The Magazine

The Real New World Order

The American and the Islamic challenge

Nov 12, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 09 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
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Guided by the vision of an autonomous, active, and norm-driven "international community" that would relieve a unilateralist America from keeping order in the world, the Clinton administration spent eight years signing one treaty, convention, and international protocol after another. From this web of mutual obligations, a new and vital "international community" would ultimately regulate international relations and keep the peace. This would, of course, come at the expense of American power. But for those brought up to distrust, and at times detest, American power, this diminution of dominance was a bonus.

To understand the utter bankruptcy of this approach, one needs but a single word: anthrax. The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention sits, with the ABM treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention, in the pantheon of arms control. We now know that its signing marks the acceleration of the Soviet bioweapons program, of which the 1979 anthrax accident at a secret laboratory at Sverdlovsk was massive evidence, largely ignored. It was not until the fall of the Soviet Union that the vast extent of that bioweapons program was acknowledged. But that -- and the post-Gulf War evidence that Iraq, another treaty signatory in good standing, had been building huge stores of bioweapons -- made little impression on the liberal-internationalist faithful. Just before September 11, a serious debate was actually about to break out in Congress about the Bush administration's decision to reject the biological weapons treaty's new, and particularly useless, "enforcement" protocol that the Clinton administration had embraced.

After the apocalypse, there are no believers. The Democrats who yesterday were touting international law as the tool to fight bioterrorism are today dodging anthrax spores in their own offices. The very idea of safety-in-parchment is risible. When war breaks out, even treaty advocates take to the foxholes. (The Bush administration is trying to get like-minded countries to sign onto an agreement to prevent individuals from getting easy access to the substrates of bioweapons. That is perfectly reasonable. And it is totally different from having some kind of universal enforcement bureaucracy going around the world checking biolabs, which would have zero effect on the bad guys. They hide everything.)

This decade-long folly -- a foreign policy of norms rather than of national interest -- is over. The exclamation mark came with our urgent post-September 11 scurrying to Pakistan and India to shore up relations for the fight with Afghanistan. Those relations needed shoring up because of U.S. treatment of India and Pakistan after their 1998 nuclear tests. Because they had violated the universal nonproliferation "norm," the United States automatically imposed sanctions, blocking international lending and aid, and banning military sales. The potential warming of relations with India after the death of its Cold War Soviet alliance was put on hold. And traditionally strong U.S.-Pakistani relations were cooled as a show of displeasure. After September 11, reality once again set in, and such refined nonsense was instantly put aside.

This foreign policy of norms turned out to be not just useless but profoundly damaging. During those eight Clinton years, while the United States was engaged in (literally) paperwork, the enemy was planning and arming, burrowing deep into America, preparing for war.

When war broke out, eyes opened. You no longer hear that the real issue for American foreign policy is global warming, the internal combustion engine, drug traffic, AIDS, or any of the other transnational trendies of the '90s. On September 11, American foreign policy acquired seriousness. It also acquired a new organizing principle: We have an enemy, radical Islam; it is a global opponent of worldwide reach, armed with an idea, and with the tactics, weapons, and ruthlessness necessary to take on the world's hegemon; and its defeat is our supreme national objective, as overriding a necessity as were the defeats of fascism and Soviet communism.

That organizing principle was enunciated by President Bush in his historic address to Congress. From that day forth, American foreign policy would define itself -- and define friend and foe -- according to who was with us or against us in the war on terrorism. This is the self-proclaimed Bush doctrine -- the Truman doctrine with radical Islam replacing Soviet communism. The Bush doctrine marks the restoration of the intellectual and conceptual simplicity that many, including our last president, wistfully (and hypocritically) said they missed about the Cold War. Henry Kissinger's latest book, brilliant though it is, published shortly before September 11, is unfortunately titled Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Not only do we know that it does. We know what it is.