Democratic Underground

An Unwinnable War?
September 22, 2001
by The Plaid Adder

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As some of you may know, I used to maintain a page called Yalies Against Dubya's Ascension, which was devoted to "helping find a cure for the blight that is Dubya." If you go to that page now, here's what it says:

Forget Dubya. We've got bigger problems. On September 11, 2001... well, you know what happened. I will no longer be maintaining the YADA page. Why? Because he's no longer worth my time. He may be just as incompetent, unintelligent, and unprepared for the job as we always thought he was; but that's beside the point. He's not in charge here. The World Trade Centers are gone, thousands of people are dead, Cheney is rushing the country into open war before the tears are dry on our faces, and I'm through fooling around.

Instead, I am maintaining a page with resources for those Americans who want to stop Bush from getting us involved in a 'war against terrorism' which is every bit as amorphous, ill-defined, and unwinnable as his father's 'war against drugs' was. Why? Well, here's the answer I came up with. Thanks in advance for listening.

Why Peace?

Because going to war, especially against Afghanistan, is not only wrong, but also useless, and above all, dangerous.

Let me break that down:

1. Wrong.

During the past few days we've seen a number of hate crimes committed against people living in America who are or are perceived to be Muslim or of Arab descent. Bush and his cronies have been telling Americans not to punish entire ethnic groups for crimes committed by a few individuals who belong to them, and that's nice. I'm sure things would be worse if they weren't doing that. However, the bottom line is this: they can tell Americans not to be racists all they want, but as long as they continue to loudly repeat that the only appropriate response to a crime committed by individual Muslims is to wage indiscriminate war on half of the Muslim world, I don't think it'll work. The state-sponsored violence currently being planned against Afghanistan - and, the rhetoric implies, any other Arab or Muslim state the boys in Washington can make a plausible case against - legitimates the individual acts of violence being committed on our streets.

Americans have already been killed over this in Arizona and Texas. An Indian friend of ours from Austin writes that she's considering telling her mother not to wear a sari in public any more. At a mosque in Chicago, the imam distributed a list of suggestions on how to avoid anti-Muslim violence, which include not gathering in public and not going outside unless it's absolutely necessary. What will happen to people in Muslim dress or with 'middle-eastern-looking' faces who try to board planes in this country in the coming months I can only imagine. I hear a lot of debate about "whether we should agree to restrict our civil liberties"; well, for a significant portion of the American population, that's already a moot point.

Even if our government manages to restrain the tide of hate crime in this country, that will do nothing to mitigate the moral repugnance of the military action it is about to take. By invading Afghanistan, we will be punishing its already suffering people for crimes committed by a Saudi exile who is being sheltered by a totalitarian regime over which they have no control. In essence, we are planning to show the world that killing innocent civilians is wrong by killing innocent civilians. I would laugh at the irony, if I weren't sick to my stomach just thinking about it.

2. Useless.

How about we stop and ask ourselves what it is that attacking Afghanistan will actually accomplish, before we decide to go ahead with it? Is that too much to ask?

First of all, the example of Iraq has proved to us how effective it is to try to get a dictatorship to do what you want by making its subjects suffer. If the Taliban gave a shit about the sufferings of its subjects, it wouldn't be the Taliban, would it. So no amount of 'collateral damage' that we do will make any difference in terms of whether we get Bin Ladin. In order for this war to have any practical effect, we would have to send ground troops in to kill off the entire Taliban, prop up some oppositional regime that's friendly to us, find Bin Ladin, put him in a sack, and mail him to the US. I'm quite sure that the Bush adminstration is totally psyched to kill off the Taliban. The question is, can we do it?

Again, we look into the magic 8-ball of history, and it tells us, "Outlook Not Good." Because of its convenient central location, Afghanistan has long been attractive to imperial powers vying for global domination. England and Russia fought for it in the nineteenth century; both had cause later to regret their infatuation. The Soviet Union and the USA went head to head over it in the 1980s, which incidentally is when our Central Intelligence Agency used American tax dollars to train Osama Bin Ladin, who was in Afghanistan organizing opposition to the Soviets. As you will notice, neither the USA or the Soviet Union really won that one. But this will be different, see, because now the American people have the will to support a long, brutal foreign war which will involve massive American casualties.

Well, there's the will, and then there's the way. Vietnam taught us something about the difficulties involved in sending ground troops to a remote location with unfamiliar terrain surrounded by hostile nations and expecting them to topple a government. In Vietnam at least the opposition we were propping up still controlled part of the country, something which is not true in Afghanistan. Even supposing our military is better prepared for this than they were for Vietnam, I don't think much of our chances. Wasn't that one of Vizzini's classic blunders? "Never get involved in a land war in Asia"?

And finally: suppose by some miracle we succeed in ousting the Taliban. Will that stop terrorism in America? Oy vey. Let's just go on to

3. Dangerous.

I admit I'm not a Middle East expert. I do know something about Northern Ireland, and one of the things I know is that it wasn't until the British government started using the police and the army against them that the IRA became a force to be reckoned with. Israel provides an equally compelling demonstration of what you get when you take the "you killed one of our guys, so I'm killing fifty of yours" approach to counterterrorism. In every location I know anything about, it's the same story: violence used by a hostile state to quash terrorism creates more support for terrorist organizations - which means more civilian deaths. So from what I can tell, the harder we hit Afghanistan and/or whoever's next on the list, the more extreme terrorist violence against American civilians is going to get. When Bush talks about "American casualties," folks, he's not talking about the military. He's talking about you and me. Our asses are on the front line as much as any of theirs are.

If all we want is revenge, then war makes sense. If we actually want to stop things like the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks from happening again, war is the worst thing we could possibly do. So please, don't just accept the line that Washington is feeding us. Get out there and tell your representatives, your neighbors, and anyone else you can find that not all Americans are on this bandwagon. And please, do it before we start killing civilians in Afghanistan - and before any more Americans die at the hands of their fellow citizens.