9-11 and Afghanistan One Year Later

With kind permission, the following article, originally posted on ZMagazine is reproduced here. It provides a number of questions and answers on the issues of the war on terror, and the increasing threats of war on Iraq. This article can be found at its original location, http://www.zmag.org/45qairaq.htm1.

45 Questions and Answers
By Stephen R. Shalom and Michael Albert
9 October 2002

Part B. 9-11 and Afghanistan One Year Later

B1. Do and did anti-war critics care about the tragedy of 9-11?

Every outward manifestation that one can use to judge, says the answer is yes. Speeches, talks, interviews, and essays all evince horror at the events, pain for those who suffered, fear that it might recur and take more innocent lives. But what characterizes anti-war critics such as ourselves and those with views like ours is that our solidarity, sympathy, pain, and anger is not limited to a single day's events or to a single nation's tragedy. Iraq has lost civilians for a decade to U.S. policies. The sum total is equivalent to at least a hundred days like 9-11 in a country with about one seventh the population of the U.S. So yes, anti-war activists care about the tragedy and also the injustice of the attacks on 9-11, but we also care about the tragedy and injustice of attacks and more general policies of our own government against civilians elsewhere.

B2. Do anti-war critics care about the safety of the American people, beyond the level of rhetoric?

Anti-war critics, to our knowledge, care about the well being and fulfillment of all people -- which certainly includes people's safety. So, if 3,000 Americans die in an assault, and if there are ways to make any such future assault less likely, or less effective, and those ways don't involve grave sacrifices of freedom or other untenable costs, surely anti-war critics would support them.

By the same token, however, roughly 50,000 people a year die in the U.S. in industrial accidents and due to diseases produced by work in unsafe workplaces. Anti-war critics tend to be horrified by these deaths too, and to feel that any actions that can reduce these horrible results should also be undertaken, unless they have unjust and dangerous effects that outweigh the benefits.

So one might reasonably ask, not only about anti-war activists, but also about the newsmakers and political and corporate elites, are they really concerned about the lives of innocent Americans, as they claim, or are they only exploiting fear and anger at 9-11 to advance agendas they hold for other reasons?

If the anti-war movement had the power to enact legislation to reduce U.S. civilian deaths, they would no doubt act with haste in numerous ways. First and most important would be pushing through health and safety legislation, health care legislation, anti-poverty legislation, and so on. Anyone who cares about innocent American civilians dying would do that. Second, regarding death by terrorism, these activists would make changes in U.S. policy that would both make it more just and humane, and, at the same time, reduce the anger and even hatred at the U.S. that current policies induce around the world. This would reduce the pressures that produce terrorism. Third, they would withdraw U.S. participation in and support for terrorism, thereby greatly reducing its prevalence. And, fourth, they would certainly also make changes in defense procedures and information dispersal aimed at making terrorist acts harder to undertake. In contrast, the government and its supporters ignore the first three means of reducing future American fatalities -- because those methods are contrary to their greater interests in profit and power. They do pursue the fourth option, clumsily, and without much promise of success, and often counter-productively, again, because that's the mode of implementation that does most good for their top priority -- their power and wealth.

For example, when the Bush administration proclaimed war in Afghanistan as its prime approach to protecting Americans, anti-war critics argued that this approach would be of little value and might even drive more people to terrorism. And sure enough, the New York Times reported on June 16, 2002, based on conversations with senior government officials: "Classified investigations of the Qaeda threat now under way at the FBI and CIA have concluded that the war in Afghanistan failed to diminish the threat to the United States, the officials said. Instead, the war may have complicated counterterrorism efforts by dispersing potential attackers across a wider geographic area." Where careful police work can be effective against al Qaeda-type threats, as it has been in Germany, Spain, and elsewhere, bombing has had negligible positive benefit, as might be expected given that the terrorists did most of their planning not in Kabul or Kandahar but in Hamburg, Germany, and Paterson, New Jersey.

Far from being bizarre, therefore, the anti-war view was in fact similar to that of hardheaded mainstream realist international relations specialists. Thus Stephen Walt has noted "Military power is not necessary to wiping out Al Qaeda. It's a crude instrument, and it almost always has effects you can't anticipate. We're seeing that now. We didn't get Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. We're killing civilians. We're killing friendly forces. This is ultimately a battle for the hearts and minds of people around the world. When your village just got leveled by an American mistake, the conclusions you draw will be rather different from what we'd want them to be." (Quoted in Nicolas Lemann, New Yorker, 9/16/02.) What Walt fails to note is the other reasons why U.S. policymakers might prefer using bombs, even to the extent of blowing up villages and risking mass starvation and thereby creating great hatred for the U.S., rather than pursuing the alternative of following and enhancing international law and reducing just grievances of populations around the world.

B3. Do U.S. crimes justify attacks on U.S. civilians?

No, of course not. Just as the crimes of a leader of another country, or of another country's government, do not justify attacks on their civilians.

Terrorism is most frequently defined as attacks on civilians undertaken for political purposes. Terrorism is wrong if it is blowing up a small bomb in a pizza parlor or on a bus. It is wrong if it is blowing up a larger bomb in a large bus station. It is wrong if it is a plane used to take out a huge skyscraper. And it is wrong if it is a massive air force pummeling the civilian population and infrastructure of a society, or if it is sanctions denying a society the means to sustain the life of many of its citizens. Terrorism is wrong when carried out by disgruntled individuals, groups, or whole armies and governments. And it is wrong regardless of whether the motives would be worthy were the means different, or whether the motives are themselves horribly unjust, or just insane.

B4. Do you believe that al Qaeda is seeking legitimate goals through improper means?

We haven't talked to anyone in al Qaeda. And there is no reason to believe simple propaganda statements. We can't know for sure, therefore, their motives, but we can do our best to try to understand within the limits of available information.

Many of the terrorists were no doubt recruited based on their anger at the U.S. and their desire that U.S. policies should change. Some were likely concerned about policies out of true concern for suffering constituencies, such as Iraqis or Palestinians. Others might have been more concerned about less concrete matters, such as the intrusion of U.S. culture and troops in their lands. But, if we are talking about al Qaeda's leaders, those who plan and direct al Qaeda's events, it seems tremendously unlikely that they were or are motivated or even in the slightest degree moved by a desire to aid the Palestinians, the Iraqis, or any other suffering population. This is clear from the trivially simple insight that their actions could not possibly have been expected to have a positive impact on such constituencies.

On the other hand, a plausible motive consistent with their actions over a span of twenty years is that they want to drive American soldiers out of Muslim lands and overthrow the governments there in favor of their version of radical Islamism. 9-11's purpose, in that context, would have been to induce the U.S. into a massive response, hoping to entwine it in a battle which could be won by al Qaeda (a tremendous degree of miscalculation, there), or to so destabilize the Middle East that elements closer in ideology to al Qaeda and the Taliban would rise in prominence and power, perhaps even to take over additional states. This motive is not implausible and has not yet failed, and one doesn't know what the outcome will be if there is war in Iraq and a spillover effect. On the assumption that al Qaeda's motive for 9-11 was inducing chaos in the Middle East that might be taken advantage of by allied fundamentalists, they are no doubt now hoping for a U.S. invasion and all manner of mayhem, not caring any more about the human suffering and loss than do Rumsfeld or Bush.

No, in our view al Qaeda is not only using immoral and disastrous means, it also has immoral and disastrous intentions. On the other hand, Bush seems hell bent on virtually the only approaches that could conceivably bring on al Qaeda's long-term success.

B5. Did 9-11 show that the left was wrong about terrorism?

What the left has said about terrorism remains compelling: (1) that many of the governments most actively proclaiming campaigns against terrorism are themselves guilty of supporting or committing terrorism on a vast scale (for example, U.S. backing for Indonesia in East Timor or for Salvadoran death squads or for Turkey's war against its Kurdish minority); (2) that military force is not the best means for eradicating terrorism and that attempting to address the underlying causes offers much better prospects of success; and (3) that terrorism is often used by states as an excuse for foreign and domestic policies pursued for reasons unrelated to the terrorism.

At the same time it is true that the left, like most everyone else, was surprised by the scale of 9-11. Though the potential for mass murder is still heavily on the side of state terrorists, the gap is narrower than previously assumed.

B6. "Which was the court where these guys could be summoned?" asks Todd Gitlin. "Were subpoenas to be dropped at the mouths of the caves of Tora Bora?"

Well, yes, they were. And then brought in by armed UN troops, perhaps, as well (assuming, that is, that a case for culpability could be made). The Afghan government could also be entreated to hand over culprits, and so on.

But suppose it is ascertained that bin Laden and various others were responsible, and that they were in Afghanistan, but that they couldn't be reached directly. Does it then follow that the United States should simply bomb the country, no matter the risk to civilians? Our thinking on this is straightforward. Suppose someone commits a heinous crime in the U.S. and then disappears into Omaha. We know he is there. We know he did it. If we can't get at him directly, do we just bomb until Omaha is no more? Winding up, by the way, with no evidence at all that anything was accomplished vis-a-vis the presumed culprit?

B7. Anti-war critics called for the 9-11 attacks to be treated as a police matter. But don't the same anti-war critics want to disband the CIA, etc., which would have been the ones who would have handled a police matter?

The main point is that the attacks should not have been treated as a justification to endanger civilians in Afghanistan, to impose draconian laws and round up innocents in the U.S. or anywhere else, to push through all kinds of military budget policies, and so on. To deal with

the attacks should have meant to determine their source by way of evidence, and to then prosecute those responsible, using mechanisms of international law and its enforcement.

Critics of the CIA don't reject gathering intelligence per se, they reject the CIA as an agent of corporate and geopolitical interests determining what information is worth having, and how it ought to be used. The CIA has a variety of roles: among them the overthrowing of governments that the United States doesn't like, as in Chile or Guatemala. Certainly an organization with these responsibilities shouldn't exist. There is nothing wrong with an international police organization, however, invested by the United Nations with responsibility for finding or proving culpability

and apprehending criminals --- something like Interpol. In the absence of such an international organization, the police agencies of individual nations, including those of the United States, might be loaned to the UN.

One can debate whether or not in our current world there should exist an agency devoted to accumulating information about circumstances around the globe, and if so what kinds of limits should constrain it. Neither discussion, however, has much to do with how 9-11 should have been dealt with.

B8. That the usual rightwing fanatics supported the war in Afghanistan is not surprising. But should the fact that the war's supporters included people who have been prominent and committ