C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves, Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

On Liberty (At Gunpoint), and Collaborators

Only the fanatics and die-hard ideologues persist in apologetics for the Iraq War any longer. Not so in the case of Afghanistan, whom many, including the 'cruise missile liberals', believe is a 'just war', a legitimate response to the events of 11/9. Americans were justifiably upset; unfortunately, the wounds of the terrorist attack quickly festered until somebody, somewhere, hat to be hit. The War on Terror would commence, but to kick it off, some brute vengeance was needed. Afghanistan served as the piñata.

After the crime of September 11, the Taliban, presumed to be hiding Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, were given a series of ultimatums by Bush (20/9/2001):

By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder. And
tonight the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban:
-- Deliver to United States authorities all of the leaders of Al Qaeda who
hide in your land.
-- Release all foreign nationals, including American
citizens you have unjustly imprisoned.
-- Protect foreign journalists,
diplomats and aid workers in your country.
-- Close immediately and
permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. And hand over every
terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate
-- Give the United States full access to terrorist training
camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating.
These demands are
not open to negotiation or discussion.

Understandably, the Taliban requested some proof of bin Laden's involvement in the crime, prior to opening their borders to foreign troops. This supposed recalcitrance on the part of the Taliban, and the alleged lack of a non-violent means of securing bin Laden, served as the pretext for war. It is now clear that the Taliban were, in fact, prepared to extradite bin Laden to Pakistan for prosecution, a fact usually lost on the Eustonites, and other apologists for murder. The Taliban even offered to try bin Laden under Afghanistan's (Islamic) laws, as the US would no doubt seek to do with its war criminals.

By October 7, 2001, Afghanistan was being bombed. The Taliban again attempted to negotiate with the US, offering to hand over bin Laden should American bombing cease. Bush preferred to keep bombing than to have bin Laden, and added, in relation to the Taliban's request for proof of bin Laden's guilt:'There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty'.

So the war continued, and has to this day, with thousands of civilians killed, and no signs of the imminent capture of bin Laden. Even Al-Jazeera's Kabul offices were destroyed; this is more or less the equivalent of bombing the Fox News Network of the Arab world, assuming that Fox had actual journalists.

Yet what a history lessons when a war is 'just', particularly a good, democratising, humanitarian war? With shades of Noel Pearson's comments last week, namely, that critics of the Iraq war were 'willing failure', so too did Christopher Hitchens aver that America's Democratic Party, and other critics of the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are apparently 'defeatists' who are 'rooting for bad news'.

It is in that light, then, that the past few days have brought more bad news, and certainly more 'rooting'. US and NATO forces have even killed more Afghan civilians this year than the insurgency:

Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance
Force, blamed the insurgents for hiding in areas populated by civilians, who are
then killed during attacks against militants, but he said "that does not absolve
ISAF of the responsibility of doing all it can to minimize civilian
On Saturday, [Afghan President] Karzai accused NATO and U.S.-led
troops of carelessly killing scores of Afghan civilians and warned that the
fight against resurgent Taliban militants could fail unless foreign forces show
more restraint.
"Afghan life is not cheap and it should not be treated as
such," Karzai said angrily.
The mounting toll is sapping the authority of the
Western-backed Afghan president, who has pleaded repeatedly with U.S. and NATO commanders to consult Afghan authorities during operations and show more
Karzai also denounced the Taliban for killing civilians, but
directed most of his anger at foreign forces. (source).

More humanitarian intervention was evidenced during recent air bombardments in the southern province of Helmand, where it is estimated that over 50 civilians died. Meanwhile, the CIA continues to dole out millions in cash and arms to Afghan warlords, and the decidedly undemocratic Pakistani government, and Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, pledged that Australia's involvement in the region would be for 'as long as necessary'. He noted (and dismissed) the recent spate of civilian casualties:

It is very, very foolish for any person of goodwill to try to create some
sort of moral equivalence between NATO and what the Taliban does. (source).

Naturally, the equivalence is not to be found: the Taliban are a brutal regime who do their killing via bombs, and hand-to-hand fighting; whilst the US and NATO do it 'surgically', with tanks and planes. Moral outrage at 'Western' brutality, is therefore quite out of the question, especially as regards this, the most 'just' and 'necessary' of humanitarian interventions.

It is apt that the chicken hawks who condemn any anti-war Westerner invoke pre-World War II analogies, by referring to their ideological opponents as appeasers. Putting aside the fact that the Nazi war machine was nothing remotely like the Taliban, or Al Qaeda, perhaps we who oppose these wars could accurately term the chickenhawks as 'collaborators', propagandising invasion and ongoing invasion, in the manner of the most contemptible Vichy stooge.

Leaving Afghanistan for the moment, and turning to Iraq, two US soldiers have been charged for these charming little incidents:

Staff Sergeant Michael Hensley was charged with three counts of
premeditated murder, obstruction of justice and of wrongfully placing weapons
beside the dead bodies in an apparent attempt to cover up the crimes.
Specialist Jorge Sandoval was charged with one count of premeditated murder
and with putting a weapon by the body. (source).

But hey, who said democracy was meant to be easy? Perhaps, with a view to avoiding charges of 'moral equivalence', the US might consider having the said soldiers tried by the Iraqis themselves. But this would imply a degree of moral reciprocity, and for a Coalition that assumes its exceptionalism is self-evident and axiomatic, such things simply won't do.

Afghanistan remains on the brink of being a 'failed state', even according to the Americans, and bin Laden and the Taliban are still at large. At least the US thirst for post 11/9 vengeance was sated, albeit temporarily, and 'power' implied in the name of the world's last 'superpower' finally had an opportunity to vaunt itself.

UPDATE: The Age has a few things to say about Afghanistan and civilian casualties.