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Where's the Debate Over Continued Bombing of Afghanistan?

2 August 2002

Britain's daily newspapers, which cover the ongoing war in Afghanistan in far greater detail than American media, have grown increasingly scathing in their reports of U.S. bombing raids that have gone awry - blowing apart the homes of innocent villagers, ruining what remains of a battered nation's infrastructure and killing dozens of guests at a wedding. "The American military must take tips from Bart Simpson," London's Independent newspaper surmised after U.S. commanders attempted to deny responsibility for the wedding bombing.

It is not just the press that is picking apart military missteps by the United States and Britain in a war that continues to tote up civilian casualties at a horrifying rate. The new archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, describes the ongoing war in Afghanistan as "morally tainted." And, despite Prime Minister Tony Blair's continued support for the U.S-led war, the senior member of Blair's Labor Party majority in parliament, Tam Dalyell, calls the continued bombing of Afghanistan "deeply wrong."

Where are the American echoes of the free press, outspoken cleric and angry parliamentarian of our chief ally in this misguided war? Why do other countries engage in open, freewheeling, often contentious dialogue about military missteps while America barely discusses them?

Certainly, the U.S. media must accept a good deal of the blame for the failure of the discourse. The coverage of what has become an exceptionally costly military mission has been so inept, so anecdotal and so addicted to Bush administration spin that many Americans were surprised - when reports of the wedding bombing came out - to learn U.S. planes were still dropping tons of bombs on Afghanistan day in and day out.

But, as inadequate as the news reporting and commentary has been, the most serious failure of oversight has been that of the Congress. For the most part, Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate have abandoned their constitutional duty to question, to challenge, to honestly advise and cautiously consent to war-making by the executive branch.

Only a handful of members have spoken out forcefully about this war's lack of focus and disturbingly high level of civilian casualties. Of these lonely voices of reason, the loudest is that of U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a potential candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.

Speaking on the floor of the House late last month, Kucinich raised questions of utility and morality in a chamber where such concerns are rarely voiced these days.

"Recent news accounts indicate that hundreds and hundreds of innocent civilians of Afghanistan have been killed 'accidentally' in bombings by U.S. warplanes," Kucinich declared on the floor of the House, where he questioned why the bombing continued. "We have no quarrel with the Afghan people. The Taliban are overthrown. Al-Qaida has fled. Bin Laden has vanished. And yet the bombs still drop, indiscriminately."

In most of the parliaments of the world - including Britain's - Kucinich's concerns would have placed him very much in the mainstream of the debate over this war. In the U.S. Congress, however, his was an isolated cry of conscience.

"Whatever moral authority our nation had at the beginning of the conflict is rapidly being lost," he told the House. "This act does not represent America. Democracy does not wed terror. This act must not be cloaked in the irresponsible and inhuman euphemism of 'collateral damage.' Stop the bombing. Let an international police force continue in Afghanistan. Let the humble people of Afghanistan be spared friendly fire issued from the skies. Enough of bombing the villages to save the villages! Stop the bombing!"

John Nichols
Published in the Madison Capital Times © 2002 The Capital Times

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