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Global Terrorism, Domestic Order, and the United States

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3. The U.S. Response to the Terrorist Attack

In his September 20 speech before Congress after the terrorist attack, President George W. Bush vowed, "I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people." In that speech, Bush set forth his plans--as leader of the world's only remaining superpower--for eliminating the threat to order posed by international terrorism. So it is worthwhile to quote selective sections. First, Bush defined the victims of the September 11 attack as people from around the world. The victims included

the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own: dozens of Pakistanis; more than 130 Israelis; more than 250 citizens of India; men and women from El Salvador, Iran, Mexico and Japan; and hundreds of British citizens.[38]

Later, he said, that this is not "just America's fight":

And what is at stake is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.

Contending that the attack on America was a crime against the world community, Bush defined the enemy in an equally sweeping way:

Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them. Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.

By including supportive foreign governments in the scope of the U.S. response to terrorism, Bush signaled that a nation's claim of sovereignty would not limit the U.S. acting as world policeman to eliminate terrorism.[39] Moreover, the world's superpower would not draw back in exercising its self- assumed police power:

We will direct every resource at our command--every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war--to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.
. . .
We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

An estimated 88 percent of the U.S. public viewed or read Bush's speech to Congress, and nine in ten judged it as "excellent"(62%) or "good" (25%).[40] Although the American public overwhelmingly approved Bush's speech--and 89 percent favored taking "military action in retaliation" for the attack- many worried about the specific military action that Bush would take. In a nationwide telephone poll of 619 people taken on the evening of September 11, 71 percent of the respondents felt that the U.S. should refrain from military strikes until it could identify "the terrorist organization's responsible for today's attack, even if it takes months to clearly identify them."[41] However, only 45 percent of the respondents were "very confident" in Bush's ability to handle the situation, and about 20 percent were not confident that he was up to the job.

Bush--who had not traveled much abroad and was unschooled in foreign affairs--was viewed by many (even at home) as a "cowboy" who distrusted international institutions and cooperation. He unabashedly promoted American interests over the concerns of foreign nations and spoke disparagingly about involving the military in "nation building" projects in countries troubled by internal conflict. Eventually, an overwhelming majority in the country was pleasantly surprised by his actions, which showed focus and patience.

Bush's Focus: The events of September 11 changed Bush himself, causing him to focus on foreign affairs to the virtual exclusion of domestic politics. Within days, political reporters were writing about a "transformed" presidency.[42] Bush told his cabinet that nothing about their roles would ever be the same--that everything paled before the war on terrorism, which he said, "is the purpose of our administration." A top aide said, "The terrorist attacks impacted him personally . . . His days have changed." Two weeks later, the same aide observed, "The question in meetings is, 'How is this helping or hurting our effort to fight global terrorism?"[43]

Bush's Patience: Most scholars who closely follow international politics were relieved that Bush did not strike back quickly and blindly with military force. As early as September 14, Congress had granted him authority to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized committed or aided the terrorist attacks . . . or harbored such organizations or persons." Instead, Bush proposed building a "global coalition against terrorism."[44] The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had already responded by invoking (for the first time) the treaty's Article 5, qualifying the attack on America as an attack on the alliance.[45] By early November, NATO officials began planning for concerted action in support of the antiterrorist campaign. Even earlier, the United States received military support from Canada, Britain, and Germany--among other countries.[46]

That the United States was actively cultivating international support was signaled by three abrupt changes in its foreign policy:

1.Whereas Bush and other Republicans had once embraced the so-called "Powell Doctrine" that required a clear goal before military involvement and a plan for extracting its forces, the United States was heading into an Asian war that prompted frightening comparisons with its Vietnam failure.[47]

2.Whereas President Bush had disparaged using the military in "nation-building" (remaking foreign governments), he now said, "We should not simply leave after a military objective has been achieved."[48]

3.Whereas (as noted above), the United States had for years failed to pay more than $500 million in debt to the United Nations, now the House quickly cleared legislation to pay up.

But most of the public as well as most opinion leaders welcomed these changes and Bush's deliberate approach to framing a response to the terrorist attack.

A policeman seeking new friends:[49] On November 6, less than two months after the attack, Bush spoke via satellite to leaders of Central and Eastern European nations meeting in Warsaw. Seeking to broaden his coalition against global terrorism, Bush said, "You are our partners in the fight against terrorism, and we share an important moment in history." Noting that their citizens had lived for nearly fifty years under totalitarian regimes, he warned, "Today our freedom is threatened once again." This time, he said, the threat came from an global network of terrorists operating in more than sixty nations, including their own. He asked for their support in building "an international coalition of unprecedented scope and cooperation" to conduct the war against terrorism.[50]

There was something poignant about Bush's appeal to leaders whose countries more than a decade ago were allied with the former Soviet Union against the United States. Literally overnight, the terrorist attack on September 11 had transformed American global policy. In Secretary of State Colin Powell's words, the situation called for a "new strategic framework" in America's relationships with other nations.[51] Now former communist countries were being courted as allies. Even Russia was solicited for support, and President Vladimir Putin responded by accepting the deployment of United States troops in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere in former Soviet republics still under Russian influence.[52] The first week in November, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, on the way to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan where American forces were already stationed, met with President Putin in Moscow. There, inside the Kremlin, the American Defense Secretary talked with the former Soviet KBG espionage officer about using Russian intelligence to support the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.[53]

The coalition strikes back: The U.S. spent three weeks following the September 11 attack lining up international support and planning for a military response before taking action. Although it clearly led the assault against the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, the United States portrayed itself as leading an international coalition against terrorism. In truth, it did get sufficient support from other countries to justify its claim. For example, the first airstrikes (which did not occur until October 7) were conducted jointly with Britain. By the end of the month, the U.S. released a list of twenty nations offering material help to the military campaign. Table 2 shows which countries made offers and which offers were accepted as of November 7.

For the first two weeks, the war consisted mainly of U.S. planes dropping bombs, often by high-flying B-52 bombers. The U.S. military assured the public that these plans were not laying a carpet of untargeted "dumb" bombs (as in Vietnam) that indiscriminately killed civilians as well as fighters. Instead, they were "smart" bombs, guided by tracking devices, that could selectively hit military targets, thus minimizing civilian deaths. Military spokesmen had said that about bombs used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but a declassified government report cited "a pattern of overstatement" by the spokesmen.[54] Later, the military claimed that the bombs used in the 1999 Balkan War were even smarter, yet one managed to destroy the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. In 2001, the bombs may have been super smart, but still bombs mistakenly killed many civilians and some friendly fighters from the Northern Alliance.[55] On the ground, the U.S. role was limited to assisting the Northern Alliance in attacking the Taliban, which were fighting as "proxy forces" for U.S. troops. The United States did not lead a ground attack until October 19, when some 100 Special Operations Forces struck at an airfield and Taliban headquarters.

By the end of October, the American press was reporting doubts among U.S. citizens on the progress of the war against terrorism, publishing stories titled

"Hundreds of Arrests, but Promising Leads Unravel,"[56]
"Survey Shows Doubts Stirring on Terror War,"
[57] and
"A Military Quagmire Remembered: Afghanistan as Vietnam."

The U.S. press also reported worldwide concerns with the military campaign in stories titled

"U.S. Appears to Be Losing Public Relations War So Far,"[59]
"Public Apprehension Felt in Europe over the Goals of Afghanistan Bombing,"
[60] and
"More and More, Other Countries See the War as Solely America's."

One western diplomat said:

People are starting to wonder where does this way of waging war bring us? There are no evident results. There are no big Taliban leaders captured or killed. And the collateral damage doesn't make nice pictures. I just don't know what's been achieved.[62]

Eventually, the relentless bombing on Taliban and al Qaeda targets, which had seemed ineffective, paid off by weakening their forces. On November 9, Northern Alliance forces captured the northern city, Mazari-Sharif.[63] On November 10, they took the northeastern city of Taliqan, and two days later they moved into Kabul. By December 6, Taliban forces agreed to surrender their last stronghold, Kandahar. On December 20, Hamid Karzai arrived in Kabul to head an interim government along with British Royal Marines in the vanguard of a United Nations peacekeeping force.

The coalition wins: After a slow beginning, the war against the Taliban advanced at an astonishingly rapid pace, concluding positively in at least five respects:

1. The war was short, lasting less than two months, and ending before winter fully arrived.

2. The outcome was decisive: the Taliban regime was replaced by an interim government negotiated with U.N supervision, and an international peacekeeping force was sent to patrol Kabul.

3. Most Afghan people welcomed the end of the Taliban's harsh legal code, which not only required that women be fully covered and men wear long beards but also banned flying kites, listening to music, playing chess, watching television, and other simple pleasures that people enjoyed all over the world.[64]

4. The muslim world did not not rise up against the fall of an Islamic regime, perhaps because most of the actual combat was done by other Afghan muslims.

5. Indeed, following the destruction of the al Qaeda terrorist operation in Afghanistan, other nations troubled by fundamentalist Islamic groups--e.g., Pakistan,[65] Singapore,[66] the Philippines,[67] Kuwait,[68] and even Syria[69] and Yemen[70]--began to crack down on them.

For the United States, the war in Afghanistan carried one negative result and one especially positive outcome. The negative result was the failure to capture either Osama bin Laden or Mullah Mohammad Omar. On the positive side, very few American troops died--owing to the use of native Afghans as proxy troops and to selective use of American special operations forces. A headline in the New York Times reflected the relief of many U.S. citizens, "Surprise, War Works after All!"[71]

Nothing succeeds like success: Early European critics of war in Afghanistan were quieted by the war's pace and outcome. Antonio Carlucci, an editor of L'Espresso, a left-leaning Italian news magazine was quoted as saying, "The critics became silent because we began to see results." Nöel Mamère, a French legislator and author of an anti-war letter to Le Mond, confessed, "I overreacted when I said that the military response launched by the Americans is an act of war against the Afghan people." Eckart Lohse, Berlin correspondent for Algemeine Zeitung in Frankfurter, said, "Now the left is really only discussing the peacekeeping, and the political problems seem to have disappeared."[72]

In December, 2001, following the positive news from Afghanistan, 90 percent of the U.S. public approved "of the way George W. Bush is handling the campaign against terrorism."[73] People abroad, however, were concerned about the aggressiveness of the war on terrorism and about Bush's commitment to a multilateral approach in foreign policy. Would the U.S. project its war on terrorism into Iraq, hoping to topple President Sadam Hussein?[74] Would President Bush, who in late 2001unilaterally ended the 1973 Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, become flushed with success over the Afghanistan war and operate more unilaterally?

Europeans were clearly concerned with both questions. An Italian government official asked an American reporter about the end of the treaty: "Why announce it now? Was it that urgent?"[75] Charles Grant, director of the London-based Center for European Reform, said, "If America misses this opportunity to have a closer relationship with Russia, then relations [with Europe] will suffer." Similar sentiments about the United States were expressed by an official in the European Union: "We thought they were correcting a unilateralist trend when they put together a coalition to fight terrorism, but now we see the forces for going it alone are very much ascendant in the Bush administration."[76]

More systematic research revealed widespread suspicion of the United States among ordinarily friendly foreign leaders. In a lengthy analysis, a senior American journalist headlined his story, "A Nation Alone: Even Our Friends Don't Share America's Image of Itself."[77] The writer based his analysis on a survey of 275 "influentials"--leaders in business, government, the media, and culture in 24 countries--interviewed between November 12 and December 13, 2001.[78] Forty leaders came from the United States and 235 from other countries. One question asked specifically about the war on terrorism: "Do you think the US is taking into account the interests of its partners in the fight against terrorism or do you think the US is acting mainly on its own interests?" Of the U.S. leaders, 70 percent said that they were taking other countries' interest into account, compared with only 33 percent for all 235 foreign leaders. As shown in Figure 1, differences with the U.S. were consistently sharp among all regional breakdowns of foreign leaders.

Figure 1: 2001 Survey of World Opinion Leaders on the War on Terrorisma

aThe survey conducted and reported by the PEW Research Center, "America Admired, Yet Its New Vulnerability Seen as Good Thing, Say Opinion Leaders," December 19, 2001. These data were reported on January 18, 2002, at

bThe question was, "How do you see the conflict? Do you think the US is taking into account the interests of its partners in the fight against terrorism or do you think the US is acting mainly on its own interests?

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