American troops have landed in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Russia’s post-communist satrapies. The Indian government has agreed, for the first time ever, to let American planes land on its soil too. The Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have been dragged back to the negotiating table. The Northern Alliance, the anti-Taliban Afghan opposition, which has been of almost no concern to the United States, are now its vital allies. Behind the scenes, the United States is negotiating with Iran.
Three weeks ago, each one of these developments would have seemed improbable, even impossible. Three weeks ago, American television broadcasters would not have been able to find Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on a map.
Put together, however, these events form a pattern. In the wake of September 11, not every aspect of daily life may have changed. But the diplomatic world – which is not at all the same thing as the real world – has already been altered beyond recognition. America’s alliances have changed, America’s foreign policy has changed, America’s diplomatic priorities have been completely transformed. Expressed simply, the War on Terrorism is the new Cold War. By this, I mean that the War on Terrorism is the new organising principle around which all other aspects of American diplomacy will swiftly fall into place. For the past decade, there has been no such principle, or at least not one that was easy to articulate. George Bush Senior spoke of the “New World Order” but had no policy to fit the phrase. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, had a policy but no eloquent way to describe it. It was sometimes referred to by the awkward term “nationbuilding” but the policy has more accurately described as “democracy promotion”.
All around the world – in China, in Russia, in Malaysia, all over Africa, and above all in Serbia – the United States lectured and scolded, complaining about the closure of opposition newspapers, protesting when opposition leaders were locked up. The State Department issued annual assessments of other countries’ human rights records. Madeleine Albright tried to organise a “democracy caucus” within the United Nations, failing only because France refused to join.
With breathtaking rapidity, the democracy promotion rhetoric is now being discarded, the policies abandoned. A senior American diplomat told me this week of the relief he feels, knowing he will no longer have to spend his days pushing American values down other peoples’ unwilling throats: “democracy promotion”, like Robin Cook’s “ethical foreign policy”, never suited professional diplomats. Nor did it ever suit the many isolationists in the United States, who could never quite see the American national interest in Kosovo. Nor did it please the business community, who couldn’t understand why the oppression of Tibet need disrupt their lucrative trade with China. Nor, even, did it ever wholly please promoters of human rights, who hated its inconsistencies: everyone knew that the United States complained far more about anti-democratic policies in Kenya than it did about far nastier anti-democratic policies in petrol-rich, arms-purchasing Saudi Arabia.
An essentially idealistic policy, democracy promotion was diluted and weakened by considerations of realism. Indeed, some have argued that the hypocrisy of America partly explains the hatred of America, particularly in parts of the Muslim world.
By contrast, the War on Terrorism, like the Cold War, will have a far wider appeal, among ordinary Americans, diplomats and politicians alike. The goal is easier to define: defence of the “homeland”, as every American is suddenly calling the territory of the United States, is something even the most isolationist Congressman can understand. The opponent is easier to define, or seems to be: George Bush has spoken of a war against “terrorism with a global reach”, by which he appears to mean “terrorism that can reach the United States”. This will not be a war against the IRA, against the Tamil Tigers, against Hamas. Although some may also find this hypocritical too this is not the sort of hypocrisy which is likely to bother many Americans.
The War on Terrorism also provides, like the Cold War, a quick and easy guide to choosing allies and enemies, and also creates, like the Cold War, a series of moral dilemmas in consequence. Once, Americans found themselves on the same side as African, South American and Filipino dictators in the fight against communism, forced to support “our bastards” against “their bastards”.
Now it is happening again: already, President Bush has spoken approvingly of the Russians’ fight against the Chechens. A few weeks ago the Baltic states were next on the list to join Nato; now Colin Powell has informed them , in no uncertain terms, to mend fences with Russia too. A decade’s worth of diplomacy has been jettisoned overnight. We can expect further modifications of American policy towards South Asia, Europe, China, even the Middle East. Fairly or unfairly, there is increased irritation with Israel and its inability to make peace with the Palestinians. Only American policy towards the Arab Gulf States hasn’t changed – we didn’t say much then about their treatment of women and their undemocratic ways, and we certainly won’t say anything now.
It may well be, of course, that some of these diplomatic realignments were going to happen anyway as a new pragmatism replaced the old idealism of the Cold War. The moment he took office, President Bush advocated the construction of a missile defence system. His aim was to protect American territory, not to export American values. Yet not all of the rapidly emerging New New World Order can be explained by partisan politics. Most European Social Democrats, Tony Blair among them, will be secretly pleased to have clear American guidelines to follow – or to oppose – once again.
As for myself, I’m going to miss some things about the brief post-Cold War era, although it was easy to criticise at the time. The fumbling attempts at morality, the naive human rights rhetoric, the teach-yourself-democracyschemes – through a mist of nostalgia, they’ll soon seem as hopeless and as charming as the League of Nations, or the War to End All Wars. Or perhaps they already do.