A year later

  • 2002-09-12
There's been punditry galore to the contrary. But one year after the terror attacks on the United States, it's hard to say exactly how the world has changed. It will take decades for that to become clear.

For sure, those awful events changed the parameters of debate about what is and isn't acceptable in the post-Cold War world.

NATO enlargement, once such a devilishly provocative topic, suddenly seemed incidental. A détente between the United States and Russia cleared the way for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to achieve their top foreign policy goal.

But what NATO means in the post-Sept. 11 world is a more salient question these days, and whether it actually has the capabilities to defend against the kind of suicide attacks that killed more than 3,000 people in a single morning, an act pulled off by 19 men armed with nothing but box cutters and a fiendish plan.

If the next group of terrorists is armed with chemical or biological weapons — are the Western, militarily advanced nations of NATO in a position to thwart them?

Now, the specter of war against Iraq, a country run by a murderous despot who may be able to unleash poisonous chemical attacks on enemy troops as well as some of his neighbors, should be enough to make any country tremble.

The Bush administration is certainly right to target terror groups such as al-Qaida and regimes such as Saddam Hussein's as threats to international security, but it does little to appease Arab anger against the United States and the West at large by publicly planning a "regime change."

Despite all the rhetoric from Washington over the past year, it's unclear whether the administration has learned that these signals are what enflame hatred against the United States and the West at large.

The young, poor and neglected of places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other miserable and mismanaged countries do not live in free societies. The despots who run their countries routinely violate their basic civil rights to speak, dress, gather, worship as they please. And with no access to the global economy and all its riches, they become dangerously ripe for conversion to Osama bin Laden's murderous brand of fanaticism.

Meanwhile, new laws in America that bypass the courts and give the president alone power to designate anyone — be he a Saudi immigrant, a Lithuanian or even an American citizen — an "enemy combatant" and hold him indefinitely without access to a lawyer trample the very rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

If the United States will not uphold its own laws, how can it preach judicial reform in the Baltics, who have severe pre-trial detention problems of their own, let alone in places as woefully indifferent to civil rights as Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and others?

The United States was a beacon of hope for the Baltics and countless other nations as they fought against soulless totalitarian ideologies that in the end, never triumphed over the most advanced and humanitarian system of civilization the world has yet known.

The real way to win this war is to ensure that this system will not perish from the earth.