U.S. foreign policy takes aggressive turn

Bush administration sees attacks as proof of need to change tack

Six Months After

March 10, 2002|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have propelled American foreign policy along a new course, shifting away from a desire to be a friend to the world and toward an almost single-minded drive to eliminate threats to American lives and to U.S. interests overseas.

With a dazzling display of military power in Afghanistan, the United States forced foes and allies to recognize that the United States is the only world power of any consequence. Having crushed the Taliban government in Afghanistan, U.S. forces are assisting counter-terror campaigns elsewhere while pummeling the remaining Taliban and al-Qaida guerrillas in mountain hide-outs.

And President Bush is laying the diplomatic groundwork for confronting hostile nations that possess chemical and biological weapons and that seek to become nuclear powers. A prime target is Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

But as they acknowledge American resolve and the military's demonstrated skill, critics question whether the Bush administration's emphasis on military muscle will really make the West safer in the long term.

Critics also say that the anti-terrorism campaign fails to address the vast disparities in wealth and festering hatred that help fuel terrorism. They also see the United States making too little effort to end bloodshed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, another source of fuel for terrorism.

"Should we reduce all the world's problems solely to the battle against terrorism?" said French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, who has taken the lead among European leaders in criticizing what he calls America's "heavy-handed tendency." "Must this be waged solely by military means, ignoring the deep-seated causes and roots? That is what would be too simplistic, dangerous and ineffectual."

The attacks of Sept. 11 jolted Americans into a sense of their own vulnerability. For many in the Bush administration, the attacks reinforced previous judgments about what needed to be done and what they saw as the flawed outlook of the Clinton administration.

In place of a vision of expanding opportunity and reduced tension, American policy-makers now see a world of dark corners hiding agents of hatred, a world divided into good and bad, "us vs. them" as at no other time since the Cold War. Where President Bill Clinton sought out economic partners, Bush seeks junior officers in a U.S.-led war on terror.

Hostile regimes with ambitions of becoming nuclear powers can't merely be contained, in his view; they constitute parts of an "axis of evil" that must be weakened and, in at least one case, toppled. Regional wars aren't an American problem unless they directly affect U.S. interests. Longtime allies get consulted, but they don't get a veto.

Bush puts U.S. economic expansion over a drive against global warming, is far from enamored of the concept of international justice and values good intelligence and threat of punishment, rather than treaties, in curbing weapons proliferation.

After the attacks, administration officials recognized that they couldn't defeat al-Qaida in Afghanistan, let alone in the more than 60 countries where it operates, without broad support and diplomatic, intelligence and law-enforcement help from old and new partners overseas. But the United States left no doubt who was in charge.

"Mr. Bush's is a policy very different from that of the Clinton administration," said Josef Joffe, editor of the German newspaper Die Zeit. "Clinton, [Vice President Al] Gore and [Secretary of State Madeleine K.] Albright often confused schmoozing with tough choices.

"W., Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell behave more like `adults' -- laying down the law and sticking to it," he added, referring to the president, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Even allies who chafed at that approach now acknowledge that it got results.

"The president has made no mistakes since Sept. 11," a senior European diplomat said.

The original mission is far from over, however. With a new government beginning to take shape in Kabul and al-Qaida and Taliban fighters mounting fierce resistance, U.S. forces might have to stay in Afghanistan longer than Bush expected, said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

"It's very difficult to tell the American people that we have to continue to take actions that may cost American lives," the Delaware Democrat said. "The president has some very difficult decisions to make."

Osama bin Laden's ability to orchestrate colossal acts of terror might have been disrupted by the destruction of his camps in Afghanistan and the death or imprisonment of many of his followers, but bin Laden remains at large.

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