In new US foreign policy, unlikely friends and foes

With the events of Sept. 11, US foreign policy has been turned upside down.

On that day, a savage attack by hate-filled terrorists brought a new kind of war to American soil and caused an overnight reappraisal of America's worldwide goals, friends, and foes.

The immediate goal became the defeat of those who had murdered thousands of innocent people - most of them American civilians - and who proclaimed the intent of murdering more.

Enlisted in this cause was an unlikely grouping of nations ranging from such stalwart democratic allies as Britain to former cold-war enemies like Russia to bewildering theocracies like Iran (yes, Iran!), which dislikes Taliban-style terrorism but not Hamas and Hizbullah-style terrorism.

Some of these uneasy coalitionists joined up because it was the right and principled thing to do. Some feared terrorism in their own backyards. Some feared the wrath of the United States if they didn't declare their allegiance. Terrorist-harboring countries like Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen were quick to proclaim their newly developed antiterrorism bona fides. Some governments were quick to offer tangible support. They included those of Germany and Japan, sensitive since World War II to foreign military commitments. And some presumed American friends, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, luke-warmly professed fidelity while muting their public support.

For President Bush, the ideological and democratic coloration of such nations was not the critical factor. The litmus test was whether they could and would help in defeating the immediate challenge of terrorism. Just as Roosevelt and Churchill wooed Stalinist Russia, hardly a champion of democracy, to their side in defeating Nazism, so did Mr. Bush recruit some less-than-engaging members of this mélange to support him internationally in the war against terrorism even as he suborned the questionable Northern Alliance to spearhead the war against the unquestionably more-evil Taliban in Afghanistan.

It was an understandable political imperative, which, with a so-far brilliant military campaign, has served the United States well.

Osama bin Laden, of course, rails against democratic America's support of undemocratic regimes such as those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel (ironically, a lonely democracy in the Middle East). Never mind that Mr. bin Laden's own goal is not democracy, but the destruction of such democratic societies as exist in America and Israel. Never mind that his goal is not the implanting of democracy in Egypt and Saudi Arabia but the replacement of the regimes there by narrow Taliban-like dictatorships that would serve his Islamic extremist will. (Rationality is not bin Laden's strong suit.)

Still, such new terrorist assaults as the weekend ones on Jerusalem and Haifa, along with the inevitable Israeli response, play into the hands of bin Laden and the Islamic extremist elements that share his goals. They torpedo prospects of Middle East peace, and continue to position the US as the friend of Israel and the foe of the Arabs. What path, then, should America's post-Sept. 11 foreign policy take? The immediate present course is correct:

1. Destroy the Taliban, bring bin Laden to justice, help aid and reconstruct Afghanistan, and support some semblance of political stability there.

2. Impress those Islamic and other countries that dabble in terrorism with the same American resolve and military power in Afghanistan that impressed them during the Gulf War.

3. Use this power advisedly against other nations clearly proven to have engaged in terrorist activity against America, Americans, or American installations. Should Iraq prove to be such a nation, so be it.

But beyond this strong and ongoing military option, US foreign policy should work for something that is not only right and principled, but in America's best interests. That is a better life for many of the world's peoples. That means free markets and democracy. They go hand in hand. The US cannot implant democracy by fiat. But it can encourage and favor allies who are moving in that direction. It cannot itself transform the stagnant economies and backward educational systems of the Arab world, but it can lend its support to those who strive to do so.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's vision of a "region where respect for the sanctity of the individual, the rule of law, and the politics of participation grow stronger and stronger" is not a bad mantra for our newly emerging foreign policy. It also involves redoubled efforts at peacemaking between Arab and Jew in the lands where the Christly message of love has been forgotten. A world where people are free and prosper is a safer world. Properly defended, it is the best antidote to Osama bin Laden's message of hopelessness and destruction.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret News.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.