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Bush’s Global Anti-Terrorism Alliance?

Can the Bush Administration muster the diplomatic finesse to unite the world against terrorism?

September 22, 2001

Can the Bush Administration muster the diplomatic finesse to unite the world against terrorism?

President Bush’s earlier pronouncement that he would wage a “crusade” against terrorism sent waves of concern — and even anger — throughout the Muslim World. President Bush and his aides claimed that it was a slip of the tongue and that what Bush really meant to say was a “broad cause” against terrorism.

But whether George W. Bush is thinking in terms of a crusade or not, he has — quite likely inadvertently — worsened the prospects to have Muslim countries join his war against terrorist extremists.

After all, many people in Muslim countries wonder, how different Bush’s call for a global “crusade” from bin Laden’s call for a global “jihad” really is. It surely is a cautionary tale in an age rife with politics of incendiary symbolism.

But insensitive — or even jingoistic — diplomacy is only the first threat to the international consensus that President Bush is trying to build to root out terrorism. There are other challenges to this emerging global alliance. They can be divided into two types: those that would preclude the creation of an effective alliance — and those that will undermine its longevity.

The main challenge during the alliance-building phase essentially entails the aligning of the national interests of a diverse set of nations with those of the United States. This is no easy task since some of the key players whose cooperation is imperative — such as Pakistan, Iran and Syria — have had adversarial relations with the United States in the recent past.

In fact, all these states currently have U.S. sanctions imposed against them, which have prevented these countries from pursuing their own agenda in the global economy.

Iranians view U.S. sanctions against their country essentially as punishment for their government’s keenness on eliminating the enemies of Iran overseas. The irony, in the eyes of many Iranians is, that they now see is that these covert operations are very similar to what the United States now seeks Iranian cooperation for: eliminating its own overseas enemies — which, in the U.S. case, are terrorist networks.

U.S. sanctions against Syria are imposed for its support for Hezbollah. However, Syria sees this support as essential for driving Israel out of Lebanon and the Golan Heights, in defense of its national interests.

And U.S. sanctions against Pakistan were imposed due to its pursuit of nuclear and ballistic technology, which is crucial in order for Pakistan to balance India — a regional competitor.

Therefore, the overriding irony of the present situation is that the United States is now seeking an alliance of sorts precisely with countries whose national interests the United States has actively undermined — in some cases for decades. Now it hopes these states will align their interests with those of the United States overnight.

This seems a bit unlikely, unless the United States makes it worth their while. But this prospect raises another question. How far will the Bush administration accommodate the needs of other states to ensure their consistent cooperation?

Will the United States drop the sanctions against Pakistan? Will Iran and Syria be dropped from the list of rogue states? After all, how can U.S. allies against terror also be on U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism? How will Israel — and more importantly the powerful Israeli lobby in the United States — respond to this realignment and restructuring of the geopolitical terrain in the Middle East?

Demanding the full support of Pakistan includes access to the country’s intelligence, availability for surrogate diplomacy, as well as the permission to use its air space and bases to launch an attack against Afghanistan, if necessary. To obtain all of that will require more than loan guarantees and the lifting of sanctions.

After all, by meeting U.S. demands Pakistan risks widespread discontent within its own borders, a profound split in its military establishment, a refugee crisis — and even an Islamist uprising. First and foremost, the United States will have to convince Pakistan that it will not abandon it — or ignore Pakistan’s legitimate national interests.

Is the United States really ready to make such a promise to Pakistan? More importantly, can it fulfill such a promise? Will the United States look the other way, if in future Pakistan acquires advanced military technology from China? Or, more poignantly, will the United States replace China as the guarantor of Pakistan’s technological balance of power with India?

Pakistan will surely seek an increased U.S. participation in its dispute with India over Kashmir. So far, the United States has maintained a safe distance from this potentially Palestine-like scenario. This may change given the criticality of Pakistan’s cooperation in the initial U.S. response and its future assault on anti-U.S. elements in the region.

Now let’s look at the second phase of the U.S. war on terror, which entails the systematic identification and elimination of the so-called terror infrastructure.

To be successful, the United States will have to enjoy a great deal of confidence and cooperation from Arab regimes. If the second phase follows a massive attack on Afghanistan, including deaths of many innocent civilians, then Arab support may not be forthcoming.

There might very well be a danger to the stability of the regimes whose popularity will diminish in direct proportion to their cooperation with the United States, regardless of whether or not President Bush continues to make Freudian slips.

One thing is for certain. If the United States continues to support, arm and finance the Israeli military in its actions against Palestinians, it remains an open question to what extent the Arab regimes will really cooperate. They have not forgotten that it was only a month ago that U.S. leaders chose to scuttle the UN conference on racism — rather than to compromise on their stance on Israel.

This leads us to another fundamental — if not vexing — question: is the United States willing to reconsider its rather uncritical support of Israel to ensure the realization of its own national interests and national security?

One can always argue that that was then — now is now. But, as much as the world has changed on September 11, in many ways it has stayed the same. If anything, it has put some of the old contractions and problems into a sharper, more acute focus.