TRIBUTE series



The US meets with global leaders to garner support for its ‘war on terror’

The international sceneis showing signs of recovering from the wave of hysteria that followed the terrorist attacks in the US, which prompted the world’s only superpower to announce a global ‘war against terror.’ This was followed by panic among the public over fears of chemical and biological warfare following attempts to spread the anthrax bacillus.

According to an annual report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the UK, the US appears to be facing the most daunting challenge since the Cold War. It refers to the situation as “the dawn of a new strategic era, which has changed the global balance in the world.”

The trend of events since these dramatic pronouncements has led to a reassessment of US strategy, which in lieu of all-out war has combined intensive air strikes with ground operations directed against Taliban strongholds. This change has been occasioned by an appreciation of certain ground realities such as the possibly high toll of civilian casualties from the bombings. And it has caused international concern especially among America’s allies, as well as doubts over the effectiveness of air strikes.

A serious concern is the reaction of America’s allies such as the Arab states and Pakistan, which are caught in the crossfire of US military operations and public unrest.

Another sensitive issue is the flood of Afghan refugees who are seeking refuge in Pakistan and thousands of Pakistani tribesmen who are agitating to venture across to Afghanistan to support the Taliban.

Meanwhile, the US’ plans to undertake ground operations through an airdrop of its forces in association with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan are materialising. There’s no evidence yet of major casualties among the Taliban who appear as defiant and self-confident as ever.

Indeed, the leader of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has said in a newspaper interview that the real war against America hasn’t started yet, promising to teach the United States a bitter lesson.

There’s open dissatisfaction in the United States too, over the conduct of these operations; and more recently, over the anthrax scare.

President George W. Bush is being blamed for not having a proper strategy. In fact, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld openly expressed doubts to reporters about the possibility of the US ever apprehending Osama bin Laden. Of course, he later denied making these remarks.

The situation is critical and it’s up to America to launch a new initiative that will produce the desired results or be drawn into a protracted operation like in Vietnam, which can be disastrous to both its image and reputation.

By a fortunate coincidence, an event that occurred recently could afford a timely opportunity for the US to take the initiative in the Taliban conundrum. The occasion was a meeting of APEC, which was held in Shanghai recently.

The conference was attended by its 21 members states, which represent the most powerful and prestigious nations in the world. It provided Bush with the ideal opportunity to explain the American position on the Taliban issue and seek their support.

In fact, one such crucial encounter was with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. This was due to the rather strained relationship between China and the US in the recent past because of an incident with a spy plane and American arms sales to Taiwan. However, Jiang was supportive of the war on terror, which he described as “a fight of good versus evil and civilisation versus barbarity.”

Bush held similar talks with the leaders of South Korea, Japan, Brunei, Singapore, Russia and Malaysia – no doubt with a view to seek their support – and made this APEC meeting a critical as well as timely one for the US at this juncture.

No less important was Bush’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There seems to be a good relationship between the United States and Russia based on the latter’s support for Russian action in Chechnya, and Russian support in turn for the US war against terror.

In fact, it could be said that the efforts by Washington may have contributed to turning APEC into an antiterrorism coalition.

Another noteworthy event that took place in October was the decision of the Provisional IRA in Ireland to decommission its weapons.

This is a historic move – one that will hopefully end the civil war. The significance of this act of decommissioning at this time is that it was in effect due to the intervention of the US president as a part of his campaign against terrorism.

BY  The late Deshamanya Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis