The Answer is Justice

Actually, this is pathetic. And I say this as one who supported military action in the wake of the attacks. I still think we’re dealing with a crime, not a war, but it wasn’t a crime Interpol could solve. Who could we send but the military? If we could just find an enemy.

As The Onion put it, “U.S. Vows to Defeat Whoever It Is We’re at War With.” Here we are bombing not just a poor country, but quite likely the most miserable place on earth, and creating a tidal wave of starving refugees in the process. There has to be a better way.

Sissy Farenthold, the Mother Teresa of Texas liberalism, says her reaction to the attacks was, “If not now, when? When are we going to try the law?” International law is not in a high state of development. Just bringing to trial Slobodan Milosevic, a remarkably hideous specimen, took several years. Nevertheless, when you stand back and look at it, the development of international law is one of the few things that will give you hope for Earth.

I know this freaks out the Right, which thinks that U.N. black helicopters are about to take over; and the Left, which thinks globalization benefits only vile, big-league capitalists. (I’m no neutral here: Globalization will benefit only vile, big-league capitalists unless we get hold of it.) Nevertheless, growing up through all the paranoia, the ancient enmities and the conflicting ideologies, like grass pushing up through cement, is a substantial body of international law. The reason it exists is because it is so necessary.

It may seem as though the opportunity is now gone, but we can still reconsider and announce that we (the most powerful country in the world, as we keep reminding ourselves) are willing to submit our grievance against Osama Bin Laden and Co. to the World Court. As I have pointed out before, this is not only a good idea on its own merits, but has the happy effect of making it far more likely that we will actually get Bin Laden. The country in the best position to find the terrorists is Pakistan, and its government, as we have seen, has to deal with its own Islamic fundamentalists.

The Libyans who blew up Pan Am 103 were tried at the World Court, and Libya gave them up precisely because they were tried in a third country. Both the United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the Montreal Sabotage Convention are on point here. Those who recommend following the law seem to be regarded by most of the media as two-headed freaks, but I think the media do a disservice by reducing this debate to a simplistic false choice: Either we nuke ’em or we engage in some tedious, years-long process which ends not with a bang but a whimper. Again, the question is, what works? When Timothy McVeigh committed a terrible act of terrorism, we did not go bomb the right-wing nut camps in Idaho for the very good reason that it was a) illegal and b) would have created a pile of martyrs, in the style of David Koresh, and thus a whole new set of citizens who think the government is the enemy. This is the Catch-22 of “nuke ’em”: the endless daisy chain of reaction that keeps creating more terrorists, who then strike and cause more reaction, creating more terrorists, etc. If killing more people were the answer, there would have been peace in the Middle East 50 years ago. The answer is justice, and there is nothing weak-kneed about it.

The second drawback of the “nuke ’em” argument is that Afghanistan is the graveyard of invading armies. It has swallowed the armies of mighty empires three times, Britain twice, the Soviet Union once. It may boast the most hostile topography on the planet and, as in Vietnam, you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. Speaking of bad guys, we need to take a close look at the Northern Alliance: According to RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), the almost unbearably courageous Afghan women’s group, the Northern Alliance is as bad as the Taliban. There’s nothing left to bomb–the country only had 18 miles of railroad to begin with–so now we start the chopper war. But as we know from Somalia, choppers can be brought down with rocket-propelled grenades, practically a pea-shooter in terms of modern weaponry.

Right after the attacks, Secretary of State Colin Powell was actually taken to task by the armchair warriors for pledging to “bring those responsible to justice.” A point made by Jeff Cohen of Fairness and Accuracy in Media is that a bombing campaign does more than undermine the rule of law. “It isolates the U.S. instead of isolating the terrorists.” There is a better way.

Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated columnist. Her book with Louis Dubose, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush, is out in paperback.

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Published at 12:00 am CST