And now, outside a suburban Shanghai villa, the President was standing with his Chinese counterpart--the leader of a nation Bush had recently identified as a "strategic competitor" of the U.S.--as the two men sang from the same songbook. President Jiang Zemin condemned "terrorism in all its forms," while Bush, beaming, said Jiang and his government "stand side by side with the American people as we fight this evil force." Two days later, Bush met Russian President Vladimir Putin, into whose soul he had peered approvingly four months ago. Bush and Putin discussed the size of cuts the U.S. is ready to make in its nuclear arsenal in return for Russian acquiescence to America's missile-defense program. The aim: to conclude a grand nuclear bargain at the soul brothers' November summit in Crawford, Texas.
The new mood in U.S.-Russian relations--evidenced not just by cooperation in the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban but also by Moscow's sudden willingness to discuss the possibility of NATO expansion--marks a genuine change in international relations since Sept. 11. But if he's wise, Bush will ration his smiles. The coalition against terrorism is a fragile thing; so far, it does not look as if it has the stuff to reshape the world.
Start at the coalition's core. Britain, Washington's closest ally, is signaling wildly that there are limits to its support. In particular, London says it sees no evidence of Iraqi involvement in the atrocities, and--on present evidence--would not support a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, which plenty of Administration conservatives are itching to fight.
The opening to Iran remains just that--a door through which neither side has yet had the courage to walk. Bush and Iranian President Mohammed Khatami have much in common. Both their governments loathe the Taliban. Neither loves Saddam Hussein. Indeed, U.S. taxpayers support a newly opened 20-person Tehran office of the Iraqi National Congress, the Bush Administration's favorite Iraqi opposition group. Both smile--with fingers crossed--on Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, many of whose leaders have homes and families in Iran. Tehran has said that in the event U.S. forces stray and go missing inside Iran, it will conduct search-and-rescue missions for them. What's more, the U.S. last week asked a federal judge to dismiss a $10 billion lawsuit brought against Iran by the Americans held hostage in Tehran in 1979-81. All of that is progress. Still, Iran would much prefer that the war against terrorism were fought under the flag of the U.N., and it continues to keep the coalition at arm's length. The President's rhetoric may not have helped. "The Iranians," says Judith Yaphe, a former CIA official now at the National Defense University, "got scared off by Bush's all-or-nothing language."
Bush may soon find that Chinese expressions of goodwill don't buy as much as he thinks. With an eye on Chinese sales of missile technology, Bush pressed Jiang in Shanghai to "stem the spread of weapons around the world." Jiang changed the subject. Bush says he received a "firm commitment" from Beijing to help with the intelligence war against terrorism. That would be nice, but nobody's quite sure what relevant intelligence China has, if any. Above all, America's incursion into central Asia, through the war in Afghanistan and a new military agreement with Uzbekistan, takes the U.S. into Beijing's backyard. That may be tolerated in China while the horror of Sept. 11 is fresh, but not for much longer. "People in China's government are growing very worried about the American military presence on China's borders," says Chu Shulong, an expert in Sino-U.S. relations at Beijing's Tsinghua University.
But suppose for a moment that every member of the coalition against terrorism were doing exactly what Bush wants. Suppose that the U.S., China and Russia were marching in lockstep to the sunlit uplands, like the peasants in an old Soviet poster. Suppose the war on terrorism reshaped international politics. Would the world change markedly for the better?
Not necessarily. When policy is determined by a single imperative--missile defense, eradicating terrorism--it skews perspective. It's hard to admit while lower Manhattan still smolders, but there has to be more to Bush's presidency than the search for Osama bin Laden. John Chipman, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, warns Washington not to look at the whole world through the prism of the war against terrorism. "There are things to be done in Africa and Asia," he says. "You can't uniquely judge a nation by its response to terrorism." Such was America's error during the cold war, when any regime, however corrupt and venal, was supported so long as it paid lip service to the fight against Soviet communism--a policy that stored up decades of resentment in the developing world.