David Ray Griffin
Cross-posted from Global
, with permission from the author.
June 25, 2010
There are many questions to
ask about the war in Afghanistan. One that has been widely asked is
whether it will turn out to be "Obama's Vietnam."1 This question implies
another: Is this war winnable, or is it destined to be a quagmire, like
Vietnam? These questions are motivated in part by the widespread
agreement that the Afghan government, under Hamid Karzai, is at least as
corrupt and incompetent as the government the United States tried to
prop up in South Vietnam for 20 years.
Although there are many similarities between these two
wars, there is also a big difference: This time, there is no draft. If
there were a draft, so that college students and their friends back home
were being sent to Afghanistan, there would be huge demonstrations
against this war on campuses all across this country. If the sons and
daughters of wealthy and middle-class parents were coming home in boxes,
or with permanent injuries or post-traumatic stress syndrome, this war
would have surely been stopped long ago. People have often asked: Did we
learn any of the "lessons of Vietnam"? The US government learned one:
If you're going to fight unpopular wars, don't have a draft hire
There are many other questions that have been, and should
be, asked about this war, but in this essay, I focus on only one: Did
the 9/11 attacks justify the war in Afghanistan?
This question has thus far been considered off-limits, not
to be raised in polite company, and certainly not in the mainstream
media. It has been permissible, to be sure, to ask whether the war
during the past several years has been justified by those attacks so
many years ago. But one has not been allowed to ask whether the original
invasion was justified by the 9/11 attacks.
However, what can be designated the "McChrystal Moment"
the probably brief period during which the media are again focused on
the war in Afghanistan in the wake of the Rolling Stone story about
General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces in
Afghanistan, which led to his resignation provides the best
opportunity for some time to raise fundamental questions about this war.
Various commentators have already been asking some pretty basic
questions: about the effectiveness and affordability of the present
"counterinsurgency strategy" and even whether American fighting forces
should remain in Afghanistan at all. But I am interested in an even more
fundamental question: Whether this war was ever really justified by the
publicly given reason: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
This question has two parts: First, did these attacks
provide a legal justification for the invasion of Afghanistan? Second,
if not, did they at least provide a moral justification?
I. Did 9/11 Provide Legal Justification for the War
Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945,
international law with regard to war has been defined by the UN Charter.
Measured by this standard, the US-led war in Afghanistan has been
illegal from the outset.
Marjorie Cohn, a well-known professor of international law,
wrote in November 2001:
"[T]he bombings of Afghanistan by the United States and the
United Kingdom are illegal."2
In 2008, Cohn repeated this argument in an article entitled
"Afghanistan: The Other Illegal War." The point of the title was that,
although it was by then widely accepted that the war in Iraq was
illegal, the war in Afghanistan, in spite of the fact that many
Americans did not realize it, was equally illegal.3 Her argument was
based on the following facts:
First, according to international law as codified in the UN
Charter, disputes are to be brought to the UN Security Council, which
alone may authorize the use of force. Without this authorization, any
military activity against another country is illegal.