The Road Not Traveled




It’s hard to believe now. Immediately after 9/11, the international community had a lot of sympathy and support for Washington.

Even the French found nice things to say about the United States. Le Monde, never one for trans-Atlantic sentimentalism bannered the now famous editorial, “We are all Americans, ” seeing the attack as an assault on more than just the U.S.

“[B]ecause of the number of victims, the methods used and the symbols targeted, unleashed a wave of solidarity with America for which there is no historical precedent.”

What’s more, in an unprecedented move, the leaders of NATO invoked Article 5 of its charter to treat the attack on America as an attack on all NATO members.

These days Le Monde is singing a different tune. On the second anniversary of 9/11, the editors of the French paper argued that the once seemingly endless fount of compassion that the world had for America has dried up: “Compassion has given way to the fear that ill-considered actions are aggravating the problems and that the fight against terrorism is a pretext to extend U.S. hegemony.” (Translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.) Underscoring the erosion of sympathy, Le Monde ran a cartoon yesterday reminding us that the anniversary of the World Trade Center bombings is also the anniversary of the CIA-backed coup that toppled Chilean president Salvador Allende and installed Augusto Pinochet, a dictator, in his place. The cartoon shows a plane, marked “U.S.” barrelling toward two towers, marked “Chile.”

So what happened?

Bush’s aggressive uniliteral approach to Iraq alienated his European counterparts, writes Asia Times:

“Those Western European nations – mainly France and Germany – which disagreed with the invasion of Iraq were berated at the official level in the US as part of “old” Europe in official circles and as practitioners of the Kantian philosophy of peace and harmony in the semi-official neo-conservative circles in Washington.

The notion of “old” became a euphemism for anachronistic thinking that does not recognize the use of military power as a panacea for what ails the extant authoritarian and totalitarian political systems. The Kantian label was a euphemism for Pollyannaish wimpishness that has purportedly entrenched in the thinking of some Western European leaders. The trans-Atlantic harmony among allies and friend became a victim of the swagger of American unilateralism.”

For The Guardian the problem lies in Bush’s “ill-conceived” antiterrorism campaign, which does nothing to address the heart of the problem:

The war on terrorism, almost by definition, is infinite and unwinnable. No political leader is ever going to claim “victory” because that would be tempting fate. The best we can hope for is that it will eventually fade to more manageable proportions.

It is also a war against an undefined, nebulous enemy.

The war, as conceived by Mr Bush, also treats terrorism in a vacuum, as a phenomenon that is simply evil and not the product of history or circumstance: never mind the injustices or the violence committed by governments – all that the suicide bombers want is a business-class ticket to paradise.

Iraq itself had no direct connection with September 11, but attacking it soon became part of the cathartic process. In the absence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (the official pretext for the invasion) President Bush now has to look for other reasons to justify the American presence – which the Ba’athists and others have helpfully provided.

That, in a nutshell, is why the war on terror will never be won. Mr Bush needs terrorists as much as the terrorists need Mr Bush.”

Bush had a chance, after 9/11, to unite the world behind him. He didn’t take it, and so, writes Fred Kaplan in Slate, he squandered an “historic opportunity“:

“Ever since the crumbling of the Soviet Union, foreign-policy specialists had been wondering how to create a new world order for an era that lacked a common enemy. Now, suddenly, here was that enemy. And here was a moment when the world viewed America with more empathy than it had in the past half-century. An American leader could have taken advantage of that moment and reached out to the world, forged new alliances, strengthened old ones, and laid the foundations of a new, broad-based system of international security for the post-Cold War eraÑmuch as Harry Truman and George Marshall had done in the months and years following World War II.

But George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice did not take that path. Aside from letting a handful of NATO’s AWACS radar planes come help patrol American skies, Bush’s response was a shockingly terse: Thanks, but no thanks; we’ll handle it by ourselves.

The effect, of course, was to alienate the allies just as they were rediscovering their affections. As London’s conservative Financial Times later put it, ‘A disdainful refusal even to respond to a genuine offer of support from close allies, at the time of America’s most serious crisis in decades, spoke volumes about its attitude to the alliance.'”

Last week, of course, Bush and Co. rediscovered the advantages of international cooperation, petitionng for help from the U.N. (Never mind that just last year the U.N was an obsolete organization that we had no use for.) Paul Krugman, in his column for The New York Times, muses on Bush’s change of heart:

“A funny thing happened last week: The Bush administration, with its aggressive unilateralism and its contempt for diplomacy and international institutions, suddenly staked its fortunes on the kindness of foreigners.

Having squandered our military strength in a war he felt like fighting, even though it had nothing to do with terrorism, President Bush is now begging the cheese eaters and chocolate makers to rescue him.”

So does that mean we are all Americans again?

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