Profs Take Cautious View of Current Events

September 28, 2001

Nick Marinello

You won't hear David Clinton making radical predictions about a Brave New World. While many television pundits have chatted up the airwaves about how the Sept. 11 events in New York and Washington, D.C., will forever change the planet, Clinton, an associate professor of political science, adopts a more cautious wait-and-see perspective.

"It will be interesting to see whether in fact something has changed," said Clinton, adding that it is too early to understand long-term shifts in global alliances. In an interview two days after the worst act of terrorism in U.S. history, Clinton acknowledged that there seems to be overwhelming support for the United States as it draws up plans to eradicate terrorism, but how long will that support last?

In six months or 18 months from now, will leaders in other countries stand behind the United States if it bombs terrorist camps or snatches terrorist leaders or imposes economic sanctions? David Jeffrey, an assistant professor of political science, agrees that the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon probably will not effect a wholesale change in the world order, but said that the way in which terrorist Osama bin Laden is apprehended or brought to justice could impact the stability of any coalition built by the Bush administration.

And there are other considerations. "Even our closest allies in Europe are worried about the backlash from military action," said Jeffrey. "Europeans hate terrorism and would love to deal with terrorism," said Jeffrey. "But they have terrorists living within their borders and they, too, have icons of culture and high value. What they are concerned about is if this war on terrorism wakes up a sleeping dog within their own borders."

Complicating the issue, said Clinton, is the certain degree of irony that permeates American foreign policy. Many U.S. actions that the world has perceived as bullying have been taken for moral ends, he said. "We have asserted the right to arrest foreign nationals, bring them back to the United States and try them for human rights crimes. This could be seen at the very least as a very assertive act."

While there can be no justification for such heinous acts of terrorism, Clinton said that many abroad may believe that the United States hasn't respected the sovereignty of other countries and may be getting a taste of its own medicine.

On the domestic front, Jeffrey said that Americans may have to accept the more inconvenient lifestyle that goes along with taking extra precautions and having tighter security. He points to cities such as London and Paris that experience terrorism on a regular basis and have developed a degree of acceptance and vigilance. "If anything changes, it will be that terrorism is now a reality [for Americans]."

Clinton, however, questioned if even this resolve will be permanent. "We have had other terrorist incidents that at the time seemed horrifying and which people considered turning points. In every case, we eventually forgot about it and, because measures of security seemed onerous and inconvenient, we relaxed." Clinton noted that America's geographic isolation has always afforded the luxury of fewer restrictions and greater personal freedoms--even in wartime.

Clinton points to the Cold War as an effective analogy through which to view the actions the United States may take against world terrorism. During the Cold War there was never a formal declaration of war nor declaration of peace.

"We recognized that there was an adversary and we had to counter it and struggle against it on many fronts all over the world." And, he said, "the Cold War produced several long-term results: an increased peacetime defense budget, the creation of a permanent intelligence agency and international affiliations with NATO and other alliances."

And while Jeffrey is reluctant to predict any new world order resulting from the events of Sept. 11, he said that the United States may be beginning to understand its need to cooperate with other nations. "We have to solicit their support and help," he said. "Those are the hard facts."

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