Two Years After
Le Monde Editorial
Wednesday 10 September 2003
The September 11, 2001 attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. prompted a wave of solidarity with Americans unprecedented in history. The number of victims, the methods employed, and the symbols destroyed aroused feelings of the whole world. Few were those who dared rejoice in a bloody "punishment" inflicted on these most emblematic representatives of the West.
Two years later, the United States' standing is at its lowest. Compassion has given way to fear that unconsidered actions will aggravate problems and that the struggle against terrorism is nothing but a pretense for the extension of American hegemony.
President George W. Bush is convinced that the civilized world is engaged in a new world war against a new Totalitarianism. This crusading spirit has made few converts, even among the United States' traditional allies. The world, the latter believe, is more complex than a dual sensation of vulnerability and omnipotence would allow one to believe.
The conjuncture of fundamentalism, weapons of mass destruction, and defective states certainly constitutes an unheard of risk for democracies. Should the United States, all the same, set themselves up as the world's judge and policeman, a recurrent temptation which has powerfully reemerged since September 11?
Now the results of the policy conducted for the last two years are not incontrovertible. Certainly neither the United States nor Europe have known the waves of attacks Bin Laden and his emulators promised, thanks, no doubt, to the cooperation between their police forces and intelligence services, sometimes at the price of infringements on public freedoms. It's elsewhere, in the Maghreb or in Southeast Asia, that the terrorists, who claim with or without grounds to be Bin Laden's, have attacked.
As for the Al-Qaeda boss, he's still at large, in spite of the destruction of the Taliban state that sheltered him in Afghanistan. In that country, progress towards stability, to say nothing of democracy, has been extremely weak. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein's ghost continues to roam and the country remains "the central front in the war against terrorism" (George W. Bush), although the point of the dictator's fall was to finish with the threat. The democratic restructuring of the Middle East, presented as the Bush presidency's big idea, has seen more retreats than advances and the bloody impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not inspire much optimism.
The United States cannot alone "make the world safer for democracy" in Woodrow Wilson's words of 1917. They have to listen to their allies, take into account the different situations in which they intervene, respect the international rules that they themselves helped to draft and implement. The last two years' balance sheet sounds a reminder of these principles.
In the Complex East with Simple Ideas
By Jean-Marcel Bouguereau
Le Nouvel Observateur
Thursday 11 September 2003
How did we go from the spectacular explosion of the World Trade Center towers, two years ago to the day, to the Iraqi quagmire? From a triple attack executed by some twenty men armed with box cutters to the fruitless search for the weapons of mass destruction supposedly in Saddam's possession? After that trauma, the responses could, after all, have been quite different. The United Nations could have been mobilized in the name of a perceived global threat. An attempt to win the hearts and minds of Arabs could have tried to attenuate their anti-Western resentment and clear out the landmines in the "clash of civilizations" announced by a few prophets of doom. However, from among all these solutions, Bush's neo-conservative henchmen chose war.
As though that had become an end in itself. As though war were no longer, according to Clausewitz' old definition, "a continuation of politics by other means." Not only have the Americans eschewed politics, but they have thrown themselves into a classical war with all the sophisticated means they could have at their disposal, while what they faced were threats from a new type of confrontation, from a "diffuse war" in the words of Umberto Ecco. They took a hammer to attack a swarm of wasps. Afghanistan and then Iraq demonstrated that Washington effectively knows how to conduct that type of war, but everything happens as though the Americans know only how to do that. What did Georges Bush want? To flatten terrorism? To convince Arab populations to keep their distance from Islamic terrorism? To show the world that America was an invulnerable super-power? That the US could do without the United Nations?
He wanted, a little in the Napoleonic manner, this war to open an era of democracy and prosperity in the Middle East. That was going to the "complicated" East with simple, not to say simplistic, ideas. Two years later, not one of his objectives has been achieved. Terrorism is reborn like a hydra, there where it had never been. Anti-American feeling has never been as strong. America exposes its weakness to the point of calling the UN to the rescue. And the world itself looks more and more like a drunken boat.
Jean-Marcel Bouguereau is Editor-in-Chief of the Nouvel Observateur. He is also an editorialist for the R publique des Pyr n es, for which this article was written.
Translation: Truthout French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
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