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How much is America prepared to pay for support? 26/9/01
President Bush is wooing the world.
International friendships are
burgeoning by the day as he seeks
a coalition against terrorism.
There are instant gifts for those
countries that promise him
their support. And some old friends,
Israel for instance, find themselves
unexpectedly under pressure.
Today's priority for the United
States is not to upset the Arabs.
Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian
leader, met today with Israel's
Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres. A
sombre, unfriendly meeting which
the Israelis had twice postponed.
But it had the Americans crowing
with delight, calling for
"immediate concrete actions"
to follow it up. A lasting
cease-fire is the aim. Not very
likely, but the pressure on both
sides has been intense. Israelis
and Palestinians are toeing the
DR JONATHAN EYAL:
Immediately in the aftermath of the
bombings in America, the Israelis
believed that they were vindicated, that
the United States is now going to make
a common front with them. But as
the dust has settled, Israel has
discovered it may actually be one
of the biggest losers. All of a
sudden, there is pressure on them
from both the Europeans, but
especially from the Americans.
For a host of reasons, America wants
the Arab states on its side. The
undermines their support,
so it's being defused. Tiny Jordan,
strategically sited on Iraq's border, has
been rewarded already for its co-operation
with a Free Trade Agreement, a rare
concession indeed by the American
Congress. An altogether bigger prize
is Iran, land of the ayatollahs,
America's enemy for 22 years. It
too is being courted, though so far
with mixed results. And, volte-face
extraordinary, America is cuddling up
to Russia, previously shunned, not least
for being seen for being brutal to the
rebellious Chechens. President Putin
has been quick off the mark. It's still war
- war with the Chechens - but Mr
Putin came up on Monday with an
offer of peace talks to Chechen
leader Aslan Maskhadov - an offer
quickly accepted. Again the
Americans have expressed delight,
whatever the outcome. Mr Putin, of
course, presents his Chechen problem
as one of Islamic terrorism, so he's offering
the Americans considerable support.
The US Department of State has come
out openly in saying it believes
Osama Bin Laden and his people have
been directly involved in Chechnya.
That's the most clear justification
for what the Russians have done.
Nobody in Washington is going to
justify some of the carpet bombing
of the Russians, but it's quite
obvious now nobody in Washington is
going to ask any awkward questions.
America's relations with India and Pakistan
have also turned turtle. President
Bush from the beginning warmed to
India, the world's most populous
democracy, with Pakistan decried as
a military dictatorship. Both countries
have been in the dog-house for testing nuclear
weapons, but now sanctions against
both of them have been lifted. Pakistan
has had its debts re-scheduled and has
American backing for an IMF loan.
Lollipops all round. The biggest lollipop
of all to the UN - more than $0.5 billion,
£400 million, of American money long
owed to the UN coughed up at last.
In Kabul today a Taliban-directed
mob torched the old, long-empty
American embassy, a symbolic
gesture of disdain, not to say of
hatred. It is a hatred shared by some
of the peoples inside President Bush's
new coalition. And here's a potential
problem. Governments can be bought
off, but they still have to cater
to popular feeling. As indeed does
America's own government.
Most Americans are willing to take
even allies of questionable repute
on in the war against terrorism. We
certainly were prepared to do so in
previous wars, such as W.W.II, when
we allied with Joseph Stalin.
Britain, the United States and
the Soviet Union fought together
against a common foe. The stakes
here are not quite so serious,
perhaps, but they are substantial.
To a certain extent, the American
behaviour is that of any power -
it makes quick calculation about
what the immediate interests are,
rather than a long-term one. But
there is also the luxury of a
superpower - the belief that one
can pick friends at will and throw
them away at will when the need for
them is no longer there. The atrocity
has fostered a moral crusade. But
what we are seeing exploited are the
cold, hard politics of national interest,
on all sides. Holding such a coalition
together long-term will be tricky.