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U.S.: 11 September -- Did Attacks Smash Foundations Of World Order Or Merely Shake Them? (Part 6)


By Jeffrey Donovan/Charles Recknagel

The attacks of 11 September set in motion a series of startling political changes across the globe, from the Taliban's fall and a U.S.-Russia rapprochement to the threat of a new war in Iraq. But did they fundamentally alter the international world order?

Washington/Prague, 6 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- When hijackers flew jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September, they did more than kill some 3,000 people in the most horrific terrorist attack in history.

What Americans have come to call "Nine-Eleven" had a huge impact on the administration of President George W. Bush. With one mighty blow, the White House was forced to turn its gaze outward to the world beyond its borders. And the full consequences of that change, it appears, have yet to be felt.

A self-confessed foreign policy amateur, Bush had been in office a mere eight months on 11 September, yet had already sparked alarm at home and among European allies and Russia for his readiness to pursue U.S. domestic interests at the expense of foreign engagement.

Before 11 September, Bush had announced he would seek to disengage the U.S. from key foreign commitments -- such as peacekeeping in the Balkans -- and to block or withdraw from several treaties with broad global support, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the Kyoto pact on global warming, and accords on biological and chemical weapons.

But any Bush tendency toward what some critics called "isolationism" abruptly ended on 11 September. Visibly shaken, Bush was forced to put a brave face on the worst attack ever on U.S. soil --- and make clear that its repercussions would be felt far beyond America's borders: "The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no mistake. We will show the world that we will pass this test. God bless."

Just as the 11 September attacks transformed Bush's priorities, so, too, did they reshape the way many of America's allies and foes regarded the new U.S. administration.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to call Bush after the attacks and offer him support. Other leaders quickly followed, as previous international criticism of the White House turned into a wave of global sympathy and solidarity. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder expressed a common sentiment: "This is a declaration of war against the entire civilized world."

Bush, with his attention now fully upon foreign affairs, launched a global bid to build support for a war on terrorism. Eventually, he got dozens of nations to back a U.S.-led attack on the Taliban and Al- Qaeda in Afghanistan, or to cooperate non-militarily in the larger counterterrorism effort.

But even as he pursues the international war on terrorism, Bush has maintained his early tendency to act unilaterally. Rather than enlisting NATO to build a global alliance against terrorism, the U.S. president has made arrangements with individual nations instead.

In what has become known as the "Bush doctrine," the U.S. president declared that countries can either be "with us or against us," and that those who harbor terrorists can expect to meet the same fate as Afghanistan under the Taliban. At the same time, he reserved the right for America to strike preemptively to prevent new terrorist attacks against U.S. interests.

As Washington transformed its foreign policy to fight its new war on terrorism, it found a surprisingly receptive partner in Russian President Putin.

Most analysts agree that Putin has seized upon 11 September as a chance to shift Russia strategically toward the West. As America targeted the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Putin acquiesced to an American military presence in Central Asia, offered access to Russian air space for humanitarian flights, and gave Washington strong political and intelligence support.

It was a profound change for a Russian leader who prior to 11 September had appeared to be seeking to improve ties with U.S. foes Iran, North Korea, Iraq, and China in a bid to balance American power.

When Washington announced its unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty in December, Putin reacted by simply restating his commitment to strong U.S.-Russian relations. Moscow and Washington later signed a treaty in Moscow that pledged both sides to deep cuts in strategic warheads but had little of the level of detail of the ABM accord.

Moscow also won a place in a new NATO-Russia Council, was granted "market economy" status by the U.S., and won full membership rights from 2006 in the Group of Eight industrialized countries.

Perhaps most importantly, U.S. criticism of Russia's war on Chechnya dimmed to a virtual whisper after 11 September as Bush himself publicly recognized for the first time that Moscow faced a terrorist threat in the breakaway republic.

Nikolai Zlobin, a Russian political analyst at Washington's Center for Defense Information, says Putin is virtually alone among the Russian public and the country's elite in wanting to steer the country Westward.

For that reason, says Zlobin -- citing recently renewed Russian overtures to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, the three countries in Bush's so-called "axis of evil" -- the verdict is still out on whether Putin's efforts will ultimately succeed: "I think we have to be realistic. We didn't have a lot of improvement between Russia and the United States. We had a lot of improvement between the United States and President Putin. It's quite a difference."

Meanwhile, the U.S. also made some surprising new friends in Central Asia. Previously thought of in Washington as authoritarian backwaters, the Central Asian states were suddenly of key importance to the war in nearby Afghanistan. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan allowed U.S. bases to be set up, and Kazakhstan and Tajikistan granted landing rights.

Analysts say the changes in Central Asia deeply altered the geopolitical balance there, signaling a retreat of Russian power and slowing China's progress toward the region's oil and gas reserves. But they also say the region's autocrats appear to assume an even firmer grip on power, believing the U.S. won't seriously criticize their policies so long as Washington needs their cooperation.

Yet, if the U.S., Russia and Central Asia forged stronger relations, ties between Europe and America cooled off after a brief post-11 September warming.

A key dividing issue between Europe and Washington has been the U.S. withdrawal from a series of international accords such as the Kyoto Protocol and the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, a body Europe hails as a major advancement in human rights.

Jessica Mathews, president of Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says U.S.-European ties took a terrible hit last January when Bush, without consulting his European allies, delivered his now notorious "axis of evil" speech in the course of his State of the Union address.

Things have since gone from bad to worse, she says, with many Europeans now viewing the U.S. as a "rogue colossus" that will pursue its foreign policy goals -- including a possible war in Iraq -- regardless of criticism overseas: "As the scope of the war on terror broadened with the 'axis of evil' speech -- that really lost the Europeans, enormously so. And then, as the Iraqi war option broadened and then the lengthening list of the withdrawal from treaties and the collision over the International Criminal Court, I would say that things are, in this relationship -- the U.S.-European one -- substantially, significantly worse than there were pre-9/11."

Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, has said 11 September opened a new chapter in world history analogous to the period after World War II -- and that the U.S. must seize the moment to refashion the world as it did in 1945.

But with global unease over U.S. power growing, Mathews disputes Rice's view. Mathews says that 11 September and the war on terrorism did not restore "the strategic clarity and unitary purpose" that marked the Cold War era. She believes Rice's view could come true only in one case: if the U.S. acts unilaterally in moving to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- and things go terribly awry. "The only way I can see this being a transforming event is what to me would be the worst-case scenario, which is a decision to make a formal doctrine of preemptive action and to exercise it against Iraq basically alone, and to have that turn out poorly."

Nowhere has Bush's desire to reshape the global order -- and the challenges of doing so -- been clearer than in the Muslim world. Immediately after 11 September, Washington led a bombing campaign that swiftly crushed the Taliban in Afghanistan and brought the opposition into Kabul. But Washington, which started the campaign vowing not to become involved in "nation building," now is deeply enmeshed in Afghanistan's domestic politics.

Today, Afghan Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai -- the target of an assassination attempt on 5 September -- is guarded by U.S. Special Forces soldiers as he confronts problems ranging from establishing central rule to disarming regional warlords to reconstructing the economy.

In neighboring Pakistan, Washington has successfully enlisted President Pervez Musharraf in a crackdown on radical groups with ties to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. But the actions have fanned the long-standing enmity between the country's Islamists and its military government, making the challenge of building a democratic Pakistan even greater, and more urgent, than before.

And in Iran, Washington's deployment of troops to Afghanistan and Central Asia -- and its desire to topple the regime in Baghdad -- have raised fears that the U.S. might eventually target Iran in its war on terrorism as well. The tension has helped Iran's hard-liners silence reformists who in the past have signaled they favor a dialogue with the U.S.

Iran's President Mohammad Khatami recently warned Washington that Tehran would repel any attack by force: "God forbid, if [the U.S.] tries to do something against Iran, we must, with our current capability, be ready to protect our independence and our national interests, and I think the Iranian state, on this issue, has full solidarity."

Such a sense of heightened confrontation is in line with Washington's own tougher stand toward Iran as part of the "axis of evil." But it raises the question of how well the U.S. and Iran can control their differences or whether the crisis will escalate further of its own accord.

As the war on terrorism unfolds, it is generating new discussion of how America can both wage the campaign successfully and continue to extend democratic principles abroad.

In building an antiterrorism coalition, the U.S. has accepted authoritarian allies in Central Asia and in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- the country of origin for all 19 hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks.

Looking at such partnerships, Thomas Friedman, a columnist for "The New York Times," has quipped, "The Bush policy today is to punish its enemies with the threat of democracy and reward its friends with silence on democratization."

But even as Washington accepts authoritarian partners, many in the Bush administration say they believe the root causes of terrorism can only be addressed by urging societies -- particularly in the Middle East -- to adopt democratic and free-market values to make them more stable.

Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert at Washington's conservative American Enterprise Institute, believes commitment to expanding what some Bush advisers call the world's "democratic zone of peace" is a driving force behind the White House's post-11 September foreign policy: "It seems increasingly that the age of realpolitik is over and that the United States foreign policy is going to be a much more 'democracy first' policy."

As one example of the new "democracy drive," Washington has urged democratic reforms in the Palestinian Authority as it backs Israel's call to sideline President Yasser Arafat.

How things ultimately pan out in the new, post-11 September world may depend on how far the White House pushes its "take-it-or-leave-it unilateralism," according to journalist Michael Hirsh.

In the latest issue of the journal "Foreign Policy," Hirsh argues that the Bush administration can either continue to hammer away at the very structures of the global order it built after World War II, or strike a balance between its superpower status and a multilateralism based on global consensus and the rule of law.

Otherwise, he says, the U.S. risks adopting an imperial policy -- and there's never yet been an empire that didn't fall.

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