Military interventions have a long history both prior to and during the Cold War, and even at the turn of the decade it was not apparent that they might no longer be undertaken in the future. These interventions were justified on moral grounds, or on the grounds of international law, or as selfless acts.
On October 7, 2001, the U.S. launched a massive military assault on Afghanistan that effaced its political structure and created an enormous refugee situation. From the middle of 2002, the U.S. threatened to do the same thing to Iraq, running through a spectrum of reasons that changed as each previous argument collapsed. After giving up on efforts of U.N. inspectors to find weapons of mass destruction in that country, the Bush administration's inability to do so dissolved that pretext as well. The assault on Afghanistan, mounted in response to the events of September 11, 2001, was part of a two-decade-long series that included Grenada (1982), Panama (1989), Iraq (1991), and Yugoslavia (1999). Each assault had its own peculiarity, and violated certain principles of democracy and international law; yet, each received overwhelming support in the U.S., at institutional and popular levels. Though its moments differ, they reveal a common structure and the series as a whole poses an enveloping question concerning its general acceptability.
After the 9/11
After the 9/11 attacks, though no one took credit for this coordinated act of destruction, the U.S. government immediately claimed, without evidence, that a Saudi expatriate allegedly living in Afghanistan was responsible, and that 19 men of Middle Eastern origin, whose names the FBI published two days later, had committed this act of collective suicide and mass murder. International law provides the right to defend against terrorist attacks, but not to retaliate without going through certain international channels and procedures, which the U.S. ignored. Though in violation of international law (the Geneva Accords and U.N. Charter), the military assault on Afghanistan constituted the first act in what was declared to be an "endless war." The massive bombing of Afghanistan created a civilian death count considerably beyond that of the World Trade Center; whole villages were obliterated, and an already critical refugee and starvation situation was exacerbated, stretching well into Pakistan. In place of the Taliban organization, an interim government was invented. Though objection to this assault in the U.S. was small, it was repressed: public figures who spoke against the attack were vilified, people were fired, students suspended from school, social programs closed, university professors sanctioned, etc. to arrest one man.
The assault on Afghanistan, according to military experts, would have required at least three months of logistical preparation; indeed, plans for the assault had begun the previous July. (Stan Goff) If so, the arrest of bin Laden was merely a legalistic pretext for a prior political project, the change of regime in Afghanistan.
This raises two issues. The first is the use of international legalism to symbolize rather than explain or authorize an intervention, the pursuit of which violates international and U.S. law. The second is the structure of popular acceptance that likewise ignores illegality (the violation of a treaty, of international codes, and the principle of national sovereignty).
The U.S. invaded Panama