George W. Bush has his own version of the vision, though some might say it's even gauzier than Dad's. When meeting with reporters in the Oval Office on Sept. 13, the President said, "Through the tears and sadness, I see an opportunity." Since then, he has continually used the line both in public and in private talks with other leaders as an introduction to his thinking. On Oct. 4, at the State Department, Bush noted the chance "to make the world a better place for generations to come" and to "spread goodwill around the world."
Who wouldn't like that? But the President's advisers know there is a huge gap between his fond wishes and their possible fulfillment. Some of them have a memory. By the time of the 1992 election, "the new world order" had become mere evidence of the hubris of a President who seemed awed by the scanner at a supermarket checkout. "We had this problem in the early '90s," said a State Department official last week. "You know 'It's a new world, we can do everything.' Our rhetoric was way ahead of where it should be."
Fair enough; ungrounded rhetoric does little good. But if the Administration is really determined to win the war against terrorism, vision isn't optional. In the next few months, as the U.S. takes military action against Afghanistan and perhaps other states in the Islamic world, it's easy to see what might be done to help a shooting war's victims food aid, support for refugees, immediate economic assistance.
But such goodwill measures won't achieve Bush's avowed goal, the elimination of terrorism. Nothing can deliver that, for there have always been political and religious fanatics in the world and always will be. A more grounded vision less rhetorically satisfying but perhaps attainable would be to drastically reduce the support that terrorists receive from the general population, for whom resentment of the U.S. and its friends becomes a reason to excuse those who translate ill will into violent rage.
In reaching for that goal, the U.S. has to take into account a number of factors. They include:
- The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Since the end of the Gulf War, India and Pakistan have tested nuclear bombs, Iran has continually sought to acquire nuclear technology, and Iraq would dearly love to.
- Deadlock in the Middle East peace process and a year of near war between armed Palestinian groups and Israel.
- The continuation of repressive autocracies, often dynastic, in the Middle East--including countries that Washington regards as its "moderate" friends that seal off safety valves for political dissent.
- A population explosion and growing urbanization of the Islamic world. In 1975, for example, there were about 10 million more Pakistanis than Mexicans; by 2015 there will be 85 million more. Cities like Karachi, with 10 million people, have become breeding grounds for political extremism.
- Poor economic performance in the Middle East. Not one of its nations has seen anything remotely approaching the record of the East Asian economies since 1960. A careful report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy this year concluded, "The Middle East is losing the globalization race; its share of world trade is dropping just as [economic] growth rates are falling throughout the region."
- The consequences of two decades of mass immigration from the poor world to the rich one. The investigation into the Sept. 11 atrocities and others of its kind has revealed (to put it mildly) networks of sympathy for terrorists among immigrant communities in the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Canada.
- The globalization of Islamic extremism. In the past 10 years, countries outside the Middle East that have had some brush with violent Islamic groups include those mentioned above and also Bosnia, Russia, Georgia, India, China, Argentina, Uzbekistan, the Philippines and Indonesia. Until Sept. 11, the nations that had been most hurt by a single terrorist incident were not Israel or the U.S. but Kenya and Tanzania, whose citizens suffered hundreds of casualties when American embassies there were bombed in 1998.
The wider significance of Sept. 11 is that it made evident the global nature of the threat from Islamic extremism. Therein lies Washington's opportunity, one that it has exploited by its careful handling of the crisis so far. "If bin Laden counted on the Bush Administration to hit back blindly in a fit of mad fury," says a senior French diplomat, "he lost his bet. The Administration has earned itself a great, great deal of respect with European leaders." Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair has been, if anything, more royalist than the king, rattling sabers more noisily than Bush, and pledging (talk about vision) that the memorial to those who died four weeks ago should include "justice and prosperity for the poor and dispossessed."