A lot of the warmongers have been gloating over the last few days, not so much over the fall of Kabul to the Northern Alliance but at the peaceniks who opposed US-UK involvement. Having a good gloat is one of life’s most underrated pleasures, of course. As gloating goes, however, this has been pretty feeble stuff, and it is sad to report that the single most stupid column in this tradition was written by the once-admirable Christopher Hitchens in the Guardian.
It is true that many opposed the war because they feared that millions in Afghanistan would starve during the winter if the supply routes were cut off. If food convoys are able to enter the country safely again – and it is a big if – then this is marvellous news, for which we should be thankful. But the major reasons for opposing the British and the American participation in the war in Afghanistan remain as valid as they ever were, and in the midst of the mindless jubilation of the cheerleaders’ chorus, it is worth reminding ourselves what some of these are.
We oppose the clampdown on civil liberties licensed by Mr Bush’s “war on terror”, which has already led to the absurdities of the Patriot Act and to an executive order permitting extraordinary military tribunals in the US, and to Mr Blunkett’s proposals to allow indefinite detention without trial of terrorist suspects in the UK. We fear the open-ended nature of the Orwellian “War against Terror”, which permits the State Department to open and close hostilities against Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan and various other regimes in the region as the mood takes them. We hate the double standards of US policy in the Middle East (and elsewhere), which underwrites the criminal regime in Saudi Arabia, supports the criminal behaviour of Israel in the Occupied Territories, and sponsors the crime of the UN sanctions regime against the people of Iraq. We have always thought, and continue to think, that the hunt for the perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities should be an international police operation, and that to insist on conceptualising the current crisis in military terms is to hand an important victory to the terrorists themselves. And we have never thought that destroying still more lives from the air – with the detestable use of “cluster bombs” and the inevitable civilian “collateral damage” – is any kind of appropriate response to the abominable destruction of the World Trade Center.
The record of the Northern Alliance in power, of course, is grim. It is not quite as grim as the record of the Taliban in power, but it is close. Since it is possible that the US will find ways to restrain these allies of theirs this time around, there is some reason, though not nearly as much reason as the mainstream press has managed to find, to think that things might have changed for the better in Kabul and Northern Afghanistan. In these times we do well to study the statements put out by Amnesty International or Oxfam, which sound important notes of caution; to continue to read the careful reports from Robert Fisk in the Independent; and to reflect on whether the sudden “collapse” of the Taliban may be no more than a prudent decision to fight from Afghanistan’s hills rather than attempt to defend fixed positions against relentless US bombardment.
When the military campaign brings peace and self-determination to the peoples of the Middle East, then the gloating at people like me can begin in earnest. But, please, not till then.