1: What Kind of Superpower?

Now America is out to contain terrorism by stabilizing weak states that seek its help

The major bombing raids are over. The Taliban is vanquished. The remaining al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan are on the run. The surprise of the quick and decisive U.S. victory is wearing off as a new local government hunkers down to the task of rebuilding the country. But the significance of America's show of power is still being pondered and debated around the world.

Where does America go from here? That's the question asked everywhere these days, from the corridors of power in Beijing to the situation room in the White House. The Administration may soon have an answer. Even though President George W. Bush in recent weeks has turned his attention to domestic issues such as the economy and the failure of America's seventh-largest corporation, Enron Corp. (ENE ), he and his foreign policy team are drawing up and refining blueprints not only for the anti-terror war but also for a new American foreign policy.

U.S. troops are moving in as advisers to governments fighting terrorists in the Philippines and Somalia. Other targeted military operations are possible. But what's more important--even radical for this President--is the Administration's sweeping new foreign policy agenda. It is still a work in progress and has not been officially unveiled. It builds on what's becoming known as "the Bush doctrine"--the notion that states must take responsibility for what goes on inside their borders. Essentially, Bush has decided he wants to use America's status as the sole superpower not only to fight terrorists and countries that willingly harbor them, but also to help weak and unstable states that might naturally attract terrorists. Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, explained what could be called phase two of the Bush doctrine in a recent interview: "For the weak states that want to take responsibility, want to act responsibly, we're going to be there to help," she says.

How? The Administration envisions aiding governments in improving their border controls, intelligence capabilities, and ability to track terrorists' finances. The U.S. may support infrastructure projects, such as the building of new communications networks, or back institutional reforms, such as the overhaul of judicial systems. The idea, says Rice, is to strengthen states against lawlessness and corruption--"the very things that keep investment and economic development from taking place." The Administration has "had multiple discussions and requests from states around the world," she adds.

Sounds a lot like nation-building--the very concept Bush decried during his election campaign. That's why some Democrats wonder if he's serious. Conservatives who favor a more isolationist foreign policy may also question the new policy. The faction of the Republican Party Bush represents "does not buy into liberal internationalism," notes Charles A. Kupchan, director of Europe Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Still, most Republicans in Congress are expected to line up behind their President in wartime.

One reason skeptics may go along is that the Bush team promises a flexible approach--just as it has with the military campaign, which has relied heavily on proxy forces in Afghanistan. In some cases, U.S. soldiers, technical specialists, or diplomats will directly intervene in a weak nation that requests help. In others, neighbors can step in. Washington also aims to rely heavily on the World Bank, the U.N., and other international organizations. "The U.S. can't do it alone," says Rice. That in itself is a shift from the Administration's own skeptical attitude toward multilateral agencies before September 11. It's unclear, however, how effective the new policy will be. The Administration isn't planning to put much money into advancing this phase of the Bush doctrine. This year's $9.6 billion foreign aid budget is expected to rise only marginally in fiscal 2003.

Already, though, the Bush team is trying out its approach in a few feeble states. One is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where war has raged since the mid-1990s. Officials fear that it could become a haven for terrorists if the government collapses. Bush emissaries are pushing to get Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, and Zimbabwe to comply with a 1999 agreement to remove their armies from the Congo. Other aid specialists are piecing together a program to boost health care and help refugees. The Administration is recruiting the backing of South Africa and other neighbors to help enforce the peace. And the cost for the U.S. is a relatively modest $200 million a year, for humanitarian relief as well as financial backing for African and U.N. peacekeepers.

Even as the Bush team attempts these diplomatic experiments, however, it will still prove hard for them to abandon their original vision. The Administration began its term with a focus on a few key countries and regions: China, Russia, India, Japan, and Europe. And it adopted a unilateral, Lone Ranger style, pushing for missile defense despite criticism around the world. That approach seemed to change after September 11 as the U.S. assembled a broad-based international coalition of allies and former rivals to combat terrorism. But critics suspect the Administration may revert to its unilateral instincts if the terrorist threat eases. And that could make it harder to capitalize on the success in Afghanistan. "How do you stay a world leader if you take the interest of others into account only when you believe they coincide with yours?" asks Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Washington-based Nixon Center.

Yet September 11 made it clear that smaller nations can threaten American security. The U.S. can't take a "gated community" approach to foreign policy, says David J. Rothkopf, chairman and CEO of Intellibridge Corp., a global advisory firm. The world is waiting to see how much of a nation builder the mightiest nation on earth can be.

By Stan Crock in Washington, with bureau reports

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