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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

Deutsche Presse Agentur September 04, 2006

US foreign policy post 9/11: "We have an outstanding hammer"

By Mike McCarthy

Washington - Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the world has been coping with a new United States - a superpower that has been willing to flex its military muscle without diplomatic consensus or the backing of key allies.

There was no immediate international resentment to this new attitude, when the US first attacked Afghanistan in the months after the airliner attacks on Nes York and Washington.

The outpouring of international sympathy following the al-Qaeda strike - the laying of wreaths and flowers at US embassies and public demonstrations of support - helped build a belief that the US military strike on Afghanistan was essential.

But the favourable view of the United States quickly dissipated and in some cases turned into open hostility as US President George W Bush steered his administration towards the invasion of Iraq - despite the lack of evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 with little backing from key international players such as the United Nations, NATO, Russia, China and traditional allies like France and Germany. The decision to act almost unilaterally and assert US military might prompted fears that the United States had grown too powerful.

'The response of the world to the United States in the past five years has not only been, 'It is like a superpower,' but also (that it is) throwing its weight around as such,' said Juan Cole, history professor at the University of Michigan, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in a telephone interview.

Following the invasion of Iraq, several nations have sought ways to counter America's military, diplomatic and economic clout. Belgium, France and Germany tried to establish an EU military apparatus outside of NATO. The venture eventually failed.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has travelled around the world, delivering anti-American speeches, cultivating Washington's enemies like Iran and trying to forge regional friendships by using his country's vast oil resources, in a bid to lessen US influence in Latin America.

China and Russia have used the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group of six nations, to thwart growing US influence in Central Asian countries. The group called for the withdrawal of US forces from Uzbekistan that are there to support military operations in Afghanistan. The United States announced earlier this year it would leave Uzbekistan, citing human rights abuses by the country's government.

However, despite such negative views and efforts to build up counterweights to American hegemony, the United States has not found itself alone on crucial international issues and has sought to forge consensus following the controversy over Iraq.

Washington has, for example, been behind multilateral efforts to prevent North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear arms, enlisting Britain, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and South Korea in the efforts.

The United States has also strengthened its ties with some countries and found new friends in the post-September 11 age. US- Japanese relations have been better than ever, analysts point out.

After decades of antagonism, Washington has also developed close ties with India, an emerging power in Asia with the world's fastest growing economy. Pakistan has also proven to be a crucial US partner in the war on terrorism. The US and Europe have closely coordinated their law enforcement and intelligence gathering efforts to counter terrorism.

John Pike, analyst at the Globalsecurity.org think tank, said the Bush administration would continue to work diplomatically to resolve problems while understanding that it can act unilaterally if it needs to, with limited help from the rest of the world.

'There's not very much the United States needs from all of these other governments to act militarily,' he said.

The September 11 attacks have allowed Bush to justify huge defence budgets to build up the US military after years of cuts following the Cold War, according to Pike.

'If the problem looks like a nail, we have an outstanding hammer,' he said.

The end of the Cold War marked a turning point in the US ability to act with force overseas. The evaporation of the Soviet Union meant the US could not be constrained by a rival power, instead only by domestic fear of getting US troops bogged down in unwinnable situations.

This 'Vietnam syndrome' still haunted the US throughout the 1990 and had forced then president Bill Clinton to withdraw from Somalia after the deaths of 18 American soldiers in one day of fighting in 1993 in Mogadishu.

Since then, however, the images of commercial airliners slamming into the World Trade Centre have replaced the memory of US soldiers stuck in the mire of Vietnam, and dramatically altered public thinking about national security and the need to sacrifice American lives overseas regardless of international opinion, Cole believes.

September 11 effectively pushed Vietnam into the past and led to a belief that the United States had to act to deal with threats before they manifested on American soil - a threat Bush referred to when justifying the invasion on Iraq.

'September 11 is a major piece of the puzzle because the domestic authorization for unilateral action comes out of it,' said Cole, the University of Michigan professor.


Copyright 2006, Deutsche Presse Agentur