POST-SEPT. 11 U.S. POLICY SOWS SEEDS OF GLOBAL BACKLASH
By Graham Fuller
Graham E. Fuller, a former vice chairman of the CIAs National
Intelligence Council and one of the U.S. intelligence communitys
top experts on Islam, was once political officer of the U.S. embassy in
WASHINGTON -- The Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11 drastically altered
the character of international relations, with rising tensions accompanying
a stunning American lurch toward unilateralism. The critical question
is how permanent the new features of the geopolitical landscape prove
For Americans the September events represented a rude coming of age as
the costs of being the worlds sole superpower struck home and created
a harsh challenge to Americas civil liberties. But for the rest
of the world Sept. 11 unleashed an open-ended U.S. war on terror, whose
implications are as yet far from clear.
The U.S. war in Afghanistan toppled the Taliban regime and dealt a severe
blow to Al Qaedas infrastructure and freedom of maneuver. But Al
Qaeda has survived and gone on to represent not just a symbol of radical
attack on U.S. power but to denote in U.S. official pronouncements almost
any group of Muslims anywhere who perceive the United States as the enemy
-- diverse groups whose numbers are probably growing.
Even more ominously, the events of the past year raise the disturbing
possibility that Osama bin Laden may have largely succeeded in imposing
his agenda of cultural warfare between the United States and the Muslim
world for the foreseeable future.
Justifiably or not, today most Muslims view the intrusive war against
terrorism as a war against Islam. As a result the Muslim world has reverted
to a defensive, hunker-down mode, with U.S. actions crowding off deeper
Muslim reflection on Bin Ladens impact upon their own world. The
incursion in Afghanistan, the overwhelming pressures on Pakistan, Saudi
Arabia, Yemen and Syria, followed by a U.S. political struggle against
the Palestinian leadership, a probable future massive war against Iraq,
possible U.S. strikes against military targets in Iran, and the singling
out of Muslims in the United States for special investigation have convinced
Muslims that they are indeed the target of the war. Samuel Huntingtons
thesis of a clash of civilizations is becoming
a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But all these events took place in reaction to a justifiable need to identify,
deter or eliminate terrorists. The real revolution has been wrought in
the new overarching philosophy of U.S. foreign policy that emerged in
the name of the war on terror. We witness a retreat from an evolving generalized
sympathy for smaller liberal governance and toward restoration of powerful,
more intrusive government, marked by a strong state and tight borders.
The change is not limited to the United States. In the process of seeking
allies for the anti-terrorist struggle, the United States has relegitimized
and empowered a range of authoritarian regimes and governing styles, all
of which have embraced the war on terror to justify internal crackdowns,
especially against their own minority Muslim populations -- in places
such as Russia, China, India and the Philippines. Authoritarianism in
general has been emboldened across most of the Muslim world.
More broadly, the Bush administration and its neo-conservative ideologists
have suspended traditional geopolitics around the globe as the totality
of American foreign relations fall subservient to the war on terror. Unilateralism
-- the ideological preference of the Bush administration from the outset
-- has been powerfully reinforced as Washington has moved away from international
consultation and cooperation if it imposes the slightest restrictions
on U.S. freedom of action.
Indeed, the administration in private does not even shy away from the
American imperium concept, a form of empire that historically has invoked
deep discomfort within the country. Americans are far from sure what this
will mean for them, and, depending on the cost of the project, they may
not want it at all. But they are not yet ready to challenge the breathtaking
pace of policy evolution emerging from the White House.
Most dramatically, with the collapse of its Twin Towers icon, globalization
has suffered a grievous blow. Globalization is now a far shakier concept
in American thinking, with the recognition that terrorism is part of it.
With the supreme U.S. foreign policy goal of absolute security for the
American homeland, globalization has taken a back seat: We see a severe
setback in the free movement of goods, peoples, even ideas, across U.S.
borders and internationally. Indeed we might say we are witnessing securitization
becoming the dominant characteristic of globalization in the new post-Sept.
In specific policy terms, much of the geopolitical map has been reshuffled.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are now shaky American clients that could plunge
into chaos at any point. The United States is closer to India and Russia
for the moment and drifting away from Europe -- now irrelevant
to most U.S. global concerns. China has become a big loser as its major
presence in Central Asia has been preempted by the new U.S. political
and military presence there.
Undeniably serious problems of bad governance in the Muslim world are
indeed a major source of instability and terrorism. And defensive Muslim
reactions to the Bin Laden attacks and the war on terror have contributed
to a dangerous domestic debate in America, with potentially sweeping implications
for U.S. foreign policy. A debate about Islam
has appeared in which pro-Israeli and Christian Zionist are the overwhelmingly
dominant voices in a media far less open and liberal than one year ago.
In the wake of these events, the United States is deeply allied with the
hardest line Israeli government in history. Any suggestion of linkage
between trouble abroad and U.S. foreign policy is dismissed out of hand,
considered a public relations problem.
In the neo-conservative vision of a new American imperium, Muslim states
rank high on the list of those requiring radical reworking. And today
Muslims are the de facto enemy in what passes for public discussion in
the country. Consequently, U.S. relations with the Muslim world have reached
an unprecedented depth and are still falling -- even the long untouchable
U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia is now under direct attack.
Democratization -- a desperately needed commodity in the Middle East if
the region is ever to climb out of its current desperate shape -- has
been selectively adopted by the Bush administration as a weapon to be
used against its Muslim enemies, and not to be seriously discussed with
authoritarian friends. Dangerous regimes with
dangerous weapons are indeed a potential threat, but preemptive war is
on its way to becoming a preferred tool of policy.
What will be the duration of this astonishing trend toward an American
imperium? Does it truly represent a new American vision, or simply that
of George W. Bushs ideological counselors? If the present process
continues over the next two years of the Bush administration, will the
United States eventually fall victim to the classic disease associated
with such projects, imperial overreach?
The American publics appetite would seem to be limited for this
new foreign policy project, especially as various price tags become evident.
But even if Bush does succeed in the military phases, how long will this
suspension of normal international geopolitics persist? Judging by history,
not long. Seeds of backlash are already present.
(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 8/29/02)