What do you think about the action of the United States and UNO in Afghanistan? What do you think about bombing that country and at the same time tossing them food?
It follows a pattern. Because of the Pentagon’s unwillingness to adapt to new realities, the US has been in a constant state of war with one or more countries since the end of the Cold War, with or without the figleaf of international cooperation. This war is about as constructive as the previous ones, which is to say, it is purely destructive, both for the country attacked and for our liberties.
The Gulf War was entirely a military exercise, whereas the Panamanian war that it followed was purely political. But both the war against Serbia and the war against Somalia were given a different spin: they were said to be designed not to punish but to save people from starvation or despotism or violence. With the war on Afghanistan we have all three forms in one package: military, political, and humanitarian. Thus we have both bombs and food falling from the skies, all designed to unseat the Taliban government partially made up of former anti-Soviet forces the US backed in the 1980s.
From a public relations point of view, the US government is also fortunate to have the best excuse of all: the US was directly attacked on its soil. This fact alone has neutralized most conservative and libertarian opposition to the war. Wars usually enjoy solid backing from the working class but this one in particular has all the elements that give rise to nationalistic feelings. The US government hasn’t enjoyed as much public support for war since Pearl Harbor.
For decades, many parts of the world have experienced political violence on their soil, and the response is always the same: curtail the liberties of citizens and smash anything and everything that cannot fight back. The experience of Spain, England, Israel, France, Peru, and many other places is that this does not work. The terror always gets worse, not better. For every terrorist killed, two more are created to take his place. The terror never goes away until the political conditions that create it go away. What cost is there to the state from striking back? None, and plenty of benefits. The costs of the national security state fall entirely on the citizens.
Because we know that in politics, nothing is as it seems, we must ask: What is the real reason for the war? It is helpful to see this in the broadest possible manner: as an attempt by the world’s dominant nuclear power, the last remaining superpower, to assert and reassert its global monopoly on the use of extreme force.
Can you explain what you mean by that?
Average Americans saw the terror attacks on September 11 as they were: a holocaust of human life and a shocking destruction of private property, a crime on an unfathomable scale that should be punished without hesitation. The government, its agents and decision makers, had a slightly different perspective: they saw it as a challenge to their power, particularly the attack on the Pentagon. This is something that the government must always be alert to during times when the nation-state no longer commands unquestioning legitimacy and obedience (see Martin Van Creveld’s Rise and Decline of the State).
What the US government is fighting for is not justice or even revenge, but to retain the right to be the exclusive decision-maker concerning large-scale destructive endeavors such as that which September 11 represented. The message of the terrorists was that the US is not the only power capable of causing massive bloodshed; the counter-message of the US in this war is to reinforce that idea that only the nation-state can undertake large-scale destruction of life and property and get away with it.
Of course the US cannot put it that way, which is why it has been so anxious to pin the terrorism on some state somewhere, so it can shift into the mode of warfare that it knows best. Already the response to terror has generated more terror of a different and equally unpredictable kind. The nation-state cannot fight these kinds of wars well, and it only ends up creating ever more violent responses. This is not a speculation or pacifist drivel. It is the undeniable historical record.
The Iraq War was said to be the war that would at last teach all nations that aggression will not be tolerated. The claim was to make the world more peaceful and stable. The opposite occurred. That war has produced unprecedented levels of violence in an ongoing game of tit for tat between the nation-state and its ever-more-violent competitors.
After the attack against the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on the 11th of September, the government of United States didn’t act immediately, but now, they’re bombing heavily. What should be the conduct of United States and the international community?
The hesitation was probably due to the influence of Secretary of State Colin Powell, far and away the most sensible high official in the Bush administration. Eventually the bombers got their way, of course. As for what should be done in response to a crime like this, punishment is certainly in order.
However, US intelligence is having to deal with a very difficult situation. After thousands of interviews, tips, and arrests, investigators have been unable to find any witting accomplices. It is increasingly clear that the people who actually plotted this attack are dead. This search for the great hidden hand behind the attacks may indeed prove fruitless. This is a very unsatisfying reality.
Which actions have you undertaken to protest these attacks and what are you going to do in the future? What can a normal citizen do in this situation?
The US citizen needs to keep a critical mind. It is in everyone’s interest, even those who favor the war, that the US government not enjoy the complete confidence of the citizenry, especially not in wartime. Thomas Jefferson said that confidence in government is the beginning of tyranny. Any government that enjoys 95 percent support of the population is a threat to liberty. Unpopular governments are dangerous enough; popular governments are even more so.
Do you think a citizens’ movement as in the Vietnam war might emerge?
I doubt it. The opposition movement during the Vietnam era achieved a certain level of respectability because it could count on some establishment/socialist support, since the US was targeting a leftist government. The opposition movement this time is more diffuse and has few if any sympathizers among the elites.
Which has been the reaction of citizens of the United States after the attack of 11th of September, and after the attacks in Afghanistan? Is the paranoia that seemed to emerge with the anthrax cases real, or is it an image that the government wishes to sell around the world?
The response has been geographical. People in large cities are terrified. Those who are not intuitively understand that this war does not really involve them. Thus the unity we see is, at some level, superficial. Despite the massive failure that September 11 was for the government, American citizens have been preparing for crime and terror for decades, with the move to gated subdivisions and exurbs, the use of private security services, and the proliferation of private ownership of guns. No matter how much people may support the anti-terrorism measures by the government, everyone knows that your degree of personal security comes down to how much you are willing to pay for it.
What is the situation of the Muslim community in the United States?
Very much like that of average Irish people in England, Palestinians in Israel, or Chechans in Russia. They may sympathize with some political complaints of the terrorists, but they must do everything they can to separate themselves from those who advocate or use violence. They must work toward peaceful solutions. If the US government would pull back in its sanctions against Iraq and military occupations in the Muslim world, they would immediately drop whatever sympathies they have for the terrorists’ cause.
Just as problematic is the situation of average Americans in the US who are being treated as would-be terrorists. For decades the US government has promoted the view that it is immoral to base the treatment of anyone on the statistical likelihood of how they will behave. This view has permeated American life. Now we suddenly find ourselves unable to legally distinguish between people based on the likelihood that they are associated with terrorist groups. As a consequence, everyone is being dealt with in a brutal fashion at airports and public spaces.
It is easy to forget that this entire disaster began proximately in a preventable crime against property: a hijacking. If pilots had been permitted to be armed, it is doubtful that the hijackers would have ever gotten away with it. To assess the wisdom of the government’s response, consider that even today, pilots remain unarmed, as mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration. Sky marshals—armed government employees on planes—are routinely used at only one airport in the country: Ronald Reagan in Arlington, Virginia. That’s the airport used most frequently by politicians, bureaucrats, and political appointees. That’s government security in a nutshell: protection for the political class, vulnerability for everyone else.