Recent attacks create opportunity for coalition

By Joshua Steinman

Al Qaeda’s recent attack on British interests in Turkey presents a unique opportunity to assemble a coalition aligned against reactionary Islamic extremism. It has been more than two years since Al Qaeda attacked the United States with four separate hijackings. Since that time, many commentators have openly (or in my case, privately) questioned the Bush administration’s approach to a renewed foreign policy. However, last week’s attacks—targeting British civilians on Turkish soil—present the President with a renewed mandate to try to establish a new international order.

In his work After Victory, John Ikenberry discusses how, following major world upheaval, the victorious countries have established a “post-war order” that has shaped the following international community. Following the Thirty Years War it was the peace of Westphalia, following World War I it was the League of Nations, and following World War II it was the United Nations.

Following September 11, which many (including those in the Bush administration) considered an act of war, President Bush theoretically could have attempted to lay a similar foundation for another international order. Just as NATO was a coalition of democratic countries, Bush could have used the groundswell of support for the United States to propose a new coalition against Al Qaeda.

Those critical commentators have for the past year talked about missed opportunities. And until today, they were right. President Bush over the past year has presented a unilateralist agenda to the international community, to the detriment of the country. But there also was a problem with establishing a coalition following September 11. Since the attack was on American soil and the victims were mostly American, there was no serious sense of loss for citizens of other countries; they felt only empathy.

Thursday’s attack changes the dynamics of the war on Al Qaeda. British and Turkish citizens were both the targets and the victims of the attack. This demonstrates Al Qaeda’s dedication to the eradication of Western influence from all Islamic countries. Turkey, the most western of the Islamic countries, is the only democratic one, and most importantly, has been lobbying heavily for the past several years to join the European Union.

Osama bin Laden has couched his war of terrorism as a response to occupation of the Islamic Holy Land—Saudi Arabia. But with the complete withdrawl of U.S. forces last month, the argument that he has used for the past decade holds little water. Before, European countries could hide behind the excuse that America was the target of terrorism because it was occupying the land of Jidda and Mecca. Now we see that bin Laden’s agenda is a far wider campaign against not only the West but also modernity itself.

And we come back to President Bush. He now has the opportunity to take the case against bin Laden to the people and leaders of Europe who, until Thursday, were only witnesses to the war. Now they are targets. Just like the communists following the World War II, Al Qaeda’s expressed purpose is the destruction of democratic capitalism. And that threatens not only the United States, but also our European allies.

I can imagine an international agency—or even NATO—with a new mission to identify terrorist cells, isolate and eliminate their funding sources, arrest or investigate their members, and all without the burdensome cross-border intelligence bureaucracies that now restrain international terror investigations. Collective security measures could also be a part of the new agreement.

Imagine if the CIA’s current dearth of Farsi speakers were filled by a sudden influx of Turkish intelligence agents, and if Turkish security forces could train side-by-side with counterterrorist agents at Langley.

Honestly, I’m not sure if this will work. But there is only so far that our current policy can take us. And we’re nearing the end of the line.