On Native Ground
HAS THE U.S. WALKED INTO A TRAP IN AFGHANISTAN?=
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The easy part of the shooting war has begun inAfghani= stan -- the customary dumping of bombs and missiles on the evildoerdu jo= ur.
Libya, Panama, Iraq, Sudan and Yugoslavia have all seen U.S. ordinance f= all upon their soil in the past two decades, raining death and destruction = mostly upon the people with the least to do with the battles we were fighti= ng.
Now it's Afghanistan's turn. Osama bin Laden, this year's poster child f= or evil, must be exterminated. To exterminate him, many innocents will die.=
"War in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a wa= r against children," historian Howard Zinn recently wrote for The Progressi= ve. "War is terrorism, magnified a hundred times."
An air war on Afghanistan is easy. The Taliban has little weaponry or in= frastructure befitting a modern military power. The ground war, if it happe= ns, promises to be much more difficult. The brutal weather and inhospitable= terrain are the Taliban's greatest ally in this fight.
Robert Fisk, who = writes for the London paper, The Independent, has been covering the Middle = East for decades and is one of the few Western reporters who have interview= ed bin Laden. His take on the situation is simple. President Bush has walke= d into a trap -- the trap of retaliation.
Fisk wrote on Sept. 16 that the Sept. 11 attacks were "a crime against h= umanity. We cannot understand America's need to retaliate unless we accept = this bleak, awesome fact. But this crime was perpetrated -- it becomes ever= clearer -- to provoke the United States into just the blind, arrogant punc= h that the U.S. military is preparing."
A couple of years ago, bin Laden told Fisk that his goal is to overthrow= every pro-American regime in the Middle East -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jorda= n, Kuwait and the other Persian Gulf states -- and the catalyst for the upr= ising would be an assault on an Arab nation by the U.S. The Russians got ma= uled in Afghanistan by getting bogged down in a war without end; a constant= cycle of retaliation that bled that nation dry and accelerated the collaps= e of the Soviet Union.
But Fisk believes the more apt analogy is Israel's war with the Palestin= ians, first in Lebanon and now on the West Bank. Hezbollah fighters and the= Israelis traded bombardments for almost 18 years until Israel finally with= drew from southern Lebanon in 2000. On the West Bank, we've seen a steady s= tream of retaliation from Palestinians and Israelis that have left thousand= s dead or maimed over the past year of the second Intifata.
Fisk maintains the Middle East is a "vast place of terror and injustice,= " and part of the reason why is "America's failure to act with honor in the= Middle East, its promiscuous sale of missiles to those who use them agains= t civilians, its blithe disregard for the deaths of tens of thousands of Ir= aqi children under sanctions of which Washington is the principle supporter= -- all these are intimately related to the society that produced the Arabs= who plunged America into an apocalypse of fire."
Fisk said the U.S. looked the other way in 1982 when the Israeli Army, l= ed by Ariel Sharon, invaded Lebanon at the cost of nearly 18,000 lives. The= U.S. didn't flinch when Israel's Phalangist militia allies massacred 1,800= people in a three-day orgy of rape and murder in the Palestinian refugee c= amps of Sabra and Shatila. That massacre, which was carried out with Sharon= 's blessings, began on Sept. 16, 1982, almost 19 years to the day of the Wo= rld Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
But our backing of Israel during these horrific atrocities was only the = start of the Lebanon tragedy. The battleship New Jersey shelled Lebanon in = 1983 and we were shocked when suicide bombers retaliated by first blowing u= p our embassy and later the Marine barracks in Beirut. After the death of 2= 41 Marines, the U.S. to quietly withdraw from Lebanon and let Israel do the= rest of the dirty work.
In the 1980s, the U.S. spent more than $2 billion to train and arm the M= ujaheddin in Afghanistan, including bin Laden, to kill the Russians. We arm= ed Iraq so they could kill Iranians, and secretly armed Iran so they could = kill Iraqis. We propped up corrupt dictatorships and monarchies in Egypt, J= ordan, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, and fought the Persian Gulf W= ar on their behalf when Iraq became our enemy. And the U.S. is the world's = top arms dealer, with the Middle East countries we support among our best c= ustomers.
None of these facts excuses the attacks of Sept. 11, but this nation can= not ignore them in the conduct of this new war. Our conduct in the Middle E= ast has indeed been less than honorable and has been more motivated by a de= sire to keep oil flowing to the industrialized world than a desire to help = establish and maintain true freedom and democracy in any of the nations in = the region save for Israel.
President Bush said we are not at war with the Afghan people, and to pro= ve that, we made a big show of airdropping tens of thousands of packaged me= als. That's good, except there are at least 7.5 million Afghans that are st= arving and the bombing has disrupted the existing aid programs. With winter= just a couple of weeks away, the prospect of millions of civilian deaths b= ecomes greater.
In his Oct. 11 news conference, Bush made repeated references regarding = the need to bring the "evildoers" to "justice." But the war has little to d= o with justice, and everything to do with the extension of American militar= y power into one of the volatile regions on earth. As for making the world = safer, I wouldn't bet on it. With each day the war goes on, the likelihood = of more terrorist attacks increases.
"President Bush says this is a war between good and evil. You are either= with us or against us," Fisk wrote on Oct. 9 after the bombing began. "But= that's exactly what bin Laden says. Isn't it worth pointing this out and a= sking where it leads?"
Absolutely. This, and many other questions, are not being asked as the U= .S. risks blundering into World War III. We need to start asking them now= .
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20= years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).