What a difference a year can make. Although the fear of terrorism continues to stalk the world, the popular perception of it has changed significantly over the past year. Following the atrocity of Sept. 11, 2001 — an attack on freedom, as U.S. President George W. Bush put it — the international community rallied to the support of his war on terror. But the united front began to crack as the Bush administration shifted the focus from Afghanistan to Iraq. Now, even some of America’s allies have serious reservations about a possible U.S. attack on Baghdad.

The main concern is that the Bush administration appears bent on ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by force — by a pre-emptive strike if necessary. It is true that the military operation in Afghanistan succeeded in toppling the Taliban regime, but the U.S. strategy of “smoking out” terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda has so far failed to produce tangible results. In fact, there are signs that U.S. military efforts to stamp out terrorism may be reaching their limits.

America’s military muscle cannot be made light of. Its $380-billion defense budget accounts for more than 40 percent of the world’s total military spending. As the world’s sole superpower, America today can be likened to the Roman Empire or the British Empire in its heyday. The irony is that the “American empire” is not as widely respected in the world, largely because of its perceived tendency toward unilateralism.

More specifically, two reasons may be given for this. The first is that the Bush administration, with its focus on military power, has yet to develop a broad-gauged vision for world peace and security. Second, it is not positive about promoting the universal rule of law, as seen in its boycott of several key international treaties.

Military force is not always the best way of fighting terrorists. Acts of terrorism — which involve the indiscriminate killing of innocent citizens — are dictated by the “law of the jungle.” Agents of terror penetrate society under cover, waiting for the “right” moment to strike, as evidenced by the events leading up to Sept. 11. Therefore, in many cases, international police action may be more effective than military action in ferreting them out.

The Afghan operation, to be sure, was a success, but it also caused many civilian casualties. There is no assurance that military operations elsewhere will produce positive results. The dramatic victory in Afghanistan has been tarnished by the failure to capture, “dead or alive,” Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader who is believed to have masterminded the Sept. 11 attack. Questions still remain about the motives behind that heinous crime and the organizations that sponsored it.

Now, however, the Bush administration is pushing for plans to strike Iraq as if its mission in Afghanistan has been completed. Reportedly, it is even considering a new doctrine of pre-emptive attack that could involve the use of nuclear weapons against a terrorist network or a “rogue state” that President Bush has identified as a member of the “axis of evil.” Such a “go it alone” strategy, one not supported by U.N. resolutions, has drawn criticism even from allies and friends, including former members of the first Bush administration.

The Bush administration’s rejection of major international conventions — notably, the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the comprehensive treaty banning nuclear testing and the law establishing the International Criminal Court — is also a cause for grave concern. Such unilateral action also goes against the universal rule of law; it is in sharp contrast to the efforts made by former President Bill Clinton’s administration to promote the “American standard” through respect for international law.

The U.S. appears determined to drive out President Hussein at all costs. The big question is when and how. One thing seems reasonably clear, however: Even if a regime change is enforced, restoring stability and building a united democratic nation will require Herculean efforts. Experience in post-Taliban Afghanistan, where earlier this month interim leader Prime Minister Hamid Karzai narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, is a shocking reminder of the enormous difficulties involved in nation-building.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that military power alone can root out terrorism and stop the adventurism of “evil” states. It seems unlikely, either, that the Afghan approach of role sharing — Japan and European states taking the lead in recovery and reconstruction following the termination of war — will work as well in post-Hussein Iraq. Military action may be necessary, but it should be only a part of a multidimensional effort to maintain and strengthen the rule of law worldwide.

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