The World | The international community and the war on terror

Issue: "Year in Review 2002," Dec. 28, 2002

"Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America's] heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy."
-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, in a July 4, 1821, address to Congress

"Our enemies send other people's children on missions of suicide and murder. They embrace tyranny and death as a cause and a creed. We stand for a different choice, made long ago, on the day of our founding. We affirm it again today. We choose freedom and the dignity of every life."
-President George W. Bush, Jan. 29, 2002

Sooner or later everyone turns on a hero. The court of world opinion judged President George Bush favorably for his steadying hand during the aftermath of 9/11. He received high marks for routing Osama bin Laden's terrorists in Afghanistan. He stirred a "coalition of the willing"-136 nations-who contributed a laundry list of aid to the fight: from troops (4,000 from the Brits), to Labrador puppies (30 from Australia for bomb detection), to bulldozers (two from Bulgaria).

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But as the shadow of terrorism extended into 2002-and with it the global war on terrorism-good will from abroad seemed to come in decreasing supply.

The approbation began when Mr. Bush in his Jan. 29 State of the Union address pointed a finger at North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. "States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world," he said.

Taking the war from rogues in caves to rogues in capitals was more than most U.S. allies were ready to shoulder. Despite evidence that those three countries-and others-support terrorist factions and produce arms for terror attacks, it was Mr. Bush who became the villain-an imperialist president violating the dictum of John Quincy Adams, who declared that America "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy."

Hubert Vedrine, then French foreign minister, called the Bush position "simplistic" and "absurd." Germany's justice minister compared Mr. Bush to Adolf Hitler. An aide to Canada's prime minister called the president "a moron." Longtime British Conservative Party figure Christopher Patten accused Mr. Bush of moving into "unilateralist overdrive." Europeans who demanded U.S. support to oust Slobodan Milosevic from the Balkans now called on the United States to give Saddam Hussein another chance.

By summer an Egyptian newspaper headlined an editorial this way: "No one would support America if the events of September 11 recurred." Osama bin Laden was last year's threat and Saddam Hussein was a decade ago. In 2002 George W. Bush became the greatest enemy of world peace.

Ironically, a perception that U.S.-led forces had finished the war in Afghanistan turned attention to other venues. In January U.S. forces completed a deafening bombing campaign over Tora Bora, Osama bin Laden's base of operations in the mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan. Soldiers found only four al-Qaeda dead when they moved in, but the bombing campaign was a symbolic end to the reign of terrorists in Afghanistan. Mr. bin Laden and his surviving commanders, officials believe, escaped across the snowline and into Pakistan. The legendary leader did not surface again until a November audiotape, confirmed by experts to be his voice, threatened renewed attacks on the United States and numerous allies.

Despite the less-than-successful manhunt, U.S. forces and their Afghan allies secured key cities, then turned to rebuilding Afghanistan. A council of traditional tribal leaders chose Hamid Karzai as the country's interim president, a post he will keep until national elections in 2004. Mr. Karzai-along with U.S. and UN forces-brought security to the capital city of Kabul, opened schools, and paved the way for reconstruction. Those advances have yet to extend to the whole country, nor did they preclude further fighting.

The worst attack for U.S. forces, in fact, was yet to come. On March 4, seven U.S. soldiers died in the war's most intense week of fighting. Neil C. Roberts, 32, fell from a helicopter as it came under fire from al-Qaeda near Gardez. When follow-on special forces landed near the site, six men died in heavy fighting. Altogether, 29 U.S. soldiers died in 2002, compared to 12 casualties in the Afghanistan war in 2001. Between 1,000 and 3,000 Afghan civilians are believed to have been killed by U.S. bombings.

Covering the war also proved life-threatening. Daniel Pearl of The Wall Street Journal disappeared in Karachi, Pakistan, in January. His dismembered body was found in May. A Pakistani judge convicted four Islamic militants of the kidnapping and murder in July. Lead perpetrator Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was sentenced to be hanged. The others received 25 years in prison. All four have filed appeals.


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