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If there was any doubt that the forces of terror remain wholly indiscriminate in their campaign of mass murder, they ended Sept. 3, 2004. Coming almost three years to the day after the attacks on the United States, the slaughter of schoolchildren in Russia truly crossed every line of sanity. Like the Madrid train bombings, they showed that Europe is not immune to the terrorist menace. And perhaps most importantly, they shattered any illusions that Russia is a bystander in the U.S.-led war on international terrorism.
The standard argument raised by protesters at last week's World Trade Organization conference in Cancun was that the WTO's insistence on free trade threatens the livelihood of the Third World. This position forms the ideological core of the anti-globalization movement. And yet, the real flaw --and it is a fundamental one--in international trade is quite the opposite. Free trade, as it stands, is just not free enough. And this is what makes it so grossly unfair to the world's poor.
Contrary to popular opinion, the war on Iraq is hardly the first act of preemption in history, or even recent history. At a tactical level, preemptive operations have been used by armed forces in every major war. Ruses, surprise attacks, covert missions - all of these are commonplace. What makes Iraq qualitatively different is that it is the first major war, at least in the post-Soviet era, conceived purely as a preemptive campaign, or what early 20th century Europeans used to call "preventive war."
When future generations write the definitive history of the 12 year standoff with Iraq, it may well be that a few weeks of United Nations dithering at the very end will occupy a minor part of the narrative. Of much more consequence are the conclusions being drawn at the present moment about the effectiveness of the United Nations as an organization in managing international conflict.
In the coming weeks, there will be much talk about the future - that of the Middle East, America's role in the world, the United Nations, and of course Iraq itself. But right now, I would like to reflect briefly on the past 12 years.
In the time it takes you to read this column, the U.S. Department of Defense will spend roughly $3 million. If you were President George W. Bush, the amount would presumably be quite a bit more. This is, of course, only fitting, given that the current administration has presided over the largest real increase in our nation's military spending in 20 years. The Pentagon now spends nearly a billion dollars every single day, a total of $355 billion in fiscal year 2003 - and this does not include the cost of any operations in Iraq. This level of spending, even for the quasi-wartime situation in which the U.S. finds itself, is excessive, irresponsible and totally unnecessary. The 2002-07 defense build-up envisioned by the White House verges on sheer lunacy.
Our generation stands on the precipice of an economic crisis without parallel in American history. This crisis will be prolonged. It will be severe. And it will come sooner than you think. The cause of this crisis is the slow but certain course of the United States government toward a crippling national debt.
Last August, well before military action against Iraq seemed inevitable, a poll showed that 54 percent of the British public viewed their prime minister as "Bush's poodle." Just think what that number must be today. The portrayal of Tony Blair as a poodle, a lapdog or whichever canine currently epitomizes spinelessness and blind loyalty is reaching its pinnacle right about now.
Let's forget for a moment the rhetoric coming from North Korea. All that talk about belligerent American imperialism and thinly veiled threats to turn its southern neighbor into a radioactive wasteland are not very helpful for constructive diplomacy, but they are also irrelevant. In the case of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - which is, incidentally, neither democratic nor a republic - only deeds matter, not words. What the DPRK has been doing since last fall is illegal and inappropriate, but the United States can offer a straightforward solution to the ongoing nuclear standoff. All Washington needs to do now is, quite simply, offer Pyongyang a bribe.
Regular readers of this column will know that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the armed men and women of the United States and its allies. However, unequivocal admiration of those who carry out orders does not mean that we have to blindly agree with the decisions that are made at the highest levels of our military establishment. This is the case, regrettably, with the Defense Department's newly formed Northern Command, which is military command responsible for homeland security.
Not since Bill Clinton snubbed Newt Gingrich on Air Force One has a sitting U.S. president demonstrated the kind of petty vindictiveness that George W. Bush showed after the re-election of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Germany.
As the eyes of the world this summer focused on the Middle East, South Asia and Wall Street, Hong Kong quietly marked the fifth anniversary of its status as a Special Administrative Region of China. By most accounts, the first five years after its handover have gone as smoothly as the most optimistic observers had foreseen. Beijing, not surprisingly, has sought to mollify naysayers and skeptics by generally adhering to the policy of "one country, two systems." As a result, "the rule of law,... the independence of the judiciary... and essential rights and freedoms are being protected," quoting a report from the United Kingdom Foreign Office. But while the city remains one of the most free places in Asia, China is continually chipping away at Hong Kong's democratic policy.
Nuclear deterrence works. It always has, it always will. This is the single greatest lesson of the Cold War, and it remains true even post-9/11. As much as some alarmists like to believe that South Asia is somehow different, it's not. The fact is that if it weren't for their strategic nuclear arsenals, the two great powers on the Indian subcontinent would already be at war.
Nuclear deterrence works. It always has, it always will. This is the single greatest lesson of the Cold War, and it remains true even post-9/11. As much as some alarmists like to believe that South Asia is somehow different, it1s not. The fact is that if it weren1t for their strategic nuclear arsenals, the two great powers on the Indian subcontinent would already be at war.
It has an area slightly larger than the National Mall in Washington, D.C., a population of 28,000, and a gross domestic product about the size of a modest U.S. corporation's annual revenue. It also happens to be at the center of the biggest diplomatic crisis in the entire European Union. I am talking about none other than the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the last remaining outposts of the British Empire.
Within the near future, maybe even this year, Saudi Arabia will probably demand a conclusion to the decade-old U.S. military presence on its soil. Rumors to this effect have already been spreading, and even if they are unsubstantiated--as the Saudi crown prince claimed in a recent interview--the White House will eventually have this very dilemma on its hands. However, the issue should not be whether the American military can afford to withdraw; rather, it is whether the United States would ever agree to come back.
At no time in the past decade, perhaps even longer, has the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reached the horrific level of the last week. The dramatic escalation that the world witnessed, beginning with the barbaric "Passover massacre," followed by excessive measures of the Israeli military, demands immediate and comprehensive international intervention. Right now, the situation is as close to all-out war as one can imagine, and the possibility of avoiding that outcome is shrinking by the day.
Sir William Butler, a 19th-century British general, once observed, "The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards." He was absolutely right then, and his words ring equally true today. It is deeply regrettable that American society is on a path leading to precisely the kind of rigid separation between civilian culture and military culture that Butler warned about.
Being an avowed internationalist, as the French foreign minister demonstrated recently, can be great fun. One gets to criticize the United States--especially the Bush administration--in lots of creative ways, like sneering that the axis of evil concept is simplisme--more on that later--and complaining that America's valiant European allies are not allowed to do any of the substantive work of waging war on terror.
It is a sad but obvious truth that relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are at their lowest point since the beginning of the Oslo peace process. On both sides, extremists now have the upper hand, and hope for reconciliation is currently nil. Without judging anyone's guilt or innocence, I hope to describe a possible solution to this impasse that just might work.