Two grand illusions obscure a realistic appreciation of the global consequences of Sept. 11. The first is that the emergence of a broad coalition against terrorism marks a shift away from U.S. preponderance in world affairs toward genuinely cooperative interdependence. The second is that since Sept. 11 Russia has made a historic choice to become part of the U.S.-led West, thereby becoming America's ally.
To be sure, there has been a worldwide outpouring of sympathy for America and of solidarity with America. "We are all Americans" was a frequent refrain of Europeans and Asians and even of many Muslims.
NATO unanimously invoked Article V, with all the allies viewing themselves as also engaged. The president of Russia was among the first to phone President Bush with an expression of support. The Chinese, Indians and Japanese similarly signaled their commitment to a worldwide campaign. The Conference of Islamic States denounced terrorism as incompatible with the precepts of Islam. The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution mandating international cooperation against terrorism.
Is it, therefore, the dawn of a new age, born in the ruins of the World Trade Center and the exploding bombs in Afghanistan? A closer look justifies a great deal of skepticism. The solidarity is genuine, but it is a solidarity more of words than of deeds. Moreover, the underlying realities of power have not been changed.
In the American-European relationship a fundamentally important ingredient continues to be missing: Europe. There is no Europe as such that is joining America in its long-term campaign; individual European states are doing what they can. In some cases, notably that of Great Britain, that even entails direct participation in some of America's actions against terrorism (as well as not-so-subtle efforts to influence U.S. decisions). Almost all European states are being cooperative in intelligence-sharing and in police investigations, which is important given that the most imminent threat originates from deeply camouflaged terrorist cells concealed in Western Europe, in addition to America itself.
But what most European states can actually offer falls far short of the earlier rhetoric from some of them regarding Europe's allegedly increasing "autonomous global security role." Moreover, "Europe" is finding it difficult even to replace the U.S. troops that may be re-deployed from the Balkans. It is also probably only a matter of time before some European states begin to voice apprehensions regarding the scope and intensity of the current American bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
The picture is even more ambiguous in the case of Russia. While Putin was sympathetic, it is still an open question whether Russia has made a historic choice in favor of the West or is seeking to exploit America's preoccupation to extract specific concessions. A meeting in Moscow last Thursday of the Russian foreign policy elite produced a long list of the concessions Putin should exact from Bush at their forthcoming summit, with one prominent participant confidently declaring that "America is ready to pay a serious price to secure support," presumably on such issues as NATO expansion, missile defenses, loan forgiveness, the war in Chechnya and so forth. One should also note Putin's recent appeal to the Germans to join Russia in creating a European global power that would stand apart from America on its own.
Perhaps Moscow will in fact recognize that with 300 million hostile Muslims to its south and 1.3 billion dynamic Chinese to its east, Russia's only future is in the West. Such a choice is to be encouraged and welcomed, but in the meantime it is essential that the construction of the Euro-Atlantic community continue in order to expand and consolidate the hard core of global stability. The forthcoming Bush-Putin summit should be designed to advance that objective, thereby making Russia's choice eventually unavoidable.
In the Middle East there is nothing even remotely resembling the anti-Iraq coalition of 1991. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has publicly declared that roughly 50 percent of Islamic rage against America is derived from America's support of Israel's prolonged repression of the Palestinians, and he was echoed by the religious leaders of the relatively moderate Morocco. There is widespread resentment in the region of the U.S. policy of penalizing the Iraqi people as a substitute for more decisive action against Saddam's regime itself.
Such action, however, could hardly be mounted in the context of continued Israeli-Palestinian violence. As Dennis Ross, the former U.S. negotiator, put it the other day: "Our Arab allies would feel less defensive about their ties to us if anger and frustration over the Palestinian situation were not so pronounced in the Arab world."
In brief, the "coalition" against terrorism does not even share a common definition of the threat. To the Indians, it is the Muslims in Kashmir; to the Russians, it is the Chechens; to the Israelis, it is the Palestinians; to the Arabs, it is the Israelis. And to the Americans, it is not Islam (rightly so), but who is it beyond the satanic image on the TV screen of Osama bin Laden?
The real test will come in the next several months. The military campaign in Afghanistan will probably de-escalate with the onset of the winter, and I would hope the United States will have the wisdom not to become entangled for years to come in trying to stabilize Afghanistan politically. But what then? The campaign after Afghanistan cannot be confined to intensive intelligence-police activities in Western Europe and in America itself. The explosive character of the Middle Eastern tinderbox, and the fact that Iraq has the motive, the means, and the psychopathology to provide truly dangerous aid to the terrorist underground, cannot be ignored on the legalistic grounds that conclusive "evidence" is lacking of Iraq's involvement in Sept. 11.
The response to that threat will have to be both political and military. The United States will have to exert itself -- preferably with the European Union's support -- to create political conditions in the Middle East that will be capable of absorbing the shock effects of any direct action against the most likely source of a future and truly devastating threat. The Israelis and the Palestinians on their own will never agree to a compromise formula, but in the absence of the needed political context the political fragility of Egypt and Saudi Arabia would transform any direct action against Iraq into an an explosive regional crisis. Hence a more energetic effort to induce an Israeli-Palestinian settlement is a necessary concomitant of any decisive effort to cope with the danger of state-supported terrorism.
The bottom line is that in facing the challenge posed by terrorism, the heavy lifting will have to be done by the United States largely on its own. Only an America that can muster the strategic will to wage both a comprehensive political and military campaign can prevail, and that reality in itself is a sobering reminder of the fact that American preponderance is currently the only practical alternative to global anarchy.
The writer was national security adviser to President Carter.