If the goal of the United States is to
create an effective, global anti-terrorist network, the current strategy
of bombing Afghanistan is counterproductive.
The decision for war. On September
20, nine days after the horrendous terrorist attacks in the United States,
President George W. Bush declared in a nationwide address that the Taliban
government of Afghanistan must turn over to the U.S. Osama bin Laden and
other suspected terrorists or face the wrath of the United States. Bush
said that he would not negotiate with the Taliban government. Taliban leaders,
for their part, asked for evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the terrorist
crimes of September 11th and said they would only hand suspected terrorists
over to an international agency.
With his ultimatum unmet, President Bush
decided that the Taliban government must be removed by force. On October
7, U.S. warplanes and cruise missiles attacked Taliban military sites and
suspected terrorist training camps. At the same time, U.S. cargo planes
dropped thousands of U.S. meal packets to help feed Afghan refugees fleeing
the bombing. After destroying all known military sites, the U.S. began
on October 30 to bomb concentrations of Taliban troops. A number of errant
bombs were reported to have killed an undetermined number of civilians.
The Bush administration's bombing strategy
is linked to a wider political strategy aimed at weakening the Taliban
government and encouraging its opponents to overthrow it. Presumably, the
new government would allow U.S. forces to thoroughly search Afghanistan
for suspected terrorists. Thus far, however, the Taliban remains firmly
in power while its opponents remain weak and divided. The one rebel group
that has the military potential for taking power, the Northern Alliance,
is unacceptable to most Afghans, as it is composed of different ethnic
groups than the Pashtun majority and its previous rule from 1992 to 1996
was marked by widespread abuse and repression.
The limits of war. It is possible
that continued U.S. bombing along with limited U.S. combat missions and
substantial U.S. aid to the Northern Alliance could succeed in ousting
the Taliban government - at a cost of many Afghan lives and some American
lives. Yet the U.S. may win the battle against the Taliban only to lose
the larger war against terrorism. The U.S. may still fail to capture bin
Laden and other terrorists thought to be hiding in Afghanistan. In the
meantime, the U.S. will be responsible for establishing a new government
in a foreign land full of violent tribal rivalries, murky ethnic politics,
and starving refugees. The overthrow of the Taliban government is, after
all, only a secondary objective - only valuable insofar as it allows the
U.S. to capture of suspected terrorists.
If the U.S. does succeed in capturing or
killing Osama bin Laden through its military campaign in Afghanistan, the
American public will no doubt be pleased. But the military precedent in
this case may nevertheless undermine the wider global struggle against
terrorism - for two reasons.
First, Muslims in the area stretching from
Northwest Africa to Southeast Asia generally oppose U.S. militarism in
their region. More than a few governments have expressed concern that U.S.
bombing attacks in Afghanistan are killing innocent people and creating
hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of whom could die in the coming
winter months. Three weeks after the bombing began, the president of Pakistan
called for an end to it.
Further U.S. military action will only further
alienate Muslim and Arab allies in the region; and without their cooperation,
our ability to gather intelligence and prevent terrorist acts will be sorely
limited. The terrorists who hijacked the U.S. jets on September 11th were
not from Afghanistan, but from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and
Egypt, countries allied with the United States.
Should the U.S. lose the already tenuous support of Pakistan, Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, and other predominantly Muslim nations, the U.S. will most
assuredly fail in its primary objective -- to create an effective, global
anti-terrorist network that can find and apprehend suspected terrorists,
and anticipate and prevent terrorist acts in the future.
The second downside of U.S. military action
in Afghanistan is that it sets a dangerous and impractical precedent. The
U.S. State Department currently lists Iran, Syria, and Iraq as "terrorist"
states. Is the U.S. going to take military action against these nations
as well? Suppose there is evidence that China is harboring international
terrorists. Will the U.S. engage in a war against China, with its 1.2 billion
people? The current war strategy against Afghanistan seems plausible to
many Americans only because Afghanistan is weak, with no ability whatsoever
to strike back at the U.S.
Terrorism is a problem for all nations,
not just the United States. Imagine that international terrorists attacked
a major trade center in Belgium. Would it be advisable or feasible for
Belgium to conduct a military attack on, say, Libya, for allegedly harboring
terrorists? Or imagine if Japan were attacked. Would we approve of a Japanese
attack on, say, the Philippines?
The struggle against anti-terrorism must
be global in nature, with nations sharing intelligence and cooperating
in finding and bringing suspected terrorists to trial in international
courts. The current U.S. war against Afghanistan has diverted attention
from the necessary task of establishing an effective, long-term, global
Potential repercussions of war. During
the month of November, the Bush administration will no doubt push for victory
over the Taliban government - by aiding the Northern Alliance and introducing
U.S. troops as needed. This military strategy will increasingly come into
conflict with the political sensitivities of U.S. allies in the region.
If the war continues through the winter and into next year, the potential
for further complications will markedly increase. Allied governments in
the region, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, will be under increasing
pressure from Muslim fundamentalists to break with the U.S.; and radical
Muslim militants will increase their efforts to undermine or overthrow
these pro-Western governments and establish Islamic fundamentalist regimes.
Should the government of Pakistan fall to
militant fundamentalists, that nation's nuclear arsenal would fall into
their hands as well. The potential for war with India - possibly a nuclear
war - would increase, while cooperation with the West would diminish. Many
of the training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which the U.S. has identified
as bin Laden's training camps, have actually been used by Muslim militants
to prepare for attacks against Hindus in the Indian state of Kashmir.
Should the Saudi government fall or be pressured
to move away from its pro-Western position, U.S. oil supplies could suffer.
The U.S. has maintained a military base in Saudi Arabia since 1990 in part
to assure stability in Saudi Arabia. If fundamentalist opposition grows,
however, the U.S. may find itself embroiled in a civil war to protect the
ruling Saudi family.
Israel, America's close ally in the Middle
East, may also suffer should Muslim opposition to the U.S. war in Afghanistan
increase. Of late, U.S. leaders have been encouraging Israel to avoid military
retribution for Palestinian attacks and to pursue diplomatic avenues, but
Israel is reluctant to do so. Israeli leaders say they are only doing what
the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan - rooting out terrorism. Hard-line Israeli
policies against Palestinians combined with the one-sided U.S. war against
Afghanistan could catalyze increased support for militant Palestinian groups,
thereby undermining any possibility of peace.
Alternatives to war. The U.S. should
forego its military strategy of overturning the Taliban government and
instead work through international courts and agencies to apprehend suspected
terrorists. This would entail presenting evidence to an international court
and creating an international team to negotiate with the Taliban government
as well as other governments to turn over accused terrorists to the court.
If negotiations failed, it would be up to the international community to
pursue a common action, perhaps a military action, against the resisting
government(s). Military action would thus not be precluded under international
law, but it would be the last resort, not the first resort, and it would
be undertaken in cooperation with the international community, not primarily
a unilateral action undertaken by the United States.
The benefits of approaching the problem
of terrorism in this way would be numerous: lives would be saved and the
U.S. would not be responsible for the killing of Taliban soldiers and innocent
civilians; the U.S. would strengthen its ties with moderate governments
in predominantly Muslim nations and dampen militant appeals in those nations,
thereby enhancing stability in the region; the fight against terrorism
would have a permanent locus, enabling cooperation among nations and providing
continuity; and militarism would diminish in favor of resolving differences
through international diplomacy and law.
Some of the infrastructure for a global
anti-terrorism campaign has been established and some will need to be established.
Already underway is a permanent International Court of Justice, which will
be able to bring to trial any person charged with committing crimes against
humanity. Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic is currently being tried in
a temporary international court of justice. On the drawing board is a proposal
for a United Nations Rapid Deployment force, a 6,000 member UN police force
that could be deployed within fifteen days of a Security Council resolution
and would be limited to a maximum deployment of six months. (A bill in
Congress, H.R. 938, calling on the U.S. to support the UN Rapid Deployment
Force had 44 co-sponsors as of August 8, 2001.)
The understandable response to the September
11th terrorist attacks among Americans is to want to see results - Osama
bin Laden and other suspected terrorists captured or killed, the Taliban
overthrown, and terrorist networks neutralized. The Bush administration
has pushed military action and much of the public has endorsed this course
of action, if polls are to be believed. Yet, it would be well to step back
and take a longer view of the situation - in light of the long-term goal
of creating an effective, global anti-terrorist network.
The United States has a history of shortsighted
policies that have come back to haunt us. In 1953, the U.S. helped overthrow
the government of Iran, only to have the U.S.-backed government under the
Shah of Iran overthrown by a radical Islamic regime in 1979. In the 1980s,
the U.S. aided Iraq in its ten-year war against Iran, only to fight Iraqi
forces after they invaded Kuwait in 1990. Also in the 1980s, the U.S. supported
militant Islamic rebels fighting in Afghanistan against a Soviet-backed
government. Among these "freedom fighters," as President Ronald Reagan
called them, was Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Now, the U.S. has declared
the Taliban an enemy with whom the U.S. cannot negotiate.
Currently, the U.S. war in Afghanistan is
undermining our long-term goals by alienating key allies, creating instability
in the region, diverting attention the creation of a common infrastructure
to fight terrorism, and setting a militaristic precedent whereby powerful
nations feel justified in attacking weaker ones.
It is not too late to reverse directions. The U.S. can halt the bombing,
negotiate with the Taliban through Pakistan, and work through the UN Security
Council to gain access to alleged terrorists hiding in Afghanistan. It
is not our struggle alone. By supporting an international, criminal justice
approach to terrorism now, the U.S. can set the stage for increased international
cooperation in the future. This is not only a more humane approach; it
is also a more effective one.