- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

For five decades, America's security structure has rested on four pillars. At various times, each pillar has come under attack. But, this is the first time that simultaneous pressures threaten to dismantle the whole structure. The risk of collapse is real. And there are no replacement structures in sight.
Since the end of World War II, U. S. security was anchored on three regional pillars NATO, Europe; North East Asia; the Middle East and Persian Gulf and on sustaining the world's strongest economy. NATO always seemed at a perpetual crossroads tested by wars in the Middle East, America's Vietnam agony, deployment of nuclear cruise missiles to Europe in the early 1980s and Soviet armed incursions from Eastern Europe to Afghanistan.
Despite conflict in Korea and Vietnam, Northeast Asia was made a safe and strong pillar by a combination of U.S. military presence and a series of bilateral agreements with Japan, South Korea and, much later, with China. Despite war and violence, the need for affordable access to the world's largest source of oil, checking Soviet and later Iraqi aggression and guaranteeing America's commitment to Israel kept the Middle East and Persian Gulf pillar strong. Energized by World War II, the American economy was a seemingly inexhaustible pillar for growth and prosperity.
Three circumstances explain why the risk of dismantlement is real. First was the demise of the Soviet Union. Second was September 11, 2001. And third is how the United States responds to those horrific attacks for the long term.
For NATO, the Soviet threat was the glue that held the alliance together containing even the most disruptive centrifugal forces. Worldwide, Soviet power encouraged states to side with the United States to counter or exploit that threat. Those days are gone.
September 11 ushered in a new and frightening world. America was no longer immune to terror attack and indeed was very vulnerable to it. NATO quickly declared the attack as one against the alliance and joined the United States in the global war on terror. With the rapid routing of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the outpouring of sympathy for September 11, American prestige and influence were riding high.
Then, the Bush administration's sights shifted to Iraq. Deposing Saddam Hussein became the next step in defeating terror. Mr. Bush's challenge that "you are with us or against us" and the initial indifference to seeking support for an Iraqi intervention from Congress and the United Nations provoked criticisms of American "arrogance" and "unilateralism" undermining credibility and support.
One consequence of Mr. Bush's determination to disarm Saddam Hussein "sooner rather than later" has surprisingly cast the U.S. as the bully and prompted several "clashes of civilizations." This confrontation is not between the West and Islam as Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington predicted. Instead, one clash is between the Western democracies in Europe and the United States. A second clash is in the U.N. And surely the impact on the Middle East security pillar will be profound.
All but three NATO governments support the U.S. But the overwhelming majority of Europeans oppose war at this point. NATO will not survive this tension without major and probably fundamental consequence. The bulk of world opinion disagrees with the administration's call for urgency in disarming Saddam. The U.N. reflects this disposition. Thus, the Bush administration could conclude the U.N. is irrelevant for not siding with us.
In Northeast Asia, no doubt exploiting America's fixation on Iraq, North Korea's belligerent nuclear diplomacy and the administration's response have turned things topsy-turvy. In South Korea, public attitudes regard the United States more unfavorably than the north and its "Dear Leader," Kim Jung-il. The Japanese defense minister has raised the prospect of "pre-emptive" strikes to prevent any imminent North Korean attack, and some Americans are suggesting that Japan should become a nuclear power, extraordinary transformations with consequences likely to prove more harmful than helpful.
Meanwhile, the U.S. economy stumbles along. The administration's economic and tax plan was not supported by Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve. The inability or unwillingness of the administration to estimate the costs of war with Iraq and what war will mean for that vital region has weakened credibility and the case for action. War might precipitate a steep if not precipitous economic downturn. But the most obvious risk is the uncertainties accompanying conflict and the unpredictable impact they will have on markets and economic conditions.
A rapid, decisive and inexpensive victory over Saddam could neutralize these forces and fears. Yet, there are reasons for worry. The pillars of U.S. security risk dismantlement. Until the Bush administration recognizes what is at stake and acts to reinforce or replace these pillars, the tale of a blind Samson bringing down the Philistine temple will not go away.

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