I really must respond to Michael Steinberg’s letter of December 24, in which he mocks the anti-bombing feelings of many of Berkeley’s citizens. While I might take issue with his questionable and certainly wishful list of benefits, I will restrict myself to a single one of his words – ‘direct’ – as in his ‘benefits’ being the ‘direct’ result of the bombings. Mr. Steinberg, I must correct you. Your wish list items are the indirect benefits of our country’s zealous pursuit of bin Laden. If the Taliban, when we made our demands of them, had handed over bin Laden and his people, and then perhaps had expressed a willingness to let Bush’s Texas cronies build a pipeline across their lands, we would now have photos of George standing alongside one-eyed Omar on the White House lawn, and the corporate press would be full of comments on ‘constructive engagement’ in place of their outrage over the plight of Afghan women. The Afghans were merely in the way; if any good comes to them from this war, it will be no more than an accident of our policy.
Now that I’m going, I should point out that, technically, what Barbara Lee refused to support was the granting to Bush of what she understood to be war-making powers constitutionally granted to the Congress. I believe that what you are thinking of is the Berkeley City Council vote which asked for a timely end to the bombing, which to my mind looks as wise now as it did then (a belated thanks to my own Councilwoman Linda Maio). The concern of those of us who find the bombing appalling are the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Afghan civilians, who were on the verge of starvation even before the war. The food and the trucks were ready to deliver what they needed to see them through the winter. Our ‘campaign’ disrupted that. A week into it, non-governmental organizations (Oxfam for example) were asking us to stop bombing so that they could get the food in; a month into it, the United Nations began making noises; while we were throwing our last bombs on Tora Bora, the Europeans were talking security forces to allow food to be delivered. But, other than our yellow-packaged propaganda, any humanitarian impulses we might have felt have been second to, and dependent on, the success of our military mission.
By starting this attack in the fall – rather than, say, in the spring – we wagered the lives of thousands upon thousands of innocent Afghans, betting that we could pull this off and still get food to them. And those chips are still on the table. Maybe peace has come; maybe not. Maybe the Taliban will hold off on a guerrilla war; maybe the Northern Alliance warlords will keep from each other’s throats. Maybe the Afghan civilians will keep cheering this adventure. Or maybe not. But we won’t really know the result of our little gamble until the spring comes and the snows melt and the roads to inaccessible areas open again. Michael, I hope that you can gloat then, because the alternative is really neither thinkable nor excusable.