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Algora Publishing - The War on Terrorism May Bring on a New U.S. Isolationism
                                               For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Tuesday,
The War on Terrorism May Bring on a New U.S. Isolationism
William Pfaff International Herald Tribune

PARIS The successful terrorist attacks on New York and Washington breached that confidence in national separation and singularity that has been at the core of American political identity.
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Most mainstream comment in Europe and Asia has expressed concern that the Washington and New York attacks could have the ultimate effect of promoting American isolationism.
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What happens will depend most on how the hunt for the terrorists ends. Assume success: Osama bin Laden and his entourage are seized and tried, or killed while resisting arrest. His terrorist network, so far as it can be traced, is rolled up through police and intelligence cooperation in the United States and among its allies and other friendly states. If the search for the terrorists is successful, and American actions enjoy wide allied and other support, it is reasonable to think that a U.S. re-engagement with the world will follow, with the unilateralist and isolationist drift of the Bush administration's recent policies stopped. American victory would nonetheless accentuate an already deep split between the United States and many in the Third World who cannot identify with the American cause and don't think that the United States represents their interests. Thus, victory by the United States would not be a victory for them, at least as they see it. Some would consider it a defeat, a fact that implies an eventual recurrence of terrorism.
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Consider the pessimistic scenario, in which the search for those responsible for the attacks goes badly. Military operations might produce heavy collateral civilian casualties, as well as deaths among the military forces engaged.
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The United States might take decisions that set off controversy inside the Western alliance, as well as in the larger international community. If countries that Americans think of as allies or friends put obstacles in the U.S. path there will be a popular backlash in the United States.
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A bad or even frustrating outcome - with some allies having failed to support Washington, or Russia, China or the Europeans on the UN Security Council having made difficulties - could trigger an isolationist reaction in the United States.
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A new isolationism would likely rest on a new and narrowed American alliance incorporating NAFTA, Israel, Taiwan and possibly Japan, with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States its semi-dependencies. Washington would be determined to keep Japan in such an alliance, despite popular misgivings there.
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This forecast envisages a general geopolitical realignment in which the United States regroups its economic and security dependencies into a tight new alliance, reactive but essentially defensive. It would be conservativeand unilateralist in outlook, militarily dominant in the world, an aggressive although fundamentally protectionist commercial competitor to former allies as well as to former enemies.
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This scenario also assumes that American and European political interests and conceptions diverge more sharply than now is the case.
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What roles would Russia and China claim? Their current common ambition is to promote a multilateral international balance in which U.S. power can be offset by their own limited military power, plus the economic and political weight of Europe and India. This would be encouraged by the new alignment.
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The new American isolationism, incorporating Taiwan and possibly Japan, would prove a destabilizing factor in Asia.
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This new and aggressive/defensive American isolationism would imply a final end to Cold War alignments. Its estrangement of the United States from the Third World would mean an end to Washington's "neo-Wilsonian" ideas about global democracy, as well as to the ambitions some have expressed of American global hegemony.
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It would impose an independent political role on Europe, wanted or not. It would encourage Russia's European ambitions. It would create new and unwanted Asian tensions.
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It would alter the fundamental American idea of the nation's place in the modern world, substituting a conception of defensive entrenchment for the identity it has claimed for two centuries, that of progressive leader. The terrorists could never have anticipated such a result.
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Los Angeles Times Syndicate.