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2 Years After 9-11, US Shifts Focus of War on Terrorism to Middle East - 2003-09-10


When 19 hijackers flew airliners into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on September 11, 2001, President Bush declared a global war on terrorism. U.S. forces attacked al-Qaida terrorist leaders who were behind the attacks at their bases in Afghanistan and ousted the radical Islamic government there.

Two years after the September 11 attacks, President George Bush is clear the war on terrorism remains a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy.

"We have carried the fight to the enemy," he said. "We are rolling back the terrorist threat to civilization, not on the fringes of its influence, but at the heart of its power."

In the early months after 9-11, U.S. forces took the fight to Afghanistan to oust al-Qaida terrorists behind the attacks in New York and Washington. The campaign resulted in a change of government in Kabul and rebuilding efforts still underway.

Now the Bush administration has shifted the focus of its war on terrorism to the Middle East, notably on Iraq.

"Iraq is now the central front," announced Mr. Bush. "Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there and there they must be defeated."

But, the U.S. decision to intervene in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein without U.N. approval soured relations with its traditional allies in Europe.

Those lingering tensions are complicating Washington's efforts to enlist the United Nations in sharing the burden of rebuilding and securing Iraq.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is counting on U.N. members to put aside past disputes to help Iraq's political transition.

"We have a common goal: to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people as fast as is possible, as fast as it is practicable," said Mr. Powell. "And if we all keep our eyes on that common goal, it seems to me we should be able to get a resolution that will enjoy strong support and, hopefully, unanimous support."

Most U.N. members are reluctant to join the reconstruction effort until Washington gives more details of the strategy for sharing the responsibility.

The Bush administration also has come under heavy criticism at home from U.S. lawmakers who complain of inadequate preparation for the aftermath of the war. They have balked at the administration's request for $87 billion to pay for security and reconstruction programs without a clear exit strategy.

But U.S. officials are determined to oversee Iraq's democratic transition, which they see as a potential model for the rest of the region.

Middle East analyst William Nash warns that the inability of U.S. forces to quickly provide security and basic services is undermining U.S. credibility and fueling anti-American violence. The former commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo now directs Preventive Diplomacy research at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"One of the things I learned is the perception of the people in the region that the United States can do anything we want to do," he said. "Therefore, if we do not do it, we do not want to."

Arab scholars and diplomats say that perception also extends to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which they say is one of the root causes of terrorism.

After ousting Saddam in Iraq, President Bush relaunched the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and promised sustained, high-level U.S. involvement. The so-called "road map" to peace calls for establishing a Palestinian state by 2005.

Only a few months later the effort appears on the brink of collapse, amid Palestinian political power struggles, the resumption of Palestinian suicide bombings, and Israeli targeted killings of Islamic radicals.

Some Middle East analysts express concern the focus on Iraq is diverting much-needed U.S. political energy from the peace process.

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