When is War Justified? Afghanistan

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November 5, 2009

A month ago, I sent an email to over fifty leaders and thinkers in the Jewish and progressive world, asking them what they thought about the conflict in Afghanistan. I wrote:

I keep asking myself an old question that seems ever more relevant today in the context of Afghanistan: When is war justified?

Al-Qaeda expressly aims to kill U.S. citizens–does the U.S. not have a defensive need to attack their bases and support on the Afghani/Pakistani border? Likewise, the Taliban in Afghanistan have partnered with al-Qaeda, and may take their attacks beyond US soldiers to US civilians–they have a history of doing so in the case of India. And for Jews, the violence the Taliban wreak against their own people, especially women, make one pause. On the other hand, could the Taliban be provoked because we are on their land–is this war, in short, creating its own justification? And is it our business to dictate the ethics of another religion, another culture?

I invited a response, and got two, one from a leading activist rabbi, Arthur Waskow, and one from a leading radical journalist, Greg Palast. ZEEK is reprinting them with the hope of starting a richer conversation.

If you would like to answer my question, or respond to Palast or Waskow, please send us a paragraph. I encourage you to make it a paragraph rich in links–links to your own website or writing on the topic, or to the writing of others, or to religious text or other primary sources, or to relevant video or audio sources. You can link to art or dance or poetry or music as well as to well-argued essays and statistical data. Let’s create a resource for those who want to explore this difficult question on their own, especially with regard to the current conflict.

We will keep this piece on the Zeek front page as long as we get respectful responses. Send those to me at joellen@zeek.net

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Who can think up the most cockamamie plans for Afghanistan?

Start with the two now being seriously debated by our Beltway Bobbleheads: either send 500,000 US soldiers to occupy the most ornery anti-occupation people on the craggy face of earth, killing thousands of Afghans and Americans along the way and bankrupting any hope of social reform in America; or keep flinging lightning bolts from the sky to kill bands of “terrorists” who we then discover are wedding guests, thereby multiplying the reserve army of “terrorists” a thousandfold after every wedding.

Here are two ideas way outside the box, outside the Beltway:

  1. Fire all US generals and diplomats in Afghanistan. Send five women U.S. Senators to negotiate with Afghan women and all male Afghan factional leaders (including the varied Taliban factions) with two promises: (1) Any governance agreement unanimously agreed-to will be backed up by billions in U.S. economic aid, delivered as dollar bills in suitcases, if necessary; (2) If no such agreement is reached, all U.S. involvement in Afghanistan ends at once. Same if a unanimous agreement breaks down.

  2. Call a conference of the independent women’s organizations in Afghanistan. Offer micro-loans for grass-roots economic development to any group of ten women who apply as a group (loans ranging from $1,000 to $5,000). And – offer ten revolvers and 100 bullets to each group of women: one gun and 50 bullets for each woman for target practice, 50 bullets for defense against anyone who comes to assail them for being uppity. If the women choose not to receive the guns but to take their chances on nonviolence, their micro-loan doubles. Then the US leaves – soldiers, Predators, Drones, and all – except for sending American women who are loan officers for small community-based banks, to keep continuing contact with the micro-loan organizations.

Of the four, which plan is the least cockamamie? Which is likeliest to save American lives, benefit American society, save Afghan lives, and help self-government grow at the grass roots in Afghanistan?

Shalom, salaam, peace! Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

Greg Palast

On September 11, 2001, my office building, the World Trade Center, was attacked by al Qaeda, a murder cult of Saudi Arabians, funded by Saudi Arabians. And so, in response to the Saudis’ attack, America invaded … Afghanistan.

And here we go again. The New York Times (print edition) headline last Friday was: “Pakistani Army, In Its Campaign In Taliban Stronghold, Finds A Hint Of 9/11.”

Google it and you’ll find the Times report repeated and amplified 5,785 times more.

Taliban = 9/11. Taliban = 9/11. Taliban = 9/11.

Your eyelids are getting heavy. Taliban = 9/11. Taliban = 9/11.

It’s the latest hit from the same crew that brought you Saddam = 9/11 and its twin chant, Saddam = WMD, Dick Cheney’s chimerical tropes which the New York Times’ Judith Miller happily channeled to the paper’s front page.

And they’re at it again.

Every war begins with a lie. In addition to Saddam = WMD, I’m old enough to remember the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the war in Vietnam, based on a fictional Vietnamese gunboat attack on our Navy. (White House recordings have Lyndon Johnson gloating privately, “Hell, those damn stupid [US] sailors were just shooting at flying fish.”)

In the Glorious War against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the lie is thus: al Qaeda is “based” in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. If we don’t fight the wily Taliban, as the British once fought the wily Pathan, al Qaeda will attack America again from Talibanistan.

The latest Taliban=9/11 fantasy is a yarn spun wildly outward from the finding of a passport of an al Qaeda flunky who worked with suicide pilot Mohammed Atta in the same mountain area where, years later, a Taliban group operated. It’s a stretch, but when you want to sell a war, it will do.

But selling the re-invasion of Afghanistan requires a repetition of Lie #1: that the original attack on the World Trade towers and the Pentagon were planned from Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s mountains with the connivance of the Taliban.

It’s not true, of course. The September 11 attack was neither organized nor directed from Afghanistan by the Taliban. In fact, as our BBC Report found, it was clear that the attack on my friends and co-workers was planned and carried out from Falls Church, Virginia; Paris, France; Sarasota, Florida; Hamburg, Germany;— and, I repeat, funded and manned from Saudi Arabia. Neither the Sunshine State nor the Aryan namesake of the original beef patty sandwich were, nor are they now, convenient targets for a revenge attack by the 101st Airborne.

And revenge was what it was and remains: on September 11 the skunks hit us and we, goddamnit, were going to HIT BACK. ANYONE. SOMEONE. So we hit the odious, and conveniently weak, Taliban, who’d, undeniably, given refuge to killer Osama bin Laden. Though let us not forget that Osama’s safe passage from the Sudan to Afghanistan was initially encouraged by the US government.

Today, we continue to throw our soldiers’ bodies into Afghanistan, and our drones’ rockets into Pakistan, to deny al Qaeda the supposed base from which to strike us again.

The media is eating it up and swallowing it whole. For example, CNN quotes a Pakistani from the Afghan border area, “Probably your next 9/11 is going to be from Swat.”

That’s not true either, of course: In the extraordinarily unlikely event Osama remains in the “caves of Tora Bora” (not where multi-millionaires with kidney disease tend to linger), any conceivable attack will be planned, funded and organized from comfy hotel rooms in Paris, Germany and Dubai as is the habit of these well-heeled hellions.

The truth is, we’re not in Afghanistan to stop al Qaeda’s US attackers, because they weren’t “based” there in the first place, and their leaders are not there now.

So, why are we now re-invading Afghanistan? Beats me. I just hope our President will give us a hint that doesn’t involve some cockamamie fairytale about 9/11 and al Qaeda.

Now, please don’t get me wrong: the Taliban are monsters. If you have any doubt, I suggest you read progressive journalist Michael Griffin’s masterful history of the Taliban, Reaping the Whirlwind. (Published in early 2001, Griffin presciently warned against the US policy of placating the Taliban.)

Undeniably, the Taliban gave sanctuary to the killer Osama, but that does not make the Taliban guilty of planning and participating in the 9/11 attack. However, the Taliban’s innocence in the 9/11 massacre does not wash their hands of the blood of Afghans, particularly Shia and Sufi Muslims, whom the Taliban have tortured, raped and murdered.

I can’t say I shed tears for the Taliban when, after my office towers fell, US troops ended their sharia dictatorship. And, honestly, there’s a case to be made that rocketing more Taliban, really nasty cutthroats that they are, is a laudable exercise. But let’s not pretend it has anything to do with preventing another 9/11.

And that’s the danger. As the poet T.S. Eliot warned,

"The last temptation is the greatest treason
    To do the right thing for the wrong reason."

Taliban = 9/11? Innocents, by the thousands and thousands, will pay in blood for this treasonous falsehood.

For BBC Television, Greg Palast reported on the US intelligence failures leading to the 9/11attack. Watch the BBC Newsnight episode. For the full story obtain a copy of the now classic BBC documentary, Bush Family Fortunes available on DVD or the now newly available download version. The author is donating all proceeds of the sale of the film, *Bush Family Fortunes, expanded from the BBC broadcast, to the Palast Investigative Fund, a not-for-profit foundation supporting investigative reporting. 100% of your donations for the film disc or download go to the fund and are tax-deductible.*

Alan R. Rothstein, Zeek Reader

There is only one word to describe the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan - meshugaas!

Eric Green, Zeek Reader Fire all American and Coalition generals? and then ONLY allow women reps to a country that is completely sexist? I am no major mind in this world, being that I am only a 17-year old junior in a backwoods American high school… but that doesn’t seem even half smart…. The best solution for us is to stay in there and train the “Good” Afghans to protect themselves and their peace loving civilians. If we pull out, what will happen? Another mass killing of civilians. I don’t know if you have noticed, but every other country is in trouble by terrorist acts, but America has been clean since 9/11. We’re on the right track.

Lonny Moses, Zeek Reader

Dear Eric,

I believe the point that Rabbi Waskow was trying to make is that it was a masculine, aggressive, military ethic which has gotten us into this conflict (and many others) in the first place. For some reason, as a society, we only train women in the ethic of care, while men are taught to be aggresive, hostile and violent, and then are put into power. His suggestion should be taken as a tongue-in-cheek overexaggeration of the need to bring feminine/pro-peace perspectives into our foreign policy.

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