LONDON -- The American nation appears not only distressed and angry about The bombings but surprised, too. It cannot understand why anyone should be moved by such hatred against it and, inured from the rest of us by the isolationism of its representatives and media, it has little idea of the currents swirling against it. An event of this magnitude was not only unimagined; it was unimaginable. Yet long before George W. Bush became president with his in-your-face attitude to the world on issues as diverse as global warming and anti-missile defenses, America has been turning in on itself, to the point of self-destructiveness. American commentator William Pfaff wrote recently that ``America is a dangerous nation while remaining a righteous one,'' and George Kennan, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union during Stalin's time, wrote a few years ago: ``I do not think that the United States civilization of these last 40-50 years is a successful civilization. I think this country is destined to succumb to failures which cannot be other than tragic and enormous in their scope.''
Most Americans don't want to hear such thoughts played back to them on their day of grief. Yet they have to know that action produces reaction and that not for nothing is anti-American resentment on the increase all over the world, not least in Europe, where there is some astonishment at the way the new U.S. administration has plowed ahead with its self-interested agenda as if no one else has a legitimate opinion or could perhaps view the same situation in a different light.
Foreign observers do not miss the reports that come out of Pentagon think tanks about America's need to use this special moment after the defeat of European communism and the Soviet Union's break up to ensure that America is militarily superior the world over, and that no one, not even its allies, should be in a position to tell it what to do.
The Bush administration -- with its declared ambition to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed by Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev -- seems unconcerned that this will set in motion events that will unwind hard-won international norms on ending nuclear testing and on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, even hinting that it will understand if China has to increase its nuclear forces or test new nuclear weapons.
Most ordinary Europeans say that America has got itself into this hole by its own disregard for what others think. The first law of holes, of course, is to stop digging, which is what Washington should have told Israel six presidents ago when it started its counterproductive policy of building settlements on what everyone knew was Palestinian land. Amazingly, the policy continues with apparent understanding from the Bush administration.
While Arab governments ring their hands, and Palestinians fight one of the best trained armies with stones, there are the inevitable few attached to the Palestinian cause who are moved toward serious violence -- the suicide bombers and -- we don't know yet, although it is a likely explanation the destroyers of the World Trade Center.
In every political movement, there are fringe elements that advocate violence. This does not mean that the mainstream of that movement is wrong; it might or might not be. But, right or wrong, there always will be powerful elements of truth contained within it, or the passions and purpose would never have been ignited.
America right now is a repository of exhausted ideas, like dead stars. The arrogance of power has produced this inevitable reaction. America is threatened not by nuclear-tipped missiles from unknown rogue nations but by small groups of angry men who, although prisoners of their zealotry, know well enough that much of the world, while not agreeing with them, understands their frustration.
To deal with this effectively requires a new way of looking at the world. Kennan, Pfaff, the late Sen. William Fulbright and others have been arguing what this might be for a long time. On this sad day, one wishes that their pens could become mightier than America's sword.
Jonathan Power is a London-based independent columnist specializing in international affairs and Third World issues.
©2001 Jonathan Power
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