|A slight case of hubris
With the Taliban regime destroyed and the al-Qaeda organisation deprived of its bases in Afghanistan, the hawks in the Bush administration are in full charge. Last weekend, American military officers were in Somalia meeting with warlords from the Rahanwein Resistance Army to discuss a joint attack on that countrys fledgling government, and Undersecretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ryan Crocker was in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq laying the groundwork for an assault on Saddam Husseins regime.
The next phase of the war on terrorism may be no further away than the traditional New Years hang-over, and the voices of doubt and dissent in Washington have almost all been stilled. Bombing works is the cry, and casualty-free victories are coming to be taken for granted in the United States, and almost anything seems possible. The ancient Greeks call this state of mind hubris and expected Nemesis to follow.
Elsewhere, the sense is that the United States is over-extending itself, and alarm among its closest allies is growing. On 11 December, for example, Britains Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, warned that the emotionally satisfying fireworks in Afghanistan had hardly affected the real level of the terrorist threat. Al-Qaeda, he said, remains "a fielded, resourced, dedicated and essentially autonomous terrorist force, quite capable of atrocity on a comparable scale" to the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September.
Of course it does. The attacks on the United States were not planned and prepared in caves in Afghanistan, though bin Laden was doubtless kept informed. They were planned and prepared and in all likelihood thought up as well by autonomous cells of al-Qaeda based in Europe and the United States.
The whole Afghan sideshow, like the forthcoming ones in Somalia, Iraq and elsewhere, will have only a marginal impact on the ability of those cells to act.
Indeed, the long-term effect of such extended bombing campaigns could be to expand the recruiting base for al-Qaeda and like-minded organisations both in the Muslim world and the diaspora.
As Admiral Boyce put it, the risk is that handing over Western security policy to a "hi-tech 21st-century posse" will radicalise the entire Muslim world, and produce a global confrontation far more serious than the dramatic but strictly limited threats posed by occasional terrorist strikes. Indeed, a failure to wage a campaign for "hearts and minds" (and he actually said those deeply unfashionable words) will probably make the terrorist threat worse too.
Britain is not Americas enemy. Prime Minister Tony Blair has been Washingtons closest ally, donning pom-poms and tassels to cheer-lead the US war on terrorism, and the British army will both command and provide the biggest contingent for the peace-keeping force that arrives in Afghanistan to take the place of the limited US forces that have been committed on the ground within a month. (The United States doesnt do nation-building, and it doesnt do ground warfare much either any more .)
Admiral Boyce was not just saying the first thing that came into his head. Such speeches are vetted at cabinet level, and the anxieties Boyce expressed are those that all of Americas friends and allies feel as Washington, encouraged by the easy Afghan victory, plunges on to new campaigns. But nobody in the White House is listening.
Three months ago, as the United States was busy rounding up support for its new war on terrorism, there was a brief pause in the Bush administrations relentless war against any treaties that might constrain American power in any way, but the unilateralist drive has now resumed with full force.
The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is being cancelled with six months notice, and the US will push ahead with Bushs beloved Ballistic Missile Defence despite near-universal misgivings among friends and allies. Washington recently blocked moves to tighten the convention aimed at prohibiting the development of biological weapons. It has forced European countries to put their plans for a joint NATO-Russia council on hold for at least six months: it doesnt want its old allies and its new one to get too cozy. Even when it does make a commitment as with Bushs recent verbal agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin on cutting missile numbers it doesnt want to commit the deal to writing.
This combination of technological hubris and ideological triumphalism is leading the Bush administration into dangerous waters. The United States is a big, rich, powerful and technologically innovative country, but it is still only 4 percent of the worlds population. In the sixty years since the Pearl Harbour attack pulled it into the Second World War and made it a full-time player in global politics, it always played the alliance game because successive administrations all understood that even American power could be over-stretched.
If that lesson now has to be re-learned, we are all in for a rough time.
|NEWS | OPINION | BUSINESS | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS | MIDWEEK|