The prospect of war invariably changes the geopolitical landscape. The U.S.-led battle against terrorism appears to be of such scope and scale that it will be no exception. We already see changes in the Bush Administration's early unilateralist approach to foreign policy as the country seeks overseas allies in its search for Osama bin Laden. Indeed, it is to President Bush's credit that he has found the voice of leadership in troubled times and the courage to dramatically change course to achieve new national political and military goals. At a time of deep mourning for the thousands who died by terrorist hands and great uncertainty about what may unfold in the weeks and months ahead, we should remember that the world can come out of conflict a better and safer place. There are already signs of a geopolitical realignment under way that may do just that. The Bush Administration's fine calibration of foreign policy may, at the end of a very dark day, produce an international scenario surprisingly ripe with promise and opportunity.
Take Russia. President Bush's early courting of President Vladimir V. Putin is paying big dividends. Putin is offering great help to the U.S., from airfields in Central Asia to sharing intelligence data on bin Laden's network. He is promising to send arms to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, which opposes the Taliban, and use Russian troops to help in search-and-rescue operations if American aircraft are shot down. This could be the start of a much bigger alliance leading to a vast reduction of nuclear arms, U.S. investment in Russian oil fields and industries, and the eventual entrance of Russia into the World Trade Organization and perhaps even NATO. This would truly lay the Cold War to rest.
Relations with Iran could improve substantially as well. Some 77% of the Iranian electorate recently voted for reformist President Mohammed Khatami, voicing their desire to reject religious fundamentalism and open the country to the West. Yet anti-American clerics continue to control the judiciary, the military, and terrorist training camps. Khatami's government strongly condemned the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Reformist mayors in Tehran and Isfahan sent messages of condolence. If Iran chooses to help Washington against bin Laden and the Taliban, the move could open the door to a deal that provides Khatami with the resources to dislodge the clerics from their positions and ends the country's support of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. This could change the balance of power in the Middle East, for the better.
The fog of war is greatest at the beginning, and the battle against terrorism is murkier still. But as the tectonic plates of geopolitics change through the upcoming conflict, there is promise that the U.S. could lead the world to becoming a better place. In the face of tragedy, the Bush Administration is off to a very good start.