No, my intention is not to embarrass our brave men and women fighting in Afghanistan and in armed flight over Afghanistan. Or even to question them. They are battling against enemies of civilization and of civilized life. And they richly merit our moral support.
Yes, the U.S. air force, responding to endangered German ground troops under standing and perfectly reasonable NATO procedures, brought death to literally dozens of Afghanis. Estimates range from 50 to 90. Now, the issue is whether these dead were Taliban or civilians. The fact is that the Taliban do not fight by the rules of modern warfare which try to limit the exposure of non-combatants. The enemy in Afghanistan meshes with old women and men, with children and the infirm... But it is not only the subterfuge. Taliban loyalists, always without uniforms, move in and out of combat roles. You cannot tell whether someone is a regular full-time belligerent or not. Most who are such belligerents also blithely pretend not to be.
The same issue arises with the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war in which Israel is accused of blithely targeting civilians. I know something about the Israeli military and how scrupulously and stringently it inculcates very limiting and self-constraining rules of war. I also know Israeli soldiers who fought in Gaza, a fight forced upon them by the Palestinians sending rockets into towns and kibbutzim of the Negev with increasing frequency but mostly at random. They are not only outraged but deeply offended by a U.N. panel judging them, men and women of the I.D.F., who took enormous risks not to shoot or bomb people who just may have not been combatants. The report is a pastiche built largely on one of the habits of Arab culture: this is actually a culture that lies to itself.
There are even more serious charges in the report and they accuse Israel of targeting hospitals and schools. Now, the fact is that the Israel Defense Forces have themselves investigated these charges and found them to be fictions. Of all the inimical tales that have emerged from a few disenchanted Israeli soldiers, unnamed by the way, not a single one has accused the I.D.F. of making war on hospitals and schools. These accusations come from Gaza which is itself under the ruthless discipline of Hamas.
Actually, the very sponsorship of the Report is suspect. The investigating body operated under the aegis of the United Nations Human Rights Council which spends early all of its time preparing resolutions condemning Israel. The legislation establishing the Goldstone commission was sponsored by Cuba, Egypt (in behalf of the Organization of Arab States) and Pakistan (representing the Islamic Conference). Months before the commission was established one of its not yet appointed members had already decided (and in public) that Israel was guilty of war crimes in Gaza. (The Council has not been able to decide whether Sudan is guilty of war crimes. Or Congo. Or Sri Lanka. Pardon me: but I don't mean to compare Israel to these states.)
Now, back to my first point. Which is the asymmetry that is endemic to the judgments in the international system on first world armies fighting third world terrorists. The tribunals themselves are deeply prejudiced, and even the face of a Jewish jurist from South Africa cannot disguise the intrinsic bias of United Nations institutions against Israel.
That same bias operates against the United States, although the American government seems to have less and less empathy with Israel whose enemies are mostly also enemies of America.
In any case, my analogy between the U.S. and Israel, between Taliban Afghanistan and Hamas Gaza was first made by the eminent (and ironic) Ha'aretz journalist Avi Shavit in Wednesday's paper. Please read it here.