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Our Brave New World
Essays on the impact of September 11
By Wladyslaw Pleszczynski
Hoover Institution PressCopyright © 2002 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
The New New World Order
America and the New Geopolitics
IN THE EARLY 1990s, during the heady months that followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the world's diplomats, statesmen, and journalists competed to describe and define the shape of the new, post-Cold War world. The straightforward set of rules that had governed American foreign policy since the 1940s no longer applied. Our "friends" were no longer defined by their anticommunism, and our "enemies" were no longer defined by their affiliation with the Soviet Union. Many of the institutions created during the Cold War suddenly seemed irrelevant — NATO among them — and many of the specialists who had worked in these institutions suddenly found themselves at loose ends.
Some of the responses to the new situation were philosophical. Optimists like Frances Fukuyama claimed that we had reached the "End of History": liberal democracy and capitalism had triumphed, ideological struggle was over for good. Pessimists like Samuel Huntington predicted the opposite: the onset of new "civilizational" wars between the West, Islam, and the Confucian world. Almost unnoticed, a very, very few people — oddballs like Gary Hart and Peggy Noonan — predicted that international terrorism would soon threaten American society, replacing the threat of nuclear war.
In the event, most of the institutional and political responses to the new situation had very little to do with any of these schools of thought. Instead, they developed ad hoc, in response to crises like the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or the Balkan wars. If American policymakers had any philosophy at all, it was usually a rather superficial version of Fukuyama's optimism: the world is getting safer, and our job is to help it get safer faster. During what will now be remembered as the post-Cold War era — the long decade that stretched from November 1989 to September 2001 — many practitioners of foreign policy did not think much about new threats that might face the United States. Instead, they argued about what it meant to conduct foreign policy in a world without any central threat at all.
As a result, there was no real organizing American diplomatic principle to speak of. True, George Bush Senior invented the phrase the "New World Order." But he had no policy to go with it: once the Gulf War ended, the coalition he had built to fight it quickly fell apart. Bill Clinton did have plenty of policies, but no philosophy with which to link them. "Nationbuilding" was the phrase sometimes used to talk about American policy in the Balkans and in Haiti. "Democracy-promotion" is perhaps more accurate. In practice, this meant that all around the world — in China, in Russia, in Malaysia, all over Africa, and above all in Serbia — the United States lectured and scolded and promoted its system, complaining about the closure of opposition newspapers, protesting the incarceration ofopposition leaders. The State Department issued annual assessments of other countries' human rights records. NATO spent some of its time debating the pros and cons of enlargement, and even more of its time organizing peace-keeping operations in the Balkans. At the same time, more tasks were shifted onto the backs of multilateral institutions, the U.N. in particular, which were not prepared to shoulder the burdens of managing the world.
Some of these policies were not new. The United States had been promoting human rights abroad at least since the era of Jimmy Carter. In the past, however, democracy-promotion was part of the Cold War, and could be justified at home and abroad on those grounds. Promoting democracy for its own sake turned out to be more difficult, politically, than might have been expected. Professional diplomats hated it. One told me recently of the relief he feels, knowing he will no longer have to spend his days pushing American values down other peoples' unwilling throats. Congressmen hated it too, since they could never explain to their constituents where the American national interest lay in Kosovo. The business community couldn't understand why the oppression of Tibet need disrupt their trade with China. Ordinary Americans could never follow the intricacies of democracy-promotion, and have, as a result, consistently refused to read, think, or even speak about foreign affairs for the past decade.
But even human rights activists hated the inconsistencies of U.S. foreign policy. Everyone knew that the United States complained far more about the anti-democratic policies of indebted Kenya than it did about the far nastier anti-democratic policies of oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Everyone knew that the United States placed sanctions on India and Pakistan for possessing nuclear weapons, but not on Israel. Democracy-promotion pleased no one, not even those who spent all their time promoting it.
In retrospect, it is now clear that the high point, as well as the last hurrah, of the post-Cold War decade was the Community of Democracies conference. Organized under the patronage of then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, it took place in Warsaw, in June 2000, and was attended by dozens of foreign ministers, from South Korea, from Benin, from Eastern and Western Europe. Her goal, Albright explained, was to persuade the world's democracies to start voting together and promoting their joint interests in international institutions, much as geographical caucuses do within the U.N. That sounded innocuous enough — but the conference was a flop. The meetings consisted of empty rhetorical exchanges. The conference statements were bland and predictable. In the planning stages, the delegates argued bitterly over who qualifies as a democracy, a question that was in the end resolved by American diktat, creating enormous resentments. The Russians refused to send a high-level representative; the Iranians were furious that they had been excluded. The conference received no media coverage whatsoever — at least until the French walked out. Refusing to sign the final declaration, the French foreign minister argued that the caucus would be nothing but another means for the United States to promote its interests abroad. Off the record, others agreed.
But the real trouble with Albright's ill-fated conference was the policy behind it. Democracy, it turned out, was too vague and ill-defined for diplomats and politicians to promote: it was like trying to promote "niceness," or "peace." All of which explains, in part, the breathtaking speed with which democracy-promotion is now being dismantled, and the mind-boggling rapidity with which the new paradigm, the War on Terrorism — the New New World Order — is now falling into place. Clearly, the administration had more immediate concerns in the autumn of 2001 — the war in Afghanistan, the international investigation of terrorist financing — but these will pale, in the long term, beside the foreign policy revolution which has only just begun.
THE BEGINNINGS OF A LONG WAR
To be fair, not all of the diplomatic changes that occurred in the autumn of 2001 are the direct result of the events of September 11. From the time of his election, George W. Bush's administration had a very different foreign policy agenda from that of its predecessors. More interested in self-defense, less interested in self-promotion, the new government had, by the autumn of 2001, already begun to prepare the American public and the rest of the world for a long debate about missile defense. In effect, the administration was already thinking about fighting terrorism, albeit a very specific, missile-guided sort of terrorism. This was not enough to prepare the United States for the attacks on New York and Washington, but it did mean that when the attacks occurred, the Bush administration was able to turn American foreign policy around very quickly. But the situation itself also made the government's task easier. Suddenly, the War on Terrorism, like the Cold War, provided the administration with both a practical and a philosophical guide to foreign policy, of a kind that the United States had not had since 1989.
Within days, the first building blocks of the New New World Order fell into place. Immediately, we had new allies, selected not for the quality of their free press but for the degree of cooperation they seemed likely to provide for the duration of what is going to be a long struggle against a new kind of enemy. Notably, they include Russia and China, two states with which we had previously been at odds. They also include Russia's Central Asian satrapies, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, both of whom have allowed us to use their territory for military purposes, something that was once unthinkable.
We also have new, more intense, and sometimes more complicated relationships with some of our older friends. Most obviously these include Western Europe and Israel (as I will explain in more depth), but there are others as well. Our relationships with India and Pakistan, for example, are suddenly both warmer and more difficult. Pakistan has already received huge injections of aid and support. During the war in Afghanistan, Pakistani officials worked more closely with their U.S. counterparts than they ever had in the past. At the same time, because there are strong links between al-Qaeda and Muslim separatists in Kashmir, the Indian government immediately offered its bases to the United States after September 11. As a result, when tensions between the two countries began to rise in the wake of a Kashmiri terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001, the United States found itself in an unfamiliar position. On the one hand, we were prisoners of our own rhetoric, bound to sympathize with the Indian victims of terror. On the other hand, we were in the unfamiliar position of dependence upon Pakistani troops, whose help we needed to patrol the Afghan-Pakistani border. In the past, we would have stayed as far away as possible from such a conflict. Now, we were drawn in, by both sides, by our own interests. It isn't impossible to imagine such a thing happening again, in north Africa, say, or the Middle East.
Our institutions are changing too. The purely theoretical and rather dull military debates of the past decade — along the lines of "should we be prepared to fight one large war or two small wars" — have suddenly given way to very concrete, very practical discussions about how to best defend Americans at home, and how to track down terrorists abroad. NATO has ceased to be a comfort club for Eastern European countries waiting to get into the European Union. Dusty, forgotten bits of the State Department — the Nuclear Non-Proliferation bureaucracy, for example — have already begun to receive more attention, more money, more influence, while others will be downgraded. Given the new terrorist threats to world leaders, for example, it would not be unreasonable to abandon the bloated, unnecessary, G7 summits altogether.
The role and relative importance of multilateral institutions has already changed too. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the American government instinctively looked not to the EU and the U.N., but to Britain's Prime Minister Blair, France's President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin, Germany's Chancellor Schroeder. No one wanted to talk to Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy spokesman. The U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, was hardly a major player in the first stages of the Afghan conflict either: when a real war needs to be fought, U.N. troops can't do it, and the EU's nonexistent army wasn't much help either. More broadly, all talk of a "post-patriotic" or a "post-nationalist" world — in which transnational institutions would gradually take over the management of the world's affairs — now seems redundant as well. In the wake of September 11, the nation-state suddenly looks like the only political institution capable of waging the long war against the terrorist threat.
These changes are permanent — although not everybody knows it yet. In the wake of the Taliban's collapse, many Americans began to relax, to hanker after a return to "normality" and the old days of "the economy, stupid." But it is too early to relax. The Taliban were toppled, but terrorism did not disappear along with them. Nor will it disappear, not in this generation, or even in the lifetime of anyone old enough to read this sentence. It has become clear, for starters, that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda is no small group of plotters, but rather a network of tens of thousands of trained fanatics, "spread throughout the world like time bombs, set to go off without warning," in the words of President Bush.
Nor is al-Qaeda likely to prove the last organization of its sort. The peculiar attributes of Western capitalism — its tendency to disrupt traditional ways of life, its materialism, its cosmopolitan nature — have produced enemies in the past. Parallels have been drawn between the Nazi cult of heroic sacrifice, Japanese kamikaze pilots — and the Afghan who told a British newspaper in the early days of the war that "Americans love Pepsi-Cola, but we love death." Capitalism, of which America has become the symbol, will also continue to produce enemies in the future, and they will not necessarily live in distant parts. Among the al-Qaeda prisoners whom the American army held captive in Guantanamo Bay were men from the Arab world, from Africa, from South Asia — and from Western Europe.
Indeed, the very existence of these Europeans, three Britons and up to seven Frenchmen, disproves the thesis that lay at the heart of democracy-promotion, the traditional thesis of benign global liberalism: that the more people of different cultures come into contact with one another, the more they will find common economic and other interests, and the more likely it is that they will remain at peace. These ten European terrorists were not just similar to us: they were us. Just like the al-Qaeda activists who started dreaming of destroying the World Trade Center from their universities in Hamburg, the ten Europeans in U.S. captivity chose to fight the West not because they were ignorant of the West, but because they knew it all too well.
If, in the future, others of their ilk choose to keep up that fight, the technology is already available. By this, I don't mean that al-Qaeda's plans to make chemical weapons were probablyalready well advanced, or that nuclear technology is now readily available, although all of that is true. I mean, rather, that the attacks of September 11 were not the result of recent advances in fiber optics or information technology: it has been possible to use an airplane to hit a large building for the better part of a century. The explosives that suicide bombers are using to terrorize West Jerusalem aren't exactly of recent invention either. While the latter don't necessarily kill vast numbers of people, they've seriously damaged the Israeli economy, not to mention the Israeli psyche, shaping Israeli politics and security policy for years to come. Any group of ideologically driven people could, with sufficient numbers, achieve the same in New York City — starting tomorrow.
Debate about whether all this is good or bad will, of course, continue. Writing in the online journal Slate, for example, William Saletan pointed out that maintaining close relationships with unpleasant regimes will ultimately cast doubt upon our claim to be fighting against terrorists, and in favor of "progress and pluralism," just as they once cast doubt on our claims to be promoting democracy. Others, by contrast, have rejoiced in the end of democracy-promotion. "We cannot re- engineer other societies, and we risk enormous resentment when we try," wrote Claudia Rosett in the Wall Street Journal.
Much of the general public, however, is likely to approve of the new foreign policy. Like the Cold War, the War on Terrorism appeases the idealism of Americans: we are, after all, fighting to rid the world of an evil. But it also appeals to our realism. No intellectual contortions are required to explain why the fight against Osama bin Laden is well within the sphere of America's national interest. At least for the moment, the "body-bag syndrome" — America's inclination to retreat rapidly from any conflict that might actually kill an American — has vanished.
NEW COMPLICATIONS AND OLD STICKING POINTS
But although the logic of the War on Terrorism is straightforward, the events of September 11 have not suddenly made the world into a simple place. One of the dangers of the New New World Order is that it appears, like the Cold War, to make the world appear less complicated than it actually is. They may seem straightforward, but all of our new policies, our new friendships, and our new enemies bring with them new dangers. To counter them, we will need to think very creatively indeed. After a decade in which foreign policy was considered virtually irrelevant — a decade in which the CIA virtually failed to hire any Arabic speakers — there is no guarantee that our foreign policy establishment will rise to the task.
Excerpted from Our Brave New World by Wladyslaw Pleszczynski. Copyright © 2002 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
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