don Fitz
A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say
October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail