New fears, new alliances : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

October 2, 2001

New Fears, New Alliances


HEVY CHASE, Md. -- Without any systematic analysis, without the usual process of review among government departments, the United States has adopted an entirely new foreign policy. By elevating the fight against terrorism to the highest priority, the Bush administration has changed the basic premises of American involvement overseas. America's policy now implies the formation of a new antiterrorist alliance with Russia, China and India as well as members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Japan and other nations.

Such a great-power alliance for international order has not been seen since the mid-19th century, when the threat came from liberal revolutionaries rather than religious fanatics. Inevitably, the new foreign policy collides with old priorities, whether in regard to human rights in China, for example, or missile defense, which can no longer be imposed on Russia because we need it as an ally.

The revolution in American foreign policy came about immediately after Sept. 11. When the United States demanded that Pakistan reverse its unstinting support of the Taliban, the Bush administration discovered an alliance waiting to happen. India was, of course, ready and willing to help the United States which made it imperative that Pakistan, India's chief rival, play along with Washington. The alternative for Pakistan was extreme political isolation.

Pakistan was the first new ally if just an ally of convenience to join the American fight against terrorism. Pakistan is also known to have supported terrorism. For those who wonder whether the United States, in the current crisis, will make alliances with unsavory states, the answer can only be that it already has and did so immediately.

The Russian reaction was equally swift. Instead of protesting against American bullying, the Russians proposed cooperation, an offer that has acquired more substance with each passing day. American military units now operate from ex-Soviet bases in Central Asia with Moscow's full endorsement.

As Pakistan's ally, China might have been expected to back an independent stance by the government of General Pervez Musharraf. It did not. In spite of the serious tensions in American-Chinese relations earlier this year, the decisive factor for China, as for Russia, proved to be the Islamist threat. There have been bombs on buses in China and many attacks in the western region of Xinjiang.

This new antiterrorist alliance will surely be strengthened by the confrontation with the Taliban, who have made Afghanistan a training ground and safe haven for anti-Russian, anti-Chinese and anti-Indian terrorists, as well as for Osama bin Laden's network. European governments also are ready to do their part by investigating Islamist circles that have long aroused the concern of their police and security services.

But the new alliance is bound to be tested when the struggle to force the Taliban to expel their terrorist allies is followed by efforts against other Islamist terrorist organizations. That is what President Bush has promised. He has no other choice: the United States can neither abandon the struggle against transnational terrorists nor hope to pursue it successfully by fighting only groups that have targeted Americans. That would soon lose the support of allies old and new, depriving America of essential diplomatic and intelligence cooperation.

At the same time, each of the states reported to sponsor Islamist terrorism at minimum, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria has connections with one or more members of the new coalition. All of these states have business ties with NATO members, for example. As soon as any substantive action is proposed against these states, reservations are likely to emerge from Russia, China or India.

Iran is a particularly hard case. Its official funds sustain Hezbollah, with its long record of spectacular terrorist attacks. Hezbollah, however, does not get its support from Iran's elected and moderate president and government. It is sponsored by the unelected clerics who retain supreme power through their control of the police forces and who oppose any further opening to the non-Muslim world. To impose sanctions on Iran could therefore be counterproductive. Besides, for Russia, Iran is a mostly cooperative near-neighbor in the troubled Caucasus and an important customer. Nor does China or India have any reason to spoil its good relations with Iran.

For the United States, at least, Saudi Arabia poses another hard case. Its ruling family has long been allied with the United States, and its relations with President Bush and his father have been downright convivial. Yet the Saudi ruling family finances over a hundred Islamic centers around the world that propagate its creed, Wahabism, the most rigid form of Islam, which rejects tolerance of other religions. Saudi-financed preachers and teachers everywhere inveigh against the moderation of traditional Muslim clerics. Their well-appointed schools and mosques have been hospitable to anti-Western extremists.

The United States has long lived with this paradox, but in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, whose perpetrators included Saudi citizens, it would be imprudent to overlook this connection any longer. It would be futile to hunt down one Osama bin Laden while America's ally is nurturing many more.

The obstacles seem formidable, but they need not block the struggle against Islamist violence. The new American foreign policy will require constant dialogue with allies, old and new, in a process of give and take that will consolidate the transformation of international relations that started on Sept. 11.

We will see, over time, what price the United States will have to pay to hold its alliance together. To retain support against anti-American terrorists, the United States must also oppose the terrorist enemies of China, India and Russia. The first list of proscribed organizations issued by the United States already includes groups fighting in Kashmir that might be considered freedom fighters by other lights. Nor will America find it easy to continue its criticism of Russia's war in Chechnya, where Moscow is fighting an Islamist threat as well as a national independence movement.

After Sept. 11, many sharp choices have had to be made, and there will be many more. Antiterrorism seems unarguable as a political common ground for diverse nations. Terrorism has very few explicit advocates. But questions of definition loom large indeed, and the revolution in international affairs has made finding the right answers vastly more important than it was just a few weeks ago.

Edward N. Luttwak is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

-- Swissrose (, October 02, 2001

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