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'With us or against us' campaign enlisted friends, made enemies, explored risky new horizons
By Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press
The soul-searing spectacle of a September morning changed the way America looks at the world. Now a year of war, of ultimatum, of overwhelming power is changing the way the world sees America.
"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists," President Bush told other governments in the first days of national shock a year ago, when Congress rushed through $40 billion for a war on terrorism and the U.S. military soon embarked, in Afghanistan, on its longest combat engagement since wading ashore in Vietnam almost four decades earlier.
For America, the counterstrike to Sept. 11 shattered old barriers and opened dangerous new horizons.
It landed U.S. forces in former Soviet territory for the first time, as a U.S.-Russian partnership grew stronger. It put American military teams into unfamiliar combat zones on the fringes of the Islamic world. And it produced a sharper U.S. tilt toward Israel, even as George Bush held out the promise of an independent Palestine.
Along the way, the forceful U.S. moves made enemies and complicated the support of friends. A wider war would mean still deeper complications.
"By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem. We reveal a problem," Bush told graduating West Point cadets nine months after Sept. 11.
What confronting Iraq's regime would create -- a review of world opinion makes clear -- is a stark image of America as enforcer of the status quo: an exclusive "nuclear club" of nations, a protective relationship with Arabian oil princes, an Israel of unrivaled superiority in its neighborhood.
The risk in the challenging times ahead is the "blowback" -- the unforeseen, just as a generation ago America's Afghan proxy war against the Soviets helped produce an unintended consequence named Osama bin Laden.
It was no surprise when old friends like Britain and Canada rushed to the United States' side as it retaliated for the terror inflicted by bin Laden's al-Qaida.
More striking was the solidarity shown by Russia, in words and quiet support, coming barely a decade after the two countries were locked in nuclear standoff.
President Vladimir Putin's backing for the American campaign reflected, in part, Moscow's desire to draw closer as an economic partner, in part its desire to cast its own war with Chechen separatists in the same light. The Putin embrace allowed the long arm of the Pentagon to base troops in the former Soviet states of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, on Afghanistan's northern border.
Even more daringly, Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, allowed American soldiers onto his Muslim soil, turned against onetime friends in Afghanistan and threw his own forces into the hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts.
Numbers tell the story of America's changed role: In a matter of weeks, its military strength in the region, stretching from Kuwait to Uzbekistan's Khanabad air base, quadrupled to 60,000 soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen.
Elsewhere, Washington has sent Army trainers to the Philippines, whose government is fighting Muslim separatists, to former Soviet Georgia, where Muslim guerrillas control a mountain region, and to Yemen, a sometime base for Islamist terrorists.
The "with us or against us" campaign found help at other international levels as well, in exchanges of police intelligence, in the tracing of terrorist funds, in arrests of suspects -- more than 1,300 in 70 countries, U.S. officials say.
In central Asia and elsewhere, America found new friends in its hour of need. But as the days stretched into months, as the freeze-frames of a morning's horror gave way to scenes of havoc in places called Kunduz, Kabul and Kandahar, sympathy began to fray.
"Today, the U.S. is the victim," a tough critic of the Islamists, Pakistani physicist and commentator Pervez Hoodbhoy, wrote after Sept. 11. "But the carpet-bombing of Afghanistan will cause it to squander the huge swell of sympathy in its favor the world over."
The eventual air campaign was not carpet-bombing, but it was devastating. History's most powerful nation dropped more than 18,000 bombs and missiles on one of the world's poorest lands. Across the Muslim world, and beyond, the sight angered millions.
Some reaction may have been unsurprising. A Tehran newspaper, for example, told Iranians that Washington's leaders "prescribe war and bloodshed as the only remaining course open to America for survival."
But the sharp backlash elsewhere -- in Saudi Arabia, for example -- may have been more unexpected.
Muslims were also angered by the secret roundups of U.S. Arabs and a Justice Department plan to fingerprint Middle Eastern visitors. That "squalid little proposal will further injure America's image and interests in the Muslim and Arab world," said Saudi Arabia's Arab News.
A Gallup poll three months into the war found that esteem for America was as low in Saudi Arabia as in Iran -- just 15 percent in both. Even in Kuwait, freed from Iraqi conquest by U.S. troops 11 years earlier, only 28 percent "favored" America.
Even beyond the Muslim belt stretching from Africa to east Asia, the mood of September -- the human compassion for innocent lives taken -- gave way to new emotions, new concerns.
Moscow's leading polling organization found America's approval rating among Russians dropped from 70 percent to below 50 percent from September to March. The pollsters attributed it to the bombing and worries about a new U.S. presence on Russian borders.
Farther west in Europe, although governments stood by Washington and supplied at least token special forces to the Afghan war, popular criticism sharpened.
In France, a book peddling the fantasy that right-wing American conspirators, not Islamist terrorists, were behind the Sept. 11 attacks sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Other questioning was more serious, however, especially when America, calling on friends to go into harm's way with it on one hand, brushed them off with the other -- on global warming, on accepting an international court for war crimes, on trade barriers.
The editor of the British magazine The Economist, Bill Emmott, commented that the world would soon see "whether America is going to be content to establish and nurture an international system based on norms and laws ... or whether it might now prefer one based primarily on power."
After the swift Afghan victory, some in Washington did look for new ways to project power, for other fronts, other opportunities.
Saddam Hussein became a prime potential target because of his refusal to allow an unhindered search for nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
But even in Britain, Bush's strongest supporter in Europe, polls this month showed a majority against attacking Iraq. Still, such voices as the conservative Daily Telegraph stayed the pro-invasion course, concluding, "There is no alternative."
Invading a second Muslim state after Afghanistan would risk inciting Arab opinion to explosive levels in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
A wider war was what bin Laden wanted.
After the bombs began falling on Afghanistan, the terrorist leader broadcast a statement telling Muslims that America had divided the world into two parts -- "one of faith ... and another of infidelity." With his summons to "jihad," he clearly hoped to plunge the planet into religious turmoil. But his call to war narrowed the focus, too, to bin Laden's personal jihad, in his Saudi Arabian homeland.
What lies beneath that kingdom's sands, 25 percent of the world's known oil reserves, will be a lifeblood for America and its allies for years to come. In addition, the $39 billion the Saudis spent on U.S.-made weapons in the 1990s was a lifeblood of a dominant U.S. industry.
Bin Laden and his followers want to sever those links, to sweep Western influences from the Islamic world.
The horrors of Sept. 11 awoke Americans to a wider world of threats and hatred for their powerful nation.
"Stereotypes of the United States as arrogant, self-indulgent, hypocritical, inattentive, and unwilling or unable to engage in cross-cultural dialogue are pervasive and deeply rooted," concluded a U.S. Council of Foreign Relations study.
The many mornings since Sept. 11 have awakened many Americans to more than that -- to the interdependence of an ever-smaller world, to their own dependence, to their vulnerability, especially in energy.
The growing American stake in Russia and central Asia is one response to that. Beneath their steppes and off their shores lies untapped wealth in oil and gas, far from bin Laden's Saudi Arabia.
ExxonMobil is there; Chevron is there. Something else is there as well -- the unknowable. Political upheaval? Ideological backlash? Religious extremism?
At a conference on the meaning of Sept. 11, one who is clearly "with" America in its war, Turkish Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, sounded a cautionary note about the uncharted road ahead.
"I hope," he said, "that today's solutions will not turn into the problems of tomorrow."