Hindu Vivek Kendra
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Winter of terror, summer of discontent

Winter of terror, summer of discontent

Author: Robert G Kaiser
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: September 9, 2002
URL: http://www.indian-express.com/archive_full_story.php?content_id=9092

Introduction: The initial focus of the Bush administration when it launched its war against terror is dissolving into a foreign policy blur

Amid the hoopla surrounding the anniversary of Sept 11, three questions seem apt: Why did the Bush administration veer off the course it set for itself a year ago, when President Bush promised to ''rally the world'' to fight a war against terrorism and then did so magnificently-but only for a while?

Why has the administration now chosen to neglect its friends as it pursues its enemies-or rather, the enemy most easily targeted, Saddam Hussein?

Why is the United States flirting with a new doctrine of pre-emptive war so radical it has no precedent in international law or American history-and why hasn't this flirtation provoked our politicians to conduct a serious national debate, first of all in Congress?

We're still too close to these events to see them all clearly, but it's not too soon to see that the Bush administration's initial sure-footedness has given way to a stumbling clumsiness. This has been a bad summer for American diplomacy. It isn't easy for the world's leading power to alarm all of its allies in a matter of months, but this is what the United States has done, for purposes that remain mysterious. The administration has accomplished this despite the successful beginning to the military campaign set off by the attacks on New York and Washington a year ago. Not only did President Bush rally allies on every continent to join an elaborate, efficient international coalition, but the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, used Sept 11 to finally abandon the pretense that Russia and America could revive their Cold War rivalry. He allied his country firmly with the United States, then with the NATO alliance.

Two Central Asian republics, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, former parts of the Soviet Union, welcomed US bases on their territory, creating a new geopolitical reality. No government on earth openly took the side of Al Qaeda. That first phase was triumphant. The anxiety of last fall that somehow America and its allies would be stymied in Afghanistan, as the Soviets were two decades earlier, now seems silly.

Routing Al Qaeda and its protector, the Taliban regime in Kabul, proved remarkably easy. Watching joyful Afghans dancing in the streets was a joyful experience. The first phase has cost more than $30 billion and 51 American lives, but the initial mission was accomplished: no more Taliban, no more safe haven for al-Qaeda.

But the campaign stalled in early December, when American commanders decided not to send US troops into the mountains around Tora Bora, and Osama bin Laden escaped-at least that was the conclusion of American intelligence. Since then the war hasn't gone very well. Key al Qaeda leaders remain at large, presumably including bin Laden, though he may be dead. With or without him, our enemy can still operate. A new UN study concludes that ''al-Qaeda is by all accounts 'fit and well' and poised to strike again at its leisure.''

It is sobering to consider how much we still don't know about al Qaeda. German investigators have apparently established that the Sept 11 plot was hatched in Hamburg in a cell led by Mohammed Atta, pilot of one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. Who was Atta's superior? Unknown. Who in al Qaeda's hierarchy helped plan the attack, or approved it? Unknown. What was bin Laden's personal role? Unknown. What did the plot's authors hope would be its result-what are their strategic goals, if any?

In a democracy, voters want to participate. In a community of nations, governments want to participate. The issue isn't whether or not to fight terrorism -a new poll of Europeans and American released last week showed strong support for military action against terrorists. But the same poll showed equally strong sentiment that any such action should be taken in concert with allies, and with the support of the United Nations.

The Americans questioned in this poll demonstrated a lack of enthusiasm for this administration's foreign policies, a warning in an election year. Only 20% of Americans favoured invading Iraq without the support of our allies and the United Nations. On question after question, large majorities preferred acting with allies to acting alone.

But public opinion hasn't yet been a factor, because the country hasn't had a debate about its global status. The United States became the only great power a dozen years ago, but we have never really confronted the implications of this fact. Our political class has largely taken a bye on the biggest questions of our time: How should the United States relate to other countries, and to international institutions? On what terms should we engage with the rest of the world? With what kind of armed forces? And what sort of diplomacy? Has preemptive war become acceptable?

The attacks of Sept 11 announced a profound change in the world. They set us on a new course. But our politicians have let us down by failing to engage the country in a great discussion of the huge questions we face. On Wednesday, when we mark the anniversary of the horror of last Sept 11, we still won't know where we are going, or why. (LA Times-Washington Post)

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