Ten challenges for ‘anti-war’ politics
It is said that generals always ﬁght yesterdayʼs war, but this is even truer of antiwar movements. Although the ʻwar against terrorismʼ is billed as a ʻnew kind of warʼ, the anti-war rhetoric has seemed even more familiar than the military practice.
In this piece I bring my experience of thinking about peace politics to bear on the largely inherited attitudes implicit in anti-war responses to the crisis since 11 September 2001. I write as someone who publicly opposed the military thrust of the ʻwar on terrorismʼ from George Bushʼs ﬁrst pronouncements. But I proceed by making ten challenges to common lines of anti-war argumentation, and propose alternative foundations for a coherent critique of the war.
1. Do we pay more than lip service to the criminality of the initial aggression?
Anti-war activists invariably preface their critiques with ʻof course we condemn the terror attacksʼ – just as in the Gulf War we said ʻof course we condemn the invasion of Kuwaitʼ, and over Yugoslavia, ʻof course we condemn ethnic cleansingʼ. And yet this is a particularly insidious form of argument. It almost invariably means that the speaker does not take seriously the act of aggression which has provoked Western military action. While recognizing a tactical need to acknowledge its illegitimacy, the speaker hopes to move on quickly to the Westʼs own ʻcrimesʼ without really addressing the nature of the initial aggression.
In the case of ʻ911ʼ (as some Americans call it) the failure begins with an inability to name the attacks. Of course, this is not a failing only of anti-war opinion; we do not have an agreed terminology for these events. President Bush was quick to call them an ʻact of warʼ: correct so far as it went, but manifestly an incomplete naming. It was an act of murderous propaganda – which is the meaning of terrorism. Innocent travellers and workers were burnt alive, crushed, suffocated, or forced to jump to their deaths.
It was an immoral and illegal act of war, illegitimate according to all the standards accepted by worldwide humanity and agreed by its political representatives.
Killing was directed overwhelmingly against innocent civilians for no other reason than that they were presumed to be Americans. In terms of law and of literature it would be accurately named a genocidal massacre. And like many acts of war and most genocidal massacres, what presented as targeted violence was experienced as indiscriminate slaughter, killing Britons and Indians, Jews and Muslims, everyone and anyone in the path of its assault.
Any response to this massacre that is close to being adequate has to address its absolutely outrageous and horriﬁc character. Those who are quick to condemn Americaʼs response have not been slow to use terms like ʻgenocideʼ to refer to the deaths of Afghans from starvation, the likelihood of which has been only indirectly increased by US action. But they have often been slow to ﬁnd similar language to describe the terror attacks themselves, which manifestly invite it.
2. Do we avoid misplaced comparisons that pre-empt moral response?
Anti-war critics often minimize the signiﬁcance of aggression through misleading analogies designed to move the argument onto anti-Western territory. The signiﬁcance of the terror massacre has been denied by false comparisons with the crimes of America itself. Thus Noam Chomskyʼs initial reaction was to compare this event – in which thousands of people had clearly died – with President Clintonʼs bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan in 1998. Even if this had been a relevant comparison, we can ask whether an immediate comparative framing of any kind was appropriate. The massacre called out for an active moral response – Chomskyʼs ﬁrst reaction was to pre-empt one.
However, the dubiousness of the enterprise was emphasized by the inappropriateness of the comparison. As Christopher Hitchens pointed out, the Sudan analogy was singularly unconvincing. The criminality of Clintonʼs attack was one of carelessness – misidentiﬁcation of the target – motivated by political calculation. (It was also a response, however misguided, to the massacres of Africans and Americans in the 1998 embassy bombings, victims who do not ﬁgure in Chomskyʼs argument.) As Hitchens pointed out, the Islamist terrorists not only intended, in destroying the huge World Trade Centre, to kill thousands of civilians; they may even have expected to murder a hundred thousand (ʻa Dresden for the Talibanʼ) had the towers fallen lengthways across Manhattan. Chomsky made his comparison despite the fact that no one was actually killed in the Sudan attack (although a night watchman was horriﬁcally burned).
Chomskyʼs case rested on unseen and unintended ʻcollateral damageʼ, the thousands of deaths that he believed must have been caused in the Sudan through the absence of drugs. This is indeed the most serious aspect of Clintonʼs Sudan ﬁasco, and no one would deny that it greatly compounds its morally objectionable character. But if Chomsky wanted to enter indirectly caused deaths into a calculus of slaughter, he should obviously have considered the probable indirect casualties of 911 – not least from deepened poverty throughout the Third World from the economic crisis that the massacre has provoked. In short, Chomsky should have compared like with like. The point is not so much the deﬁciency of his comparisons as what they tell us about his response and its motives.
3. Can we resist temptations towards fallacious contextualization?
These comparisons are examples of a wider problem: the use of contextualization to distract attention from the need for a morally and politically adequate response to the terrorist massacre. It will not do to say that the United States had itself committed, condoned or failed to prevent similar crimes against others. Not only do such claims, however true, provide not a scrap of justiﬁcation or excuse for what was done; by themselves they also fail to provide a sufﬁcient guide to our actions in the aftermath.
However, not only anti-war activists, but sceptical press and even academic commentary, have frequently substituted political and economic analysis of the Middle East and Central Asia for a response to the massacre. Partly this is a matter of political habit – we all know how American policy has sustained Israeli occupation in the West Bank, and so on. And this certainly helps explain why many Arabs and Muslims hate America and sympathize with Bin Laden. So while relevant to the framework for a wider political response, it is pernicious when used to explain away the massacre and to minimize the justiﬁcation for a response to it. This mode of argument is pervasive, and motivated by good intentions (towards Palestinians, for example). Its inappropriateness perhaps needs particular emphasis.
4. Have we taken seriously the USA’s own moral and legal rights?
These kinds of false responses are often linked to an overhasty dismissal of the USAʼs moral and legal rights to make a military response to the massacre. It was, as I have said, an act of aggression, whose seriousness was compounded by the targeting of civilians. Clearly there is a prima facie case for Americaʼs right to respond militarily, not merely as retaliation but in self-defence against the clear danger of further attacks.
Initially there was a strong argument that the USA did not know who was responsible, and the ʻWild West justiceʼ of possible attacks on Iraq as well as Afghanistan seemed seriously illegitimate. However, this argument seems no longer valid, in the light not only of the USAʼs evidence, but of Bin Ladenʼs own propaganda efforts, coming forward to claim the political credit if not – in the light of a possible trial, we must presume – the direct command responsibility. Nor is there any doubt about the Talibanʼs generally close links with Bin Laden. So, in this context, Americaʼs right to attack al-Qaeda and the Taliban is not in serious doubt. No wonder that the veteran radical international scholar Richard Falk has pronounced in favour of a possible ʻjust warʼ, the ﬁrst American war he has supported; or, of course, that almost unnoticed the US has obtained United Nations backing.
Of course, the right to make war does not make war right. But it does no favours to an anti-war cause to deny the elements of traditional international legitimacy in Americaʼs response. Anti-war activists have been quick to cry foul when America has failed to observe the formalities of international legitimation – when over Kosovo, for example, NATO was able to gain Security Council backing only retrospectively. They are under an obligation of consistency, if nothing else, to take seriously Americaʼs international rights in this situation.
5. Have we developed the idea of justice as an alternative to military action?
The problem with anti-war politics is precisely that it is mostly against the war rather than for justice. Coalitions have been built around the lowest common denominator of opposition to US action rather than around an adequate alternative response to the core issue of this crisis, the terrorist massacre. This is a fundamentally moral and political failing of many current anti-war movements. However, it is also one that has profound consequences, since it gives governments the easy response that criticism of the war does not address the 911 outrage, and allows them to present American action as the only possible response.
The only morally and politically effective answer to the USAʼs war in Afghanistan is that there was a choice. The massacre was an act of war, but it was also a crime. It could have been treated as a criminal act. As Sir Michael Howard, the doyen of British military historians, has argued, ʻMany people would have preferred a police operation conducted under the auspices of the UN on behalf of the international community as a whole, against a criminal conspiracy, whose members should be hunted down and brought before an international court. Terrorists can be successfully destroyed only if public opinion supports the authorities in regarding them as criminals rather than heroes.ʼ
Even radicals like Falk question whether such a response would have been sufﬁcient, and certainly it was asking for a leap of imagination and politics that was highly improbable in George W. Bush. But imagine the effect if he had embraced an international tribunal as the way to frame morally the criminality of Bin Laden and the other perpetrators. This would have been a powerful and enduring symbol of the global commitment to defeat terror. With Americaʼs drive behind it, it is not too much to think that Bin Laden, like Slobodan Milosevi´c, could eventually have been brought to justice. Unlike the bombing of Afghanistan, this course would have had unquestionable global legitimacy. It would have required less cosying up to authoritarian rulers in Moscow, Beijing and Islamabad. And it would have been much more difﬁcult to whip up anti-Western feeling on the streets from Gaza to Jakarta.
In America, all but the ʻhard Leftʼ opponents of the war have tended towards a ʻjustice not revengeʼ response. In Britain, however, at a greater distance from the impact of the terror massacre, all too many of the activists have opted for the old modes of anti-Americanism and anti-war.
6. Have we avoided complicity in denigrating international justice?
Indeed, the hard Leftʼs response has not only avoided calling for international justice as the alternative to war; it has also undermined this case by denigrating the available models of international law enforcement. In this way it has entered an unholy alliance with the most determined opponents of international justice, on the American Right.
Under their pressure, Clinton ganged up with China to water down the ICC treaty, and only signed up to it in his ﬁnal days. It is no secret that Bush would like to renege on even that commitment. For Republicans, the idea that an international court could try Americans – and, it seems, the killers of Americans – is anathema. Many on the American Right have called for ʻwar not lawʼ.
However, the tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, established by the UN in the 1990s, have been a remarkable example of international justice at work, and a triumph for European-driven ideas of law over might. They have impartially indicted, and increasingly convicted, high-ranking ofﬁcials responsible for crimes against humanity.
The conviction of Serbian general Krstic, co-responsible for the genocidal massacre at Srebrenica in 1995, and the indictment of former President Milosevi´c for this and other crimes, are highly relevant precedents for the treatment of the 911 terrorists.
Nevertheless, a signiﬁcant section of the international Left has spent the last two years in systematic denigration of the Yugoslav tribunal as a tool of Western power.
Focusing on the tribunalʼs decision, following a report by an investigative committee, not to prosecute NATO for its bombing of Serbia, the ʻhard Leftʼ has set aside the careful work that has created by far the strongest model yet of international criminal justice. In the context of the terrorist massacres, this ʻLeftʼ lines up squarely with the American Right to block the only serious alternative to war as a response to 911.
ʻPilgerstanʼ turns out to be not so far removed from Bushʼs ʻWild Westʼ.
7. Anti-American or anti-war?
Not only, however, is too much anti-war activism also anti-justice; it is also doubtful if it is seriously anti-war. There are, of course, two main senses in which it is possible to be anti-war. We can oppose this particular war. This is essentially what anti-war politics means in the current situation. As I have pointed out, coalitions are being built on the lowest common denominator, mirror images of Bushʼs own lowest common denominator anti-terrorist coalition, with its collection of unsavoury regimes. Paciﬁsts are in unholy alliance with anti-Americans, opposing this war exactly as they have previous American wars, making little distinction between them (although there are actually quite important differences between this war and, for example,
Kosovo). But most anti-Americans are not paciﬁsts. They would support other kinds of war, maybe even the other side in the current war, and some of them even advocate war at home (hence the childish slogan ʻno war but class warʼ on some recent banners).
This is not just an abstract point. If Americaʼs cause is morally and legally justiﬁed, then the only serious ground of objection is not to its general ends, but to the means that it is using. Two kinds of argument are possible. First, it can be argued that the means will be inefﬁcient and counterproductive. Because al-Qaeda is a transnational terrorist network, it canʼt be defeated by military action in Afghanistan; because the Taliban will carry on guerrilla resistance, America faces a long and difﬁcult war with uncertain success; and because the war will radicalize Muslims outside Afghanistan, the terrorist threat will be increased.
These sorts of consequential arguments are important and one doesnʼt have to be a paciﬁst to make them. However, deeper moral objections, essentially paciﬁstic if not paciﬁst, can be made to the methods of the war. It is important to make these correctly:
it doesnʼt help to exaggerate the wrongfulness of what is being done in Afghanistan.
Bush is not ﬁghting an old-style total war with weapons of mass destruction, but the new type of relatively high-precision, relatively low-casualty, media-conscious campaign that has been practised in the Gulf and Kosovo. So long as America takes care to ʻminimizeʼ civilian deaths, it could remain within the limits prescribed by just war thinking (as Falk points out).
That word relatively covers, of course, a multitude of sins. Whether or not the war is ʻjustʼ or legal, there is something disgusting about military planners in their Pentagon ofﬁces coldly, even if accidentally, incinerating a whole village in eastern Afghanistan.
This is especially so when, effectively, such accidents are programmed into the most careful use of even the smartest weapons – and when risk to US military personnel is almost programmed out, at least so long as a war remains one of bombing. Systematic transfer of the risks of war to civilians, however limited these risks are by historical standards, is profoundly questionable. These sorts of objections are compounded by the known dangers of gravely exacerbating the food crisis of millions of poor Afghan people, and of forcing even more into overcrowded, prison-like refugee camps in which the weak will often not survive.
8. Are we engaging actively with the consequential issues of the war?
Chomsky and Pilger are right that this sort of ʻcollateral damageʼ can be as serious, when spread across many more lives, as the direct physical harm caused by bombs.
However, it is doubtful that much anti-war politics really considers seriously the plight of the poor and hungry in Afghanistan. ʻStop the Warʼ could mean the victory of the Taliban and the return of the conditions that already produced mass hunger long before Bush intervened. Stopping the war, without other measures, would make us feel better, but would it actually help the Afghan people?
A serious politics will recognize the reality of the war and the unlikelihood that the USA is going to give up in response to anti-war protests. As well as criticizing the resort to war, and the bombing, it will raise ʻreformistʼ demands for bombing pauses and serious humanitarian relief efforts, if necessary that US and UK troops protect and assist humanitarian provision. While core anti-war politics, on all past evidence, will remain a minority pursuit, television news, press and relief organizations could well build momentum behind such demands. The big precedent is the Kurdish relief operation of 1991, the pressures for which I described in Civil Society and Media in Global Crises (Pinter, 1996). As well as ʻhumanitarianʼ demands about the economic misery of the Afghan people, we should be watching the changing political situation, in order to prevent the excesses of Northern Alliance forces, and to support those who press for a stable, secular government which respects human rights.
9. Are we taking responsibility for our own past positions?
One of the peculiarities of anti-war politics is that while very knowledgeable about the history of US intervention, it is often silent on its own history, from which it often learns little. Many of those who oppose the American war in Afghanistan also opposed the wars in Kosovo and the Gulf. As we have seen, they do not always remember to be consistent (for example in upholding international norms) from one war to the next.
More seriously, however, they donʼt appear to have learnt from the mistakes of previous anti-war campaigns. The campaign against the Gulf War particularly comes to mind. Then, too, much of the European centre-Left and Left opposed the war. They focused most of their efforts on preventing any extension of the military campaign or any broadening of war aims. When President Bush called a halt with the liberation of Kuwait, the anti-war movement breathed a sigh of relief. On the ground in Iraq, however, this was the very moment when people rose up against Saddam Hussein.
American troops were so close that they could hear the Iraqi Republican Guard massacring the Shiite rebels in the city of Basra. But they did not intervene to save them.
This was not only a failure of George Bush. Back home in Britain and in the USA, hardly any anti-war protestors raised their voices to demand that the West protect these courageous people on the sharp end of a murderous army. Prominent anti-war writers like Pilger, with regular media outlets, didnʼt write about the Shias, and only wrote about the Kurds when it was too late. The rebelsʼ defeat sealed the stalemate in Iraq that has impoverished that society and poisoned world politics to this day, but anti-war activists had done little to prevent it. Like the Iraqis, the Afghan people deserve more than to become our latest propaganda tool against America.
10. Towards a new politics of peace?
The politics of international justice, human rights and humanitarian protection provides a powerful alternative to the politics of bombing and the cycle of violence. As in the dissolution of the Cold War, the goals of human rights and paciﬁc politics combine.
However, these politics can be advanced only by abandoning the simpler reﬂexes of traditional anti-war politics, and engaging with the real politics both of the war zones and of international institutions. Faced with a bad and unnecessary war, it is not enough to be AGAINST the war. We must also be FOR the victims, all of them. And that means justice as well as peace. Will we learn this time?
Moralism, terrorism and war – reply to Shaw
There are two fundamental problems with Martin Shawʼs commentary. First, he presumes the legitimacy of the world status quo, and then sees the attacks of 11 September as an ʻinitial aggressionʼ, an irruption into this status quo from out of the blue. Yet in fact the attacks are a continuation and escalation of a war for the colonial subjugation of the Middle East that has been fought more or less continuously since World War II between the USA and its proxy state Israel on the one hand, and their locally based opponents on the other. Suez, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Iranian revolution, the Iran–Iraq War, the Gulf War of 1991, the bombing of Iraq which has continued ever since, and the two Palestinian intifadas are all episodes in this continuing war, a war which has cost probably over a million Middle Easterners their lives in the last ﬁfty years. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union the ascendancy of the USA in this war has become ever greater, to the point at which virtually every regime in the area is now its client, while the socialist and communist movements in those countries have been defeated and marginalized. However, the result has not been the disappearance of opposition to US domination.
Instead, the organized leadership of this opposition has increasingly been taken up by the network of Islamic revivalist (or ʻfundamentalistʼ as Westerners call them) groups that now crisscross the region: groups that construe the war as an assault on the Muslim Ummah and that combine their demand for the removal of the USA and its client rulers from the Muslim world with an aspiration to restore this Ummah as a self-determining political entity governed in accord with the precepts of Islam. With the effective throttling of democratic routes to power in their own states, exempliﬁed most blatantly by the annulment of the Algerian elections when they were won by an Islamic revivalist party in 1992, these groups have turned increasingly to terrorism as a means of waging a ʻwar of pan-Islamic independenceʼ directly on the USA: through attacks on US military installations in the Arabian Peninsula (the heartland of the Ummah), through the bombing of its embassies in East Africa, and now through the attacks of 11 September on the American mainland.
Not only does Shaw make no attempt to understand the political and historical origins of these last attacks; he positively castigates those who have attempted to provide such understandings, saying that this prevents us from taking the attacks ʻseriouslyʼ. In fact it is the only way to take them seriously, that is, to appreciate their full signiﬁcance – a task that still remains largely unaccomplished three months after the attacks not because people have spent too much time on such understandings but because they have still spent too little. For Shaw, however, to take the attacks seriously means something else: to condemn them in moral language which is adequate to their enormity.
The second problem with Shawʼs approach is the moralism that saturates it, a moralism which goes hand in hand with his dismissal of historical context, for the more we know about the historical antecedents of any act, the less easy it is to be satisﬁed with passing a moral judgement on it, and moralism demands such judgements everywhere. For Shaw every act must ﬁrst of all be named and judged in the language of morality and right: the attacks of 11 September (a ʻgenocidal massacreʼ), the launching of a war on Afghanistan (America had a right to do so, though doing so may not have been right), the method of bombing to prosecute the war (ʻquestionableʼ, which is to say morally questionable), and even the actions of the anti-war movement (which show a ʻmoral failingʼ). In this perspective even historical contextualization is reduced to a matter of asking whether or not past morally bad acts by the USA (its support for the occupation of the West Bank, its bombing of a pharmaceuticals factory in the Sudan) mitigate the moral badness of the 11 September attacks. It is this moralizing perspective that he calls on the anti-war movement retrospectively to adopt: those who oppose the war, he says, should have responded to the attacks of 11 September with the same strength of moral revulsion as shown by all the other ﬁgures in the public sphere.
They should then have tried to channel that moral revulsion by calling for a ʻmorally framedʼ response to the attacks, speciﬁcally an international police action against the al-Qaeda network leading to prosecutions before an international court.
Shawʼs moralism places him in the company of the vast majority of media opinionmakers in this country, for whom immediate moral judgement always takes precedence over historical explanation. Yet the uses of moralism should warn us of its dangers.
The language of extreme moral condemnation is the standard precursor to violence – for which, after all, it serves as the justiﬁcation – and this connection has never been more glaringly obvious than in the period after 11 September. The month-long Western chorus of public moral outrage that followed that date became part and parcel of the preparation for war, the drumbeat that roused the domestic population to readiness for violence. It served to make the attack on Afghanistan, when it came, seem not merely justiﬁed but inevitable. Tony Blair expressed the connection between moralism and violence in an almost pristine form, exceeding every other world leader except Bush in both the strength of his moral condemnation of the attacks and his enthusiasm for a war on Afghanistan to avenge them.
Meanwhile, it is clear that the American foreign policy establishment that took the decisions to launch this war does not allow its thinking to be hampered by moral categories at all; one only has to look at the websites of ʻgeopolitical intelligenceʼ thinktanks like Strategic Forecasting that form the milieu of this establishment to be sure of that. At the time of writing, just after the collapse of Taliban control over Afghanistan, the question is being raised whether the USA will now move to attack Iraq with the aim of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Whichever way the decision goes, we can be sure that it will not ultimately be based on the strength of evidence, if any, linking the Iraqi government to the attacks of 11 September. The only questions will be: What are the chances of success? Can a successor regime be installed that will be pliable to the USA? What are the risks to the stability of other US client regimes in the Middle East?
Can Russia and the EU be squared? If the decision is to launch military action then the necessary moral fervour to justify it will be whipped up, if not on the grounds of support for terrorism then over its possible possession of nuclear or biological weapons.
In the sphere of international relations, public moral discourse in the West is little more than a means of selling decisions that have already been arrived at by other means to the domestic population in a language they can understand.
Against ‘for or against’
In the light of this complete instrumentalization of the discourse of morality, the anti-war movement has been quite right to be wary of adding its voice to an already deafening public roar of moral condemnation of 11 September (the volume of which is quite out of proportion to the numbers killed on that day, if we take as a standard the corresponding levels of public condemnation of, say, the Rwandan genocide, the Russian butchery in Chechnya, or the ongoing slaughter of Turkish Kurds). The anti-war movement has largely left the condemnation to others, and concentrated on opposing the war that has been justiﬁed by it. Yet by contrast Shaw wants to go even further than Bush and Blair in ratcheting up the level of moral condemnation, by using the term ʻgenocidalʼ to describe the attacks.
Let us leave aside the inappropriateness of this particular term (the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon were attacked as the greatest symbols of US economic and military power, not for the number of American people in them). The issue here is, what purpose is served by cranking up the pitch of moral execration still higher in a context where such execration has become simply a means to justify war? Perhaps Shaw thinks that the anti-war movement could have ridden this tiger and steered it in the direction of gaining popular support for his preferred means of dealing with al-Qaeda. But suppose this had happened. The anti-war movement would simply have become the mirror image of the moralizing pro-war columnists of the national press:
moral cheerleaders for a policy which has being advanced, within the circles of power, simply for its efﬁcacy in consolidating Western power and security and without any reference to its moral qualities. Shaw cites Michael Howard as a source for this alternative policy, but Howard is no more weighed down by moral considerations than the Pentagon or the US State Department. In fact his model is the British Armyʼs campaign against Malayan guerrillas in the 1950s – a campaign virtually unreported by the media – that was one of the morally dirtiest episodes in the history of the Empire, but that successfully annihilated opposition to British rule in Malaya. As for the system of international justice Shaw recommends, so far it is noticeable that its chief victims have been those who have posed an obstacle to the USA, or at best those for whom it has no use. The chances that the members of the Russian, Turkish, Indonesian, Salvadorian, Chilean, Israeli and (most of all) American governments responsible for the massacres of the last ﬁfty years will ever face trial before its courts are effectively zero. It is a system that has functioned overwhelmingly as another tool of US power.
It is at this point that the real nature of Shawʼs challenge to the anti-war movement becomes clear. Stripped of its moral rhetoric, it is the same challenge already thrown down by Bush: are you for us or against us? If you are for us, then prove it by the strength and authenticity of your condemnation of 11 September, and couple your rejection of war with a call for alternative ways of ʻhunting downʼ (as if they were animals) the terrorists who organized it. If you fail to do this, then by your silence you are colluding with those perpetrators themselves: you are against us.
The fact that this challenge originates ultimately from Bush does not make it any the less serious; quite the contrary. It is a challenge that goes to the heart of the central division in the anti-war movement, between those who above all want to take sides against the USA (and its British lieutenant and Israeli proxy) in the war of the Middle East, whatever de facto alliances this may involve; and those who above all want to see an end to violence and oppression, as much that of al-Qaeda and the Taliban as that of the USA and its clients. Both impulses, the ʻanti-imperialistʼ (to say ʻanti-Americanʼ is to make a hopeless conﬂation between a governing class and the population it controls) and the ʻemancipationistʼ, are legitimate ones. But in situations like the war on Afghanistan they pull in opposite directions: one towards a positive defence of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, as the current representatives of Middle Eastern resistance to imperialist power, in their war against the USA and its proxies; the other towards a simultaneous rejection of both sides in this war. Shawʼs proposal forces all opponents of the war to situate themselves one side or the other of this divide by the way they respond to it, for while anti-imperialists must reject it outright, emancipationists can only argue with its detail.
That an anti-war movement that (rightly) aimed from the start to be as broad-based as possible should contain such contradictions is hardly a surprise. Sooner or later, though, if it is to develop into anything more than an ad hoc coalition of people who oppose the war for quite different reasons, then it must address them and think them through. The way to do this is not by a fruitless counterposition of moral judgements.
It is by a patient collective effort to understand the basic roots of the war. It will come as no surprise, given the attempt made above to sketch those roots, if I predict that such an effort will inevitably lead in an anti-imperialist direction.