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Terror war has U.S. in dubious alliances (Chicago tribune)|
06 September 2002 01:42 UTC
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2001 SEPTEMBER 11 2002
Terror war has U.S. in dubious alliances
By Howard Witt
Tribune senior correspondent
September 4, 2002
When President Bush declared war on terrorism a year ago and divided the world into "with us or against us," savvy governments around the world seized their chance.
Suddenly, nearly every country facing a domestic insurrection, a civil war or just an inconvenient opposition declared that it, too, was fighting terrorism and sought a place for itself on the right side of Washington's new world view.
The Chinese battling separatist Uighurs, the Russians fighting the Chechens, the Colombians hunting narco-rebels, the Indians struggling in Kashmir, the Israelis against the Palestinians--these conflicts and many others were instantly recast in post-Sept. 11 terms, often with Washington's eager assent.
Terrorism has become the new communism. The grim realpolitik calculations of the Cold War, which for so long compelled Washington to support dictators, strongmen and crooks, are now being employed in a new global fight portrayed as an epochal battle of good versus evil.
At the same time, the administration has articulated a "Bush Doctrine," asserting that the United States has the right to strike pre-emptively at nations that might pose a threat. Chief among them is Iraq, one of the three nations, along with Iran and North Korea, that comprise Bush's "axis of evil."
Yet critics fear that by viewing the world through a prism of terrorism, the United States is distorting its perception, jeopardizing its interests and damaging its leadership role.
Around the world, as a direct consequence of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration finds itself making common cause with regimes castigated in the State Department's
New U.S. military aid is flowing to Central Asian dictators who routinely jail political dissidents and to Indonesian security forces tarred by widespread brutality. Sclerotic Arab autocrats evade American scrutiny of their anti-democratic excesses so long as they keep a lid on Muslim fundamentalists. U.S. troops are fighting alongside ruthless Afghan warlords against Al Qaeda holdouts.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, critics argue that the Bush administration's strong embrace of Israel in fighting its terrorism problem may ultimately harm America's own fight, by sowing more seeds of Muslim hostility toward the United States.
In Asia, the victims of oppressive regimes fear their campaigns for freedom and democracy are being sacrificed to American expediency.
In Russia, human-rights activists perceive a grim bargain in which Washington mutes its protests over the Russian army's actions in Chechnya so long as Moscow maintains its support for America's war on terrorism.
In Europe, old allies bristle at the Bush administration's perceived unilateralism and bullying on such issues as the new international war crimes court, which Washington opposes for fear that U.S. troops would be hauled before it on specious charges.
Bush Doctrine precedent
What worries critics at home and abroad most of all is that the Bush Doctrine could set a precedent for military strikes, outside the umbrella of United Nations approval, that the rest of the world may all too eagerly decide to follow.
"In declaring such a doctrine, we need to articulate something that we're prepared to have others do as well. This administration doesn't understand that," said Morton Halperin, director of policy planning at the State Department during the Clinton administration. "It's impossible to articulate a doctrine which would not justify an Israeli attack on Iraq--because
the Iraqis are much more likely to use weapons of mass destruction against Israel--or an Indian attack on Pakistan."
The man who succeeded Halperin in the Bush administration, Richard Haass, is not insensitive to the concerns.
"We're not looking to turn international relations in 2002 into the Wild West," Haass said. "We understand that restraint and rules still need to be the norm. But there may well need to be a place for exceptions. You have to ask yourself whether rules and norms and principles which have grown up over hundreds of years in one context are adequate to changing circumstances."
Those changing circumstances--a world in which terrorists have a global reach and so-called rogue states are aggressively seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons--have left the Bush administration no choice but to make some uncomfortable new alliances, Haass argued.
"I think we have to be careful as a government not to turn our eyes away from unpleasant realities simply in the name of counterterrorism, in the same way that we did during the Cold War, when we did things in the name of anti-communism," Haass said. "I don't think we are looking the other way, but we are clearly doing some business, particularly in the military area, with some governments that have unattractive dimensions, to be sure."
Congress is pushing the administration to go even further: The House Intelligence Committee recommended in July that the CIA, when recruiting foreign spies, "balance concerns about human-rights behavior and lawbreaking with the need for flexibility." In other words, the CIA could sign up criminals if it will assist the war on terror.
"The idea that for now the priority is on counterterrorism is to me understandable," Haass said. "After Sept. 11, we didn't have the luxury of saying, `We're not going to have anything to do with you because you're not Jeffersonian democrats.'"
No one would ever confuse Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, with Thomas Jefferson. Only a few weeks ago, Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, unilaterally amended Pakistan's constitution to cement his grip and secure the military's role in determining future governments. That followed a referendum he staged in the spring to grant himself another five years as president.
But Musharraf emerged soon after Sept. 11 as America's most important new ally in the war on terrorism, abruptly steering Pakistan's security forces away from their support of the Taliban they helped create in Afghanistan and toward a crackdown on Pakistan's own Islamic fundamentalists. And to the White House, those actions matter the most.
"My reaction about President Musharraf, he's still tight with us on the war against terror, and that's what I appreciate," Bush said when asked what he thought of Musharraf's constitutional amendments.
Then the president added: "Obviously, to the extent that our friends promote democracy, it's important. We will continue to work with our friends and allies to promote democracy, give people a chance to express their opinions the proper way. And so we'll stay in touch with President Musharraf in more ways than one."
Pressure on Kashmir
Even as Musharraf earns the president's praise, the White House is eager to hold him to his promise to prevent Pakistani militants from staging attacks against India over the disputed province of Kashmir. Tensions between Pakistan and India over Kashmir nearly flared into war twice in the past 10 months, and the nuclear-armed foes still have nearly a million troops faced off against each other.
South Asia experts fear that the next time the Kashmir crisis worsens, either side could muster an argument, along the lines of the Bush Doctrine, to justify a pre-emptive nuclear strike in the name of self-defense.
Uzbekistan presents another post-Sept. 11 dilemma for the United States. The Central Asian state is ruled by a former Soviet communist strongman, Islam Karimov, who refuses to permit opposition political parties or a free press and has staged a harsh crackdown on Muslim practitioners. Karimov is holding, by American count, at least 6,500 political prisoners he alleges are dangerous Islamic fundamentalists.
But Uzbekistan is strategically situated and has provided crucial air bases the United States needs for the anti-terrorism war in neighboring Afghanistan. The U.S. has more than 1,000 troops stationed there.
The Bush administration argues that it is making a political virtue of military necessity: By engaging Karimov instead of spurning him, it is furnishing an incentive for the regime to launch political and human-rights reforms.
"We have continued to chip away at human-rights questions and we can point to some real successes," said a senior State Department diplomat who declined to be named. Those successes, the diplomat said, include the release of more than 800 political prisoners, the prosecutions of several rogue police officers and Karimov's recent promises to implement democratic and economic reforms.
"Ask yourself: Have the Uzbeks done more in the last 12 months on human rights than in the year before?" the diplomat said. "Isn't that progress?"
In Indonesia, the Bush administration makes a similar argument about the benefits of engagement, but it seems less sure of the results.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, where moderate forms of Islam hold sway and the government has made strides in recent years to democratize after decades of repression. But evidence has surfaced that Al Qaeda operatives are spreading into Southeast Asia, and the Bush administration fears that the vast Indonesian archipelago of 17,000 islands, some of them home to separatist insurrections, could provide sanctuary to Islamic terrorists.
Thus, the White House has promised Jakarta $50 million in new aid to train security forces in counterterrorist techniques. Some of that training money will go to the Indonesian army, which the U.S. has long shunned because of the widespread human-rights abuses soldiers committed while trying to suppress East Timor's quest for independence in the 1990s.
At the same time, the State Department is urging a U.S. judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by human-rights activists against ExxonMobil over its operations in a troubled Indonesian province. The lawsuit alleges that the oil company was complicit in human-rights abuses committed by the Indonesian military while protecting Exxon Mobil's operations; the State Department is arguing that the case could upset Indonesia and diminish its willingness to help in the war against terrorism.
Indonesia's counterterrorism efforts, the State Department contends in a legal brief, could be "imperiled in numerous ways if Indonesia and its officials curtailed cooperation in response to perceived disrespect for its sovereign interests."
Not roiling the waters has long been the rule of U.S. foreign policy toward moderate Arab regimes in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where Washington has for years turned a blind eye to internal corruption and political repression in exchange for stability and cooperation in the Middle East.
But there are some recent signs that approach may be changing.
In August, Bush abruptly announced that he would not seek additional aid for Egypt--the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Israel--until the government of President Hosni Mubarak freed a prominent democracy advocate jailed on specious charges.
Though largely symbolic--the president's decision did not imperil the bulk of annual U.S. aid to Cairo--it was the first time Washington has tried to use its aid leverage to promote human rights in Egypt, where Mubarak has clamped down on political freedoms and closed the nation's contracting economy to reforms.
Administration officials say the Egypt decision represents a new understanding of the roots of terrorism: that much of it grows out of the political and economic frustration spawned by repressive Arab regimes.
"There's always been a sense we should care about these things for normative reasons--democracy is good, human rights are good," said the State Department's Haass. "But I think what the last year has really brought home is that we can be dramatically affected through terrorism by what happens to individuals in these societies. . . . [It's] no longer simply a humanitarian concern, it's now a strategic concern as well."
In fact, next week at the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to announce a new U.S. program to support democracy and human rights in the Middle East, including $25 million for pilot projects to train political activists, journalists and labor union leaders.
That program would be in addition to the administration's renewed efforts at public diplomacy in the Arab world, which include a new Arabic-language FM radio station intended to give younger Muslims a more positive image of the United States.
Support of Sharon indelible
But in the Muslim world, no amount of pro-American propaganda seems able so far to counteract the effects of Bush's strong embrace of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his crackdown against the Palestinians.
During this year's repeated Israeli military offensives in the West Bank, ubiquitous satellite dishes perched on millions of rooftops and balconies throughout the Middle East broadcast non-stop images of Palestinian suffering, inflaming popular passions in ways that would have been impossible only a decade ago.
"We don't see in this country anything compared to what the people in the region see," said Edward Walker Jr., president of the Middle East Institute and a veteran Mideast ambassador to Israel and Egypt.
"This is something that America has been very reluctant to look at: Why Sept. 11? Why do young men and some young women strap bombs on themselves?" Walker added.
"There's a fear that we might come to the conclusion that Israel's actions vis-a-vis the Palestinians encourage hopelessness, which leads to terrorism, which therefore then impacts us."
Human-rights activists note one other anti-terror expediency that could come back to haunt U.S. foreign policy: the ongoing detention of terrorism suspects.
"I'm beginning to think the most damaging thing this administration is doing to the cause of human rights globally is the compromises that it's making in the assertion of an unchecked power to detain people, without judicial review, in secrecy," said Tom Malinowski, Washington spokesman for Human Rights Watch.
"The arguments the administration is making to justify the secrecy," he added, "are precisely the arguments that dictatorships make in response to American criticism of their human-rights records."
Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune
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