Creating the Terrorists that Will Visit Terror Upon Our Children: A Response to Richard Falk and His Magic Bullet Fantasy
By Michael Ratner and Jules Lobel
In a recent Nation article Richard Falk, a well known professor of international law and a major voice against the Vietnam war, who says he has not supported a shooting war since his childhood, writes that the war in Afghanistan is “the first truly just war since World War II.” Falk believes that a limited war (“the role of military force is marginal”) with limited ends can and should be fought by the United States to achieve the goal of the “destruction of both the Taliban regime and the Al Qaeda network.” His endorsement of war and eschewing of nonviolent or diplomatic means is both dangerous and wrong.
A war of limited means cannot be fought to remove the Taliban government; that, as has already been demonstrated is a contradiction. An intensive bombing campaign has continued for weeks with dire consequences. Thousands of refugees are fleeing daily, the U.N. is predicting the deaths of 100,000 children and the U.S. is refusing even to pause the bombardment to permit food deliveries. Hate for Americans is pouring into the streets of Pakistan, Indonesia, and other Muslim countries; we are creating the terrorists that will visit terror upon our children. Pakistan, with its nuclear arsenal, is in a precarious political situation and could well end up a U.S. enemy. We do not know the number of innocents killed; that information we will not be given. And we may not have seen the worst; a fractionalized and war-faring post-Taliban Afghanistan. And to carry this war out we are arming our putative allies (bribing might be a better word) to the teeth. Billions in U.S. arms will go into the region; eventually these weapons will be turned on their own populations or on us.
Nor will this war be confined to Afghanistan, a danger Falk himself recognizes. World War I started when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in response to a terrorist act; the Bush Administration now threatens war against unnamed countries who harbor terrorists. The logic of this military action in inevitably expansive. Already, we are hearing that Somalia may be next.
There was another way. Treat the attacks on September 11 as a crime against humanity (mass or systematic killing of civilians), establish a U.N. tribunal, extradite the suspects, or if that fails, capture them with a U.N. force, and try them. The U.S. experience with Libya demonstrates both the perils of a military response and the possibilities for international justice. Initially, the U.S., bombed Libya for its alleged role in the killing of U.S. soldiers; Libya retaliated by bombing Pam Am 103 over Lockerbie. At that point, U.S. officials recognized that more bombing would lead to a spiraling cycle of violence and turned to the U.N. International pressure was applied; and eventually the Libyans extradited the suspects for trial.
The numerous objections Falk makes to such a tribunal primarily revolve around his belief that the U.S. would not accept such a court, in part, because it might not be authorized to give the death penalty. But since when should respected international legal experts like Falk, who generally favor peaceful resolutions to conflicts, shy away from arguing what is right simply because they believe the U.S. will not listen.
Falk’s other objections to a tribunal are similarly fallacious. He claims a trial would be a kind of legal martyrdom for Bin Laden; but is not the opposite true. Deploying U.S. military force to kill him without a trial will make him more of a martyr, not less of one. Falk is worried that there might not be sufficient evidence to convict Bin Laden. We do not know whether or not this is so, but are surprised hearing from someone like Falk that there is sufficient evidence to bomb an entire country, but not to convict the perpetrators of the attacks on September 11th.
Falk says that it is “unreasonable to expect the US government to rely on the UN to fulfill its defensive needs.” But Falk did not think that it was unreasonable for the Kuwaitis to rely on the UN-and not the US acting unilaterally-to counteract Iraqi aggression in 1990. Is Falk bowing to American exceptionalism–the UN is good for everybody else, but not for the only superpower?
It is remarkable that Falk, while recognizing that the global role of the United States has given rise to widespread resentment that fuels the terrorist impulse, claims that this role “cannot be addressed so long as this movement of global terrorism is at large.” But it is now that we must examine this resentment: our tilt in the Palestinian-Israel conflict, the use of the Persian Gulf as a U.S. base and support for corrupt, authoritarian regimes. We must do so not to “give in to terrorists,” but to promote a more just and peaceful world order and to enhance our long term security. To do so only when the global terrorist movement is no longer “at large” ensures that such an examination will never occur.
Developing a proper response to terrorism is incredibly difficult, and no short term solution appears particularly attractive. One suspects that the tortured quality to Falk’s analysis (supporting war, but yet warning of its dangers, excessiveness and expansiveness), stems from the underlying global
trends that have progressives in such disarray. From the 1960’s to 80’s U.S. military force was employed primarily to defeat national liberation struggles e.g. the Sandinistas, viewed as threatening U.S. hegemony. These movements, which had the support of many in the United States, arose, in part, from opposition to U.S. domination and the undemocratic regimes propped up by the United States. When the U.S. engaged in war against these struggles, progressives easily understood that these movements were the response to and were being destroyed by U.S. imperialism.
Unfortunately, the current reaction to U.S. hegemonic policies has taken a terroristic and brutal form to which a military response appears justifiable. This has made some progressives unwilling to examine the root causes of the terror and blinded them to the nature of the military response. Nonetheless, the problem of U.S. imperial domination clearly lurks beneath the contemporary reality, both in the underlying tensions which helped create the terrorists, and in the overwhelming military response, which will result in a world filled with more U.S. bases, more U.S. supported and armed dictators and, sadly, more terrorists.
Only by taking a different path; a path towards a more equal, democratic and just world can we ever create conditions of security from terrorism for our children. Bombing Afghanistan- whatever the justness of the cause- seems the wrong way to begin that necessary journey.