Five years after 9/11 -- 'We are all Americans' no more

September 5, 2006 - 0:0
WASHINGTON (AFP) - "We are all Americans" was the rallying cry from Paris to Beijing in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States, as nations lined up behind U.S. plans to battle global terrorists and bring stability to the troubled Middle East.

But five years on, diplomatic harmony has faded from view and foreign policy crises boil on virtually every front for the administration of President George W. Bush.

The emergence of a democratic government in Afghanistan after the ouster of the Islamist Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies was heralded as the first victory of a broad coalition that Washington said was destined to achieve equal success in Iraq, Iran and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Today, the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai is teetering in the face of attacks by still potent Taliban militants and Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden remains at large, despite the efforts of thousands of foreign troops.

Iraq is well on the way to civil war, engulfed by spiraling violence and sectarian conflict that has left a vast trail of U.S. and Iraqi dead more than three years after Saddam Hussein was toppled from power.

Iran, emboldened by the rising power of its Shiite allies across the region, is confidently engaged in a game of brinkmanship with the United States over Tehran's nuclear program.

And Arab-Israeli tensions have hit the highest pitch in years with another, still smoldering war in Lebanon and Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts in tatters.

The Bush administration finds itself increasingly isolated in this dismal diplomatic landscape -- blamed for a unilateralist foreign policy that has alienated erstwhile supporters and undermined Washington's ability to influence world events.

"When it comes to the global coalition of post 9/11, this is a coalition that is crumbling and in desperate need of maintenance and repair," said Julianne Smith, coordinator of a major review of U.S. policy since September 11 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Smith and other analysts said the Bush administration's decision after the Al-Qaeda attacks to view foreign policy almost exclusively through the prism of the "war on terror" led to a raft of hasty and overly aggressive actions.

"By linking together the war on terrorism, the war on Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan, the president and his administration basically undertook a reformation of the broader Middle East," said Jon Wolfstahl, an expert on Iran and non-proliferation at CSIS.

He said hardliners in the Bush administration "took advantage of the emotional shock of 9/11 to hoist America on an adventurous, one-sided and destructive policy in the Middle East.

"The war on terror, which is an undefined enemy, the Islamophobic hysteria, the exaggeration of the terrorist threat, the elevation of Iraq to the central front and the abandonment of the American mediating role in the Middle East are cumulatively damaging American interests," he told AFP.

The determination of the Bush administration to invade Iraq in the wake of 9/11 is widely seen as the defining moment in a shift of U.S. foreign policy from the diplomatic engagement of previous governments to one of unilateral preemption and containment of perceived enemies.

"The administration was scrambling for quick answers and we latched onto Iraq," said Smith of the CSIS, attributing the rush to war to a hardline group led by Vice President Dick Cheney and including then-Defense Department strategist Paul Wolfowitz.

"They'd been thinking about Iraq before September 11, it was at the top of their list,… but a radicalization of Islamic groups worldwide and the empowerment of U.S. adversaries like Iran, she said.

"Nearly five years after the attacks on 9/11, American diplomacy has succeeded not in isolating the terrorists, but the United States," said James Dobbins, a former White House and State Department official with years of experience in the Middle East.

Triti Parsi, an author who has interviewed many Iranian leaders in recent months, said the weakness of the Bush approach was manifest in the hesitant efforts to end the war in Lebanon and the current nuclear standoff with Tehran.

"The Bush administration has truly overplayed its hand by consistently pushing for a solution that it just doesn't have the power or the influence to attain," he said.

"The lesson of Iraq and Lebanon is that there is no military solution to the problems in the Middle East," he said.