The Ends of War

The Ends of War

Now that the Taliban regime has fallen in Afghanistan, that group's leaders can face fair and open trials for their crimes against humanity.


The United States of America has just succeeded in bombing a country back out of the Stone Age. This deserves to be recognized as an achievement, even by those who want to hasten past the moment and resume their customary tasks (worrying about the spotty human rights record of the Northern Alliance is the latest thing). The nexus that bound the Taliban to the forces of Al Qaeda and that was symbolized by the clan relationship between Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, has been destroyed. We are rid of one of the foulest regimes on earth, while one of the most vicious crime families in history has been crippled and scattered. It remains to help the Afghan exiles to return, to save the starving and to consolidate the tentative emancipation of Afghan women.

When Julius Nyerere sent his forces across the border of Uganda in 1979 he announced that Tanzania was defending itself under international law against repeated attacks from Idi Amin. If the Amin regime fell as a consequence, he continued, that was all to the good. (Idi Amin did indeed fall and has since been hiding in Jeddah, under the protection of our delightful Saudi allies. He, too, claims to be a spokesman for the oppressed Muslims of the world.)

No possible future government in Kabul can be worse than the Taliban, and no thinkable future government would allow the level of Al Qaeda gangsterism to recur. So the outcome is proportionate and congruent with international principles of self-defense.

This is the best news for a long time. It deserves to be said, also, that the feat was accomplished with no serious loss of civilian life, and with an almost pedantic policy of avoiding "collateral damage." The hypocritical advice of the Pakistani right wing (keep it short, don't bomb, don't bomb during Ramadan, beware of the winter, leave Kabul alone) was finally ignored as the insidious pro-Taliban propaganda that it actually was. Those ultraleftists and soft liberals who repeated the same stuff–in presumable ignorance of its real source and intention–could safely be ignored then and needn't be teased too much now. The rescue of the Iraqi Kurds in 1991 taught them nothing; they were for leaving Bosnia and Kosovo to the mercy of Milosevic; they had nothing to say about the lack of an international intervention in Rwanda. The American polity is now divided between those who can recognize a new situation when they see it, and those who cannot or will not.

This brings me to the other piece of great recent news. Apparently unimpressed by those who maintained that the Al Qaeda death squads were trying to utter a cry for help about the woes of the world's poor (a dismal song I must say I haven't heard being sung so much lately), Judge Baltasar Garzón has put the Spanish wing of this gangster network into custody. We know this judge is not soft on crime, because he helped open the new era of universal jurisdiction by issuing a warrant for the arrest of General Pinochet. He has now gone one better, by telling Attorney General Ashcroft that arrest and detention work only when they are used to enforce the rule of law. No country that respects these norms will deliver prisoners to a country that does not respect them. Military tribunals that take evidence in secret and that have the power to impose the death penalty are, by definition, not up to recognized international standards. Perhaps Ashcroft learned these techniques of jurisprudence from the abattoir regimes, like those of Chile and Guatemala, that the American right has so long defended. It will be very interesting to see how this near-perfect confrontation plays out. Of course, those who were soft on the original crimes will get correspondingly less of a hearing as the debate goes on.


I learn with complacency that I have been excommunicated from the left. Edward Herman, in a recent cyber-anathema, expels me because I am "rushing toward the vital center, maybe further to the right, with termination point still to be determined." He states pityingly that I apparently "cannot understand that attacking supposed rationalizations for X may be de facto rationalizing for Y." I must say I think that last bit is a touch obvious. Herman, along with several other of my correspondents, doesn't like it when I agree with certain conservatives or (let's be fair) when they agree with me. Well, I could have replied in just those terms to Herman as long ago as the Bosnia and Kosovo wars. At that time, the majority of the American right, from Kissinger to Gingrich and Forbes, were opposed to US intervention. In the post-September 11 hostilities, Pat Buchanan and Oliver North have warned against American "imperial" tactics, and David Duke has traced the Al Qaeda motive to the pre-existing violence of Zionism. Why did I not turn these guns on Herman? Because the reasoning would be too puerile and the attempted association too reminiscent of the methods of Stalinism. I suppose, though, that these are the very elements that recommend such "arguments" to him.


Some readers may have noticed an icy little missive from Noam Chomsky ["Letters," December 3], repudiating the very idea that he and I had disagreed on the "roots" of September 11. I rush to agree. Here is what he told his audience at MIT on October 11:


I'll talk about the situation in Afghanistan…. Looks like what's happening is some sort of silent genocide…. It indicates that whatever, what will happen we don't know, but plans are being made and programs implemented on the assumption that they may lead to the death of several million people in the next–in the next couple of weeks…. very casually with no comment…. we are in the midst of apparently trying to murder three or four million people.


Clever of him to have spotted that (his favorite put-down is the preface "Turning to the facts…") and brave of him to have taken such a lonely position. As he rightly insists, our disagreements are not really political.

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