The world is changing. Perhaps September 11 prompted this transformation, or maybe that day just put it in better light. It doesn't really matter. Either way, these changes have arrived, and as the world's only superpower, America is in the center of it all.
These changes do not simply contain the growing threat of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, although these issues are of course well associated. It includes another aspect, frequently overlooked but vastly important. This is the changing dynamic of world power. The current rift growing between the American-British and Franco-German alliances over war in Iraq is just the tip of the iceberg. The changing dynamic will decide in what state the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO will all continue (or won't continue) to exist. They way things seem to be playing out now, there are two fronts to the issue: Europe and the Middle East.
They way the dust settles in Iraq will have a profound effect on how things play out in Europe. Yesterday, America presented the U.N. Security Council with a second resolution essentially to authorize war in Iraq, putting France to the test. Although Germany is guaranteed to support Saddam, the veto-wielding France will decide whether America has U.N. approval or goes it "alone" (having only the support of Australia, Canada, and the 18 European countries that have pledged their allegiance in writing). In previous articles, I have explained how this vote may define the future of the U.N. I have also said that this war will happen either way; America will win, begin to rebuild Iraq, and evidence of Saddam's weapons will be found. Only then will the E.U. realize that it never really finished defining itself. Britain, joined by the increasingly pro-American Eastern European bloc, will question whether it is such a good idea to have President Chirac of France and Chancellor Schroeder of Germany running the show, after all the fuss they caused over Iraq. Whoever emerges as the E.U.'s heavyweights will greatly affect American-European relations for the future.
Turning to the Middle East, America currently finds itself in a very interesting position, one that has the potential to slide in either direction quickly. No Arab country is looking forward to war in Iraq, but that is more out of distrust of America than support for Saddam. If this war is bloody and long with many civilian casualties, and if the U.S. doesn't sufficiently rebuild Iraq while maintaining its Arab and Muslim heritage, then it will be a failure. One American-hating dictator will be removed, but three more will be created and Al Qaeda will find many new recruits. This war will provide many opportunities for positive change as long as it is swift and causes as little suffering as possible. If the people of Iraq are given humanitarian aid, and if a government is set up and funded so as to give Iraq the means and potential to become a prosperous state, only then will America have succeeded. The message we send will exclaim that America does not have goals of colonizing the Middle East, stealing its oil, and imposing Western culture. America's war against Saddam was not a war against Islam, but a war against an enemy of Islam. This message would give confidence to other reform movements (for example in Iran) that they have allies, and that America will support them. In addition to showing the Arab world that America can be an ally, we will have also shown that any other Saddam-wannabes will not be tolerated, in the Arab world or beyond. It seems likely that after Saddam's crushing defeat, Iran would be more likely to cede to international requests to halt its nuclear ambitions, and that North Korea will be more likely to sit at the negotiating table.
Taking a step back, aggressive but completely necessary U.S. foreign policy after September 11 has given the world the jitters. However, America has the opportunity now to show that this policy is not enforced blindly but with calculated precision and with goals of peace and worldwide human rights. Europe must decided whether it is with America or against it because after Iraq, the war on terrorism will continue, and if the E.U. ties itself in a knot every time, its influence will quickly diminish.
The manner in which America proceeds with the war, and the way in which Europe, the Middle East, and the organizations contained within react to such a war, will dictate the dynamic of world power in the future.