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Project Realignment

By Jackson Murphy
web posted March 24, 2003

With the war finally underway in Iraq and with only eighteen short months since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 there are many glimpses of what kind of world will emerge in a post-terrorist, post-Gulf War II world.

I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but the lead up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the now unfolding conflict, is demonstrating what commentators gleefully predicted in the wake of September 11 -- that things would never be the same. And yet, they haven't been very good at keeping up with this theme -- or accepting it.

Los Angeles-based writer Matt Welch writes in The National Post, "More than anything, the Sept. 11 massacre affected the States in a way outsiders seem to understand less and less. It dramatically lowered the bar for pre-emptive military intervention -- now, if Americans believe a dictator has the slightest inclination to support a catastrophic act of terror on our soil, he's in trouble. Isolationism, traditionally a thick strain in domestic politics, has now been marginalized into a fringe superstition."

As outsiders to the newly galvanized America there seems to be complete dismay and traditional allies have been caught playing far off the game plan. International institutions have been unmasked as the outdated and sometimes ridiculous instruments in world affairs that they are. Nations have been unable to cope with a 2003 world operating on a 1945 platform. Think of it this way. Try installing Windows 2000 on a computer with only a primitive 386 processor. The word crash doesn't seem to tell the story well enough.

The United Nations which was designed for the post-WWII era simply needs to be overhauled. Andrew Sullivan has asked how can it exist, as an organization that makes no distinction in members who are either rogue states or civilized ones?

And Thomas Friedman writing in The New York Times captures the essence of trying to run a modern world on outdated equipment. "World War I gave birth to the League of Nations and an attempt to recreate a balance of power in Europe, which proved unstable. World War II gave birth to the U.N., NATO, the IMF, and the bipolar American-Soviet power structure, which proved quite stable until the end of the cold war. Now, 9/11 has set off World War III, and it, too, is defining a new international order."

But short of some miraculous collapse in places such as Germany or France how can we motivate them to give up, especially in the case of France, their treasured seats in the old institutions?

The problem, it would seem, is that these nations opposing the war (Germany, France, Canada) or mostly ignoring it (China, Russia) and the people marching in the streets don't understand this transition the world system is going through.

Some of this stems from the largely successful Cold War period where the world was essentially divided in two camps and the areas Friedman calls "The World of Disorder" were pretty much under one or the others thumb-it worked a little too good. Now these pockets of disorder have the means and the ambition to drop into our peaceful neighborhoods from time to time with suicide bombers or eventually weapons of mass destruction.

And some nations are perfectly comfortable attempting to wait for that moment to happen. Perfectly comfortable to keeping playing the game as it was being played in the Cold War. Fortunately a group of nations in the past week have begun playing a new game. The game is called realignment.

It is going to be tough to win. When the world was realigned after World War II the fighting had touched or involved vast parts of Asia, Europe, North America, and Africa. This time the fighting is sporadic, unconventional, and hasn't touched the hearts of many parts of the world.

What is more surprising is that nations that have been some of the great beneficiaries of American power and dominance, especially economically, over the past sixty years suddenly feel that America's role as guarantee of freedom is no longer necessary.

Charles Krauthammer fittingly suggests that the new world order, "be born out of the Iraq coalition. Maybe it will acquire a name, maybe it won't. But it is the coalition of freedom-led by the United States and Britain and about 30 other nations including such moderate Arab states as Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar -- that should set and institutionalize the terms for postwar Iraq. Not the Security Council."

The question is why wouldn't some of the other nations want to be a part of this coalition to liberate Iraq, and participate in the realignment? They never bought into the post-September 11 world where things had changed, but they have, and they better figure it out.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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