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November 9, 2001
Cracks In The Coalition
The rest of the world begins to sour on the war.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Hey Tony, where’s everybody going?

The good news is that a serious debate about the war is finally happening in this country. The bad news is that it’s coming from the right.

On the op-ed page of the October 30 Washington Post, twin columns by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer flayed the Bush administration for being insufficiently warlike. Krauthammer thundered that the war is being “fought with half-measures ... to satisfy the diplomats rather than the generals. ... This is no time for restraint and other niceties. This is a time for righteous might.” Kristol accused Bush of having a “failing strategy” based on “three self-imposed constraints: No ground troops in Afghanistan. No confrontation with Iraq. No alarm at home.”

Just days before, both the increasingly bloodthirsty John McCain and former Democratic National Chairman Chris Dodd declaimed on the Sunday talk shows about the need for a massive invasion of Afghanistan with American soldiers. On the one-month anniversary of the beginning of the bombing of Afghanistan, TV’s retired generals, from the omnipresent Wesley Clark to Barry McCaffrey (whose gleeful descriptions of the malign effects U.S. weaponry can visit on its targets are truly stomach-turning), added to the cacophony for ground troops. (Even celebrity lickspittle Liz Smith has joined the clamor, using her gossip column to call for going to war “with energy and will to win ... let’s get this war on!”)

The chorus demanding the widening of the war to Iraq is growing. New York Times columnist William Safire has suggested using Turkey, a Muslim country, as our political cover in the invasion of Iraq by partitioning the country and giving Istanbul the oil-rich northern half. And while Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated that the United States has no immediate intention of extending America’s war to other countries, he pointedly added the words “at the moment.”

The Taliban are not cooperating with Bush’s serial strategy of knocking off Afghanistan first before moving on Baghdad. Leaks from the top British military command (the Brits know just how tough their former satrapy can be from bloody experience) say that the campaign in Afghanistan could take “three or four years.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has now come close to admitting as much, having told a press conference that defeating the Taliban would take “months” but quickly adding with a sly snigger that this could mean “23 months.”

Bush’s personal popularity so far is undiminished. A Gallup poll taken to mark the first anniversary of his election showed that if the Bush-Gore contest were replayed today, Bush would cream his former opponent by 2-to-1. And support for the war remains high, even on college campuses: A recent Harvard poll found that 79 percent of students support the bombing of Afghanistan.

Among our European allies in Bush’s “crusade” against “evil,” however, public support for the militarization of the campaign against terrorism is rapidly evaporating. “The Conduct of the War Alarms Europe,” was the banner headline in the October 31 Le Monde. In France, support for the war has dropped to 46 percent. Despite Tony Blair’s bellicosity, 54 percent of Britons now favor a halt to the bombing. In Italy, 55 percent are against sending ground troops to Afghanistan (and one in four says that American foreign policy provides some justification for the September 11 attacks). Even in Greece, where anti-Islamic feelings run high because of that country’s long confrontational history with Turkey, a majority now oppose America’s bombing.

What’s driving down support for the war in Europe? There, a daily diet of TV images extensively portraying the civilian casualties of U.S. bombing reinforces revulsion at an air campaign that has yet to force the Taliban to retreat a single inch. The video of the carnage of children (inevitable in bombing Afghanistan, where nearly half the population is under 15), women and the elderly is seen only fleetingly on U.S. TV screens, thanks to the self-censorship of our networks—which prefer running endless hours of sanitized footage provided by the Pentagon, taken from on high and purporting to show the “accuracy” of our bombs. NBC Nightly News recently performed the remarkable feat of running a long report on the reaction to the bombing among Muslims in the Middle East that showed the horror on their faces as crowds watched their TVs—but only allowed the tapes of the civilian casualties that inspired the angry despair a few flickering seconds on American screens.

Islamic voices raising coherent objections to the bombing get infinitely more attention in Europe than they do here. Consider just one example: Mohammed Sayeed Tantawi, grand imam of Cairo’s al-Azar mosque, the highest authority in Sunni Islam and one of the most eminent moderates in the Muslim world. This revered figure was one of the first ulemas to condemn the September 11 attacks, which he characterized as “a monstrous crime condemnable by all revealed religions.” When, on October 29, he at last spoke out against the bombing of Afghanistan— “aggression against noncombatants is unacceptable, just punishment should be applied to the criminals and not to an entire people,” he said—it was major news in Europe (and the Middle East), but you could scan our papers and fail to find a single line alluding to his perfectly sensible declarations.

Europeans who initially supported the war have now turned against it. Typical is Jean-Francois Kahn, editor of the influential centrist French newsmagazine Marianne, who wrote on October 28: “The world is on fire, and a just war—conducted in a catastrophic and morally repugnant way—is now reinforcing the appeal of the monster against whom it was originally launched. Cut off one of bin Laden’s tentacles, and three more grow in its place.”

The increasing contempt with which Europeans are regarding the war is even beginning to leak from the lips of normally cautious diplomats. European Union foreign minister Javier Solana, who was America’s lapdog when he was NATO secretary-general during the war against Slobodan Milosevic, recently told Le Monde that America has its priorities wrong, with Afghanistan first and the Middle East second, “while for us it’s the reverse.” Under public pressure, European political leaders now parading through the White House (with the exception of Blair and Italy’s fascist-allied cavaliere Silvio Berlusconi, a foreign policy ignoramus) are agitating behind the scenes for more attention to a political solution to the Afghanistan problem, and thus to the al-Qaeda menace.

But as America is becoming increasingly isolated in world public opinion, Bush’s answer is not to re-examine the consequences of militarizing what should have been a planetary law-enforcement campaign against the hydra-headed terrorist networks. No, Bush sets up a propaganda “war room” with branches in London and Islamabad and hires a Madison Avenue powerhouse, Charlotte Beers—previously occupied with such weighty matters as making a bestseller out of Head N’ Shoulders shampoo—as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. The notion that America’s war is fast losing global support because of a marketing failure is simply risible.

Meanwhile, the American public is being fed a steady diet of lies to cover up the fact that the political objectives of the war in Afghanistan are as murky as ever. If our goal is to topple the Taliban, as Bush has proclaimed, then why haven’t we provided serious support for Hamid Karzai, the leader of a powerful Pashtun clan who is the most prominent anti-Taliban figure with support in Southern Afghanistan since the troops of Mullah Omar assassinated Abdul Haq? On the same day that Rumsfeld told his regular press conference that Karzai had been extracted from Afghanistan at his own request and his troops resupplied, ABC World News Tonight ran a satellite phone interview with the Pashtun leader who said from Afghanistan that he’d never left the country but “had stayed with [his] men,” whom, he complained, were still without food, footwear or winter clothing.

Almost every day, the Pentagon claims to have unleashed the “heaviest bombing to date” on Taliban troops; and almost every night, writer Sebastian Junger—on assignment for Ted Koppel’s Nightline—reports that from his frontline vantage point with the Northern Alliance he can see that the Taliban troops are being deliberately spared from the bombing-for-show, which produces lovely lines of billowing smoke for the American networks but destroys no more than empty redoubts and the occasional tank. That’s the sort of thing that is intensifying the demand for a full-scale, widened war here at home. How long will Bush be able to resist the public pressure to dramatically shorten his military timetable?

Meanwhile, of the 1,147 people sequestered here at home since September 11, not a single one has been charged with involvement in the airplane hijackings or the anthrax letters. Thanks to some enterprising journalists—the San Francisco Chronicle’s William Carlsen and the Los Angeles Times’ Richard Serrano deserve special mention—we know that many of those jailed are being held in isolation, subject to beatings from guards and prisoners, and moved from state to state to hide them from their families, their lawyers (if they’ve been permitted to contact any) and their embassies. A Washington Post survey of 235 detainees the paper’s reporters were able to track shows that most of them have only the slimmest—if any—alleged connection to support for terrorism and are being held (as a Justice Department official admitted anonymously) in “preventive detention,” whose principal objective seems to be to frighten other Muslims here in the United States.

But that’s not enough for the likes of Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter, who penned a November 5 column, “Time To Think about Torture,” advocating the use of techniques like those employed by the Israeli Mossad. The longer the war goes on, the more we will hear cries to descend to the moral level of the “evil” we claim to be targeting. And no amount of detergent-style marketing will be able to wash that stain from our national honor when the garrison state becomes a full-blown reality. We are already well on our way.


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