The Price of Friendship

A town in northern Afghanistan seems to have been wiped off the face of the earth. The pictures coming in from there show only a few destroyed walls and dud shells just waiting for the chance to explode.

A town in northern Afghanistan seems to have been wiped off the face of the earth. The pictures coming in from there show only a few destroyed walls and dud shells just waiting for the chance to explode. A number of other Afghan towns are reporting the use of cluster bombs, the small charges of which are still rolling about in the streets and preventing inhabitants from leaving their homes. We hear almost every day of another "mistake," "error" or a simple "foul-up" during the course of the bombing raids. A UN aid center was demolished within the first few days of the strikes beginning; clinics - and apparently a hospital or retirement home - were destroyed three days ago.

There are no official figures on the number of Afghan refugees, but estimates speak of hundreds of thousands, perhaps even more than 1,000,000 individuals fleeing their homes, either to other cities and towns in Afghanistan or to Pakistan and Iran. No one can say how long the war in Afghanistan will last; neither is the objective of the war very clear: Does the United States only want to find Osama bin Laden and destroy him? Is it aiming to topple the Taliban regime as punishment for providing him sanctuary? Does it have additional strategic regional aspirations?

And the rest of the world stands by and observes - not only with hardly a response, but offering full support, or at least understanding. Arab regimes are preventing Islamic fundamentalists from demonstrating against America; they know all too well that when religion bursts forth, it makes no distinction between English-speaking infidels and those who speak Arabic, Urdu or Persian.

Human rights organizations are also having a tough time deciding what their place is in the current situation. After all, defending the Taliban regime is impossible, while a protest against the United States would immediately be seen as support for terrorism. Meanwhile, the "bastions of rationality" of the world - Europe, Asia, Australia and even Russia - are not only empathizing with the grief of America and supporting the war, but even appear to be happy to test out this new option in the war against terror on Uncle Sam's back.

If the experiment is a success and the destruction of Afghanistan manages to instill the required amount of fear into those regimes that until now have come to terms with terrorism, everyone will come out on top. If the experiment fails, the observers could always say their understanding and support was offered to a country that had suffered a terrible catastrophe. Because America, they will say, is not at war; it is caught up in a madness born only out of such monumental grief and such a fundamental shattering of the contract between the state and its citizens, vis-a-vis the protection it owes to them.

Luckily we are dealing with a lost country in any event, one in which any obscene deed is permissible so as to rid it of a regime the complete destruction of which is desired by all. America has, therefore, received a blank international check for its personal use.

But there is also someone else who believes that he can be a partner to this blank check, as if he himself had received it. He is holding on to the back of the charging American steed, shouting "Hi Ho Silver" and taking the opportunity to kill a few "Talibans" of his own. He is looking into the mirror and saying to himself: America was hit by terror, and so was I; America is fighting terror, and so am I. America has marked out its wanted man and is demanding his extradition, and in what way am I any different? If America's wanted man is called bin Laden, I will call mine the same. And, therefore, if America can destroy another country, why can't I? But why do I always get rapped on the knuckles and America doesn't?

The answer to this is that you cannot compete against a world war with a neighborhood gang fight. A huge struggle against a terror state is nothing like an occupation of 35 years that has offered an infinite number of opportunities to break free of the burden. Maybe the United States does want to topple the regime in Afghanistan, but it certainly won't be establishing an American settlement there.

But beyond all this perhaps, the United States is Israel's friend and this is the price of friendship; and when it asks to remove the private Israeli conflict from the display window, you don't ask: For how long? And you don't say: Screw you - first my conflict, then yours.