Over a weekend of turkey and pumpkin pie there was also time to reflect on the sixth anniversary of the October 7, 2001 attack on Afghanistan – an attack that launched a war that not only continues, but by most accounts, apart from those of the Foreign Minister,[i] shows declining promise of victory.
The architects of war, those in the Bush Administration who were determined to convert a broadly supported diplomatic and law-enforcement effort to control terrorism into a literal and largely unilateral war, anticipated the early destruction of the Taliban, the regime that harbored the mentors if not the masterminds of the 9/11 terrorists, namely, Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, which would also fall to the invaders.
But six years ago there were also those who said that a “war” on terrorism would fail.
A group of Canadian Ecumenical leaders wrote to the Prime Minister on October 12:
“We believe that a sustained and effective campaign against terrorism is fundamental to the safety and well-being of all people, and that Canada can and must make a vital contribution to that campaign. We fear, however, that the military attacks on Afghanistan which began on October 7 could seriously undermine the international community’s efforts, both to bring those responsible for the September 11 attacks to justice and to reduce the incidence of terrorism in the future.”[ii]
Paul Rogers, a particularly prescient analyst at the Peace Studies program of Bradford University in the United Kingdom, recalls the warning that he published on September 29, 2001:
“The extent of the devastation and human suffering inflicted in the [9/11] attacks means that support for the United States among its allies is far-reaching, and extends to a remarkable range of states. In this light, the immediate response should be to develop, extend and cement this coalition; base all action on the rule of law; and put every effort into bringing the perpetrators to justice.”[iii]
These themes were also elaborated in the Ploughshares Monitor before the October 7 attack.[iv] In particular, we argued that to struggle against terrorism is not so much a matter of defeating terrorists as it is addressing the conditions in which terrorism tends to thrive:
“If the world is about to embark on a major campaign against terrorism, it is especially important to strongly assert that it is possible to hear and address the grievances that are linked to terrorist activity without thereby in any way condoning it. Acknowledging that terrorism has root causes does not excuse it any more than acknowledging that higher than average crime rates tend to be linked to adverse social and economic conditions excuses individual crimes. Any serious crime reduction effort cannot be confined to more intensified police work; it must also address the economic and social conditions that tend to produce increased rates of crime. Similarly, any serious campaign against terrorism needs to address the social, economic and political conditions that nurture the emergence of terrorism.”
In anticipation of the October 7 attack, we also warned against a literal war on terror:
“While the television networks are drawn increasingly to footage of aircraft carriers, long-range bombers, and other heavy military equipment, implying major military assaults on non-cooperating states, many military analysts, including the United States Defense Secretary, point out that such states have no obvious military targets which, if destroyed, would aid the pursuit and apprehension of the accused. Punitive military strikes against civilian populations and infrastructure would themselves be heinous violations of international law and decency and would, to understate the matter, be counter-productive. They would inevitably spawn new generations of terrorists and aggravate, in Afghanistan for example, the humanitarian crisis which is already well advanced among one of the most vulnerable civilian populations in the world and from which all international humanitarian workers have now had to flee.
“And if military force is counter-productive or of limited utility in bringing the fugitives to justice in the current case, its role in the wider campaign against terrorism is even more marginal. Terrorism is not amenable to military defeat. The defeat of terrorism requires a broad range of domestic security measures, effective national and international law enforcement capacity, and urgent attention to the political and social conditions that nurture it.”
We also argued for a recovery of perspective in the struggle against terrorism.
“A campaign against terrorism is required, but not at all costs. Indeed, Afghanistan offers a prime example of the extraordinary damage that can be incurred through intense single-minded campaigns that in their zeal ignore the possible negative consequences. In the 1980s the United States committed itself to support the war against the Soviet Union, against the spread of communism, without apparent regard for any outcome other than the defeat of the Soviets. It was a spectacularly successful campaign, but at what cost? The supply of almost limitless quantities of small arms and light weapons through Pakistan continues to fuel the unending civil war in Afghanistan, and social chaos and escalating violence in Pakistan. Uncritical support for the mujahadeen rebels spawned the Taliban and made common cause with the same Osama bin Laden who is now one of the pursued fugitives.
“We can be sure that a single-minded campaign against terrorism will have similarly damaging consequences if it is not guided by due process and actions that honour the laws, values and freedoms that terrorism threatens. If our societies yield to growing pressures to permit increased invasion of privacy, reduced access to information, curtailed immigration, reduced access to safe havens for refugees, changes in national priorities to increase military spending at the expense of social programs, along with any number of other measures to erode fundamental rights and freedoms, the campaign against terror will have failed in its commitment to the victims of the September 11 attacks to honour their sacrifice with a new resolve to make the world they left behind a safer place.”
Six years later, the “war on terror” continues with largely unenlightened vengeance in Afghanistan and now also on Iraq. Today the drums of war are also beating for an attack on Iran – an attack which would add exponentially to the disaster and tragedy of the war thus far.
[i] Over the weekend the Globe and Mail reported that “Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier contradicted all publicly available assessments of security in southern Afghanistan yesterday with a bold claim that insurgent attacks have decreased in Kandahar, leaving the province more secure for humanitarian work.” Graeme Smith, “Upbeat Bernier contradicts UN reports,” The Globe and Mail, October 8, 2007.
[ii] Letter to the Prime Minister, October 12, 200, from a group of Canadian Ecumenical leaders with regard to the attack on Afghanistan begun on October 7 (http://www.ploughshares.ca/libraries/Statements/MPletter.Eng%209-11.pdf).
[iii] Paul Rogers, “Afghanistan: six years of war,” Open Democracy, October 4, 2007 (http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/conflicts/global_security/afghanistan_six_years).
[iv] Ernie RegehrResponding to terrorThe Ploughshares Monitor,September 2001, volume 22, no. 3 (http://www.ploughshares.ca/libraries/monitor/mons01b.html).