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New World (War) Order

President Bush's ability to rally a coalition of nations in a war on terrorist networks will depend on how clearly he defines the goals in such a unique style of conflict.

Only then can the United States recover its rightful claim to live in peace.

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His father set a precedent in 1991. As president, the elder Bush rallied 38 nations against Iraq, despite early naysayers. He was articulate, dogged, and victorious. But that war was conventional, with easy targets, and short.

Since then, the world order and the nature of conflict have evolved. The United States military now knows no equal. But it's also never seen or fought extensive terrorist networks.

If, in fact, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks is Osama bin Laden, Americans and their antiterrorism allies face a sustained effort to root out thousands of operatives spread across 50 countries or more. And he runs just one of a dozen or more such terrorist groups.

Many countries have been lax in arresting terrorist plotters on their soil and will be under the gun, perhaps literally, to act. The US will need to cross many borders, its spies infiltrate many alien groups, and its citizens hunker down for a type of conflict that may bring about unexpected reactions against the US.

That's why, in coming days, Mr. Bush faces a challenge in enlisting nations to this cause against the terrorist "scourge," and giving coalition allies reasons other than protecting the US in order to tough it out during the rough spots of conflict.

NATO allies have already stepped forward, living up to a treaty obligation to regard an attack on the US as an attack on them. Moderate Muslim nations will be more difficult. Many define terrorism differently, and their leaders fear being ousted if they crack down too hard on radicals. Other nations, too, may be reluctant to join.

Bush came into office vowing to refocus foreign policy on US interests, rather than spreading American values, such as democracy or human rights, to lands in conflict.

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But now, to win and hold allies in this new war, he'll need to show that a campaign of terrorism now largely directed at the US is a threat to all civilized people. That's not just simple patriotism. That's an embrace of humanity and its higher hopes.