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US moves command respect, alienate some
( 2003-09-16 14:38) (Agencies)

Iran's legislature mulls a plan to stop bankrolling terrorism. Syria says it has shut down the offices of Palestinian suicide bombers. Libya tries to wheedle its way into Washington's sphere of affluence with wads of cash.

The United States and its bare-knuckled diplomacy may have alienated old allies and inspired armies of vengeful extremists, but the last superpower's might and money along with its military conquests in Iraq and Afghanistan  has commanded some measure of respect among enemies who wouldn't mind being showered with cash instead of cluster bombs.

Call it a case of Iraq-a-phobia, an affliction that analysts say will prove fleeting if Washington or Americans in general grow weary of U.S. troops dying while serving on missions that become lengthier and more lethal than expected.

"There's little doubt that the U.S. pre-emption policy has, for example, made perennial state sponsors of terrorism less inclined to act provocatively," said Jonathan Stevenson, senior fellow for counter-terrorism at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

A good example, he said, is Syria, which apparently heeded American demands that it not provide sanctuary to people close to the ousted Saddam. Syria also says it has shut down the offices of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, prime architects of suicide bombings against Israel, though it has yet to expel the agents of those organizations.

Other examples of speaking strongly and wielding a big, laser-guided stick:

_ The United Nations last week lifted sanctions on Libya after it surrendered two Libyans indicted for the 1988 bombing of a U.S. Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, and paid compensation to families of victims. Libya is desperate for the United States to lift its own economic sanctions, which have frozen a fortune in contracts with U.S. oil companies.

_ Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, titular allies despite anti-Western hatred that extends deep into their respective societies, have succumbed more swiftly to U.S. pressure to break up various terrorist cells.

_ A court last month in the Sudan, once a notorious terrorist redoubt, convicted a Syrian and sentenced him to a month in prison for training Palestinians and Saudis to carry out attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.

_ Iran says it has arrested some anti-American terrorists, grudgingly agreed to follow global rules for preventing the spread of nuclear arms, and will likely join an international convention this week banning the financing of terrorism.

"Sudan and Libya showed clear signs of reform before" the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, Stevenson said, "but muscular U.S. foreign policy has reinforced their tilt toward better international citizenship. Iran, though still a problem, appears more willing to comply with international norms as to inspection of their nuclear facilities" while keeping anti-Israeli groups it sponsors on "a relatively short leash."

Yet the downside to the American-led wars in a pair of Islamic countries has been to boost support for al-Qaida, the terror group blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks, and chill relations with traditional allies such as Germany and France, which favor a more global and diplomacy-driven approach for dealing with rogue nations,Stevenson said..

Though rogue state leaders "must be quaking to some extent," the fear probably was greatest right after the fall of Baghdad, a powerful image, yet the difficulties in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan probably tempered some of that fear, said Richard K. Betts, director of the Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University.

"The bloody nose we've gotten in the botched occupation of Iraq may give them a breather, since it looks far less plausible that even this belligerent administration will want to take on more such problems," Betts said. "None of the rogues are doing anything blatant to appease us. I think they must clearly be worried, but I don't yet see evidence or a trend to suggest that it will push them toward pre-emptive surrender."

Despite the loss of life and harsh criticism from traditional allies, the U.S. action is having a greater global psychological impact than most people realize.

"Everybody has been more or less focused on Iraq. but it is really a tip of a very large iceberg that is taking place all over the world, " said Dr. Stanley A. Renshon, a City University of New York psychoanalyst and political scientist.

Intelligence agencies in the Philippines, Pakistan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are clearly working in concert with U.S. intelligence to identify and detain potential terrorist plotters, said Renshon.

More than a decade ago, the ruler of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania was a pariah, a man who supported Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and who purged his military and civil service of members of the majority black population. So gruesome was the ethnic cleansing that at least one soldier's legs were each tied to cars that raced away in opposite directions. But today, President Maaouya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya is an American ally and one of Israel's few Arab friends.

The United States is essentially a victim of its own military and economic dominance. With the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Europe's failure to form a true "countervailing force" to fill the vacuum in the balance of power, nations large and small are faced with a dilemma: "Do they bandwagon with or balance against a great power?" said Timothy Naftali, a Cold War historian. "In the Cold War, countries had a choice, U.S. or USSR, and played one off the other."

Yet any sign that the Americans are waffling could be disastrous after taking such a tough guy stance, said Renshon. Discussions of a so-called "exit strategy" already threaten to render the United States into a paper tiger, Renshon said.

"The people calling for an exit strategy in the hope of not getting another Vietnam are going to get just that," he said

The United States has put itself in a position of having to keep playing the bully or finding itself in the position of not just facing a movement of terrorists, but a resurgence of states that support them, Naftali said. "This, by the way, is the argument against wanton unilateralism," Naftali said.

There isn't much precedent to guide the Americans. Even ancient Greece couldn't run the world because of the potent threat presented by Sparta. Only once before has a single state so dominated a world to the point that the legions of weaker tribes, movements and religions had to wait centuries to storm its gates to bring it down.

"Rome," said Naftali.

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