New York Bombing Bears Vulnerability

By Bruce Hoffman and Benjamin Schwarz



TWO recent events indicate that there is both opportunity and motive for future terrorism against the United States. The bombing of the World Trade Center demonstrates that Americans can no longer believe themselves immune to such violence within their own borders. At the same time, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s assertion that this strike should demonstrate to the US the dangers of intervening in foreign quarrels suggests that the role America has chosen for itself in the chaotic post-cold-war w orld may add to the motives for such assaults.

The Trade Center blast shattered America’s sense of security. Despite the rapidity with which the case was cracked, American law enforcement’s long string of successes in thwarting the commission of terrorist acts by foreign groups in this country has ended. Moreover, the psychological defenses surrounding the US have also been breached, which is likely to encourage future attacks. If “amateurs” can fashion a simple bomb and cause so much damage and disruption, what could international terrorism’s genuin e “professionals” accomplish?

The World Trade Center bombing was not, in fact, linked to US policy in the Balkans, as American officials widely feared and as Mr. Karadzic’s warning implied. But those responses underscore the perils of intervention and pitfalls of being seen as – and consciously defining ourselves as – the world’s sole remaining superpower. This ensures that America will be either blamed for the world’s ills or beseeched to solve them.

Either position could make the US an attractive terrorist target. With the cold war’s end, long-suppressed ethnic, nationalist, and religious animosities are surfacing throughout Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. Over the next quarter century, at least, atrocities, anti-democratic forces, and general instability will be endemic in these lands.

The Clinton administration holds that the US has a responsibility to build a world order shaped by American power and values. But, in pursuing this policy, America is assigning itself a dangerous role: leader of “collective” security and humanitarian efforts. A street cop, in other words, trying to sort out a potentially endless array of nasty domestic and regional squabbles. America, of course, has played this role before: in Lebanon, for example, where our attempt to restore stability provoked a series

of terrorist acts that finally forced us, after great cost, to leave that country’s future to the people directly affected by it. Playing this role in coming years will inevitably create new enemies and new hazards for America.

The implications of America’s world-order strategy for our susceptibility to terrorist attacks have been inadequately considered. Americans must understand that they cannot intervene in the world’s intercommunal and regional conflicts without becoming enmeshed in the violence of these conflicts. Our intervention in future Bosnias is likely to be regarded by one side or the other, or by all, as an obstacle to the attainment of fervor – the most dangerous wellsprings of terrorism.

In addition, since America has defined its post-cold-war foreign policy in terms of punishing “aggression” and helping produce stability and democracy, the US will be expected to act whenever and wherever peace, stability, and democracy are imperiled.

THE Muslim world, for instance, has been enraged by what it sees as America’s double standard: Why, it demands, was Iraq’s aggression and flouting of international standards punished with US military power, while Serbia’s is not?

This fury was the motivation behind last month’s shootings outside the CIA. The suspect is a Pakistani national. Adhering to our current policy may therefore invite terrorism not just because of US action – as is apparently the case in the Trade Center attack – but because of our inaction.

This does not necessarily imply that America should not seek to impose stability in other lands. Rather, it is to caution that what in America appears to be, or is portrayed as, impartial humanitarian assistance and the thwarting of aggression may be interpreted quite differently by some of the parties to the conflicts that we seek to influence or resolve.

To those parties, “humanitarian relief” and attempts to quell civil wars may well be regarded as a new-world-order version of old-style, great-power intervention – as partisan interference in domestic and regional affairs. The proliferation of the globe’s civil and regional conflicts, combined with the world leadership role the US has assumed, will direct new hatred toward America.

Americans should embark upon their foreign policy with both eyes open. They must recognize that there is a price to be paid if they wish to reorder the world.

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