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Confused, Contradictory Policies: Will Post-9/11 America Lose Its Allies, Its Way?

By Andrew Jack

MOSCOW, 13 June 2002—From the US, home of the politically correct, has come a worrying new trend: an ever stronger dose of domestic intolerance and international hegemony.

That, at least, is how many in Europe see the evolution of US foreign and domestic policy in the wake of the terrorist atrocities of September 11.

There is no denying the outrage and grief triggered by the unjustifiable attacks in New York and Washington, any more than the genuine and widespread worldwide sympathy at the pointless deaths which followed.

Indeed, large numbers of citizens from outside the US, including hundreds from the UK and many more from other European countries, were killed in the Twin Trade Towers, drawing other nations directly into the aftermath.

But the US has taken an increasingly unilateral line since then, and proved itself uncharacteristically intolerant of criticism from European leaders of the course it has adopted.

In doing so, it seems to many to have abandoned or diluted many of its great founding principles of democracy, freedom and tolerance. Lengthy detention without trial; demands for extradition with scant evidence; the possibility of closed, military tribunals; and government pressure on media which prove critical, have all become topics of current concern.

There is some understandable US hostility to European anti-Americanism. But there is also a danger that the Bush administration is pushing too far in its exploitation of the support it receives domestically in its efforts to reduce the future threat of terrorist attack.

At a seminar last month in Moscow, some US congressional leaders argued that only Russia had equivalent experience to their own country in coping with the dangers of terrorist attack.

In doing so, they betrayed an ignorance of the multiple terrorist conflicts that have permeated Europe for decades - the IRA for Britain; ETA for Spain; the Corsican separatists for France; left-wing groups in Italy and Germany - and the realisation that there is no simple solution.

Not to mention the smaller but continuous stream of deaths in political-related violence in other parts of the world - whether in Israel, East Timor, Tajikistan or beyond - over many years.

To claim today that countries that harbour terrorists should be considered enemies, that nations are either good or evil, "with us or against us", ignores both history and the subtleties in the structure of such groups.

It flies in the face of the tolerance shown in the very recent past by the US itself of the active operation and funding of organisations such as Noraid which supported the bloody terrorist acts of the IRA in Northern Ireland over many years.

Not to mention, at least as far as Russian officialdom is concerned, meetings between senior US government officials and representatives of the outlawed regime in Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya.

It also forgets too quickly the past role of the US in supporting and even creating terrorist groups, notably Islamic fundamentals, as it fought proxy wars against the Soviet Union and other enemies, including in Afghanistan itself.

To use the attacks last year to justify the bombing of Iraq - with which there has been no clear sign of any connection to Al Qaeda - is also something which leaves many in countries outside the US perplexed.

Not to mention a continued resistance to any easing of sanctions against Iran, despite a refusal to share evidence on the country's supposed nuclear and terrorist build-up, and a risk that the continued isolation of Iran will simply serve to strengthen the arm of the hardliners in the country against those emerging moderates.

It seems to many in Europe that the solutions proposed by the US - with the exception of certain military strikes - also still focus too much on an exclusively domestic response to terror, at the expense of greater international cooperation which might prove more effective.

After all, it was the in-coming Bush administration which - ahead of September 11 - stalled protocols that would have improved international monitoring of biological weapon threats, and US politicians who blocked further financing to Russia in efforts at stemming the risk of proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons.

A fresh round of introspection about the impact of and the need for change in US foreign policy, instead of simply further reinforcement of its embassy compounds abroad, might be desirable.

In Russia specifically, personal sympathy towards the victims of terrorism in the US (including a number of Russian citizens) has turned to bitterness at the pace with which US policymakers have expanded their influence unilaterally.

Two weeks after September 11, President Vladimir Putin took the historic step of announcing unprecedented cooperation with the international coalition against terrorism, providing valuable intelligence information, offering air corridors and support to the Northern Alliance. All that despite considerable reluctance by most domestic politicians and military advisers at the time, who took a more suspicious view of the West.

In return, the US unilaterally announced its intention to withdraw from the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty; decided to store rather than destroy nuclear warheads; and extended its long-term military presence across Central Asia and even neighbouring Georgia. There was little by the way of fresh economic incentives to "reward" Russia, and to cap it all, the US even imposed new tariffs on Russian exports.

It has to be said that the US has since undertaken a number of initiatives that the Putin administration itself supported, including the attacks against Taliban-run Afghanistan threatened by Mr Putin himself many months ahead of September 11.

After initially scrapping many of the Clinton-era mechanisms for negotiations with Russia, the US has begun to reestablish some of them. It no longer sees Russia as a country that can simply be ignored.

Certainly Mr Putin has played a bad hand well, negotiating from a position of weakness to ensure that a new nuclear reduction treaty exists, rather than simply an informal oral agreement as Mr Bush originally sought.

But the aggressive stance taken by the US risks destabilising Central Asia, alienating European politicians, and making Mr Putin's pro-Western stance more precarious in the process.

Far better that the US, with its liberal and democratic values, "won" the Cold War than the Soviet ideologues. But the dangers of being the world's only superpower also bring demands for a new degree of responsibility to tame the temptations to wield too much of that power and wealth unilaterally.


Andrew Jack is a British journalist based in Moscow and the author of The French Exception (Profile Books, London). He is also a member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque.com.

 

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