The squeamish had reason to worry. They saw a superpower humbled, its enraged people baying for revenge, a nervous President declaring war before identifying the enemy. In public the Bush Administration presented the nations of the world with a choice, you're either with us or you're against us, even though everyone knew only one answer was acceptable. U.S. leaders counseled patience, but the Texan excesses of George W. Bush's syntax those odes to Wild West wanted posters, that unfortunate talk of a "crusade" against evil did little to inspire confidence in a measured U.S. response. Words of sympathy flowed in from the furthest reaches in the immediate aftermath of the attacks even the Taliban assured Americans it "feels your pain" but there was just as much trepidation that Bush's policy would be to carpet-bomb first and ask questions later. Who wanted to sign up for that?
Go ahead and exhale, because the world hasn't been asked to take sides in a holy war. The Administration's cautious plotting of a retaliatory strike, and its resolve to rally a global coalition to help carry out the plans, have calmed the jitters of world leaders who fretted that Washington was hell-bent on a precipitous assault. "This is the world's fight," Bush said in his address to Congress Thursday. "We ask every nation to join us."
And so last week Washington saw a riot of diplomacy, as the leaders of Indonesia and France and Britain shuttled in and out of briefings with Administration heavies; Secretary of State Colin Powell reached 83 of his counterparts by phone. Governments tallied up the costs and benefits of joining the American war on terror and for most the ledger tilted in the U.S.'s favor. By week's end more than 100 countries had pledged some kind of military, financial, political or intelligence support to the U.S. for a campaign against Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaeda network and the countries that shelter or support terrorist cells. Most, including America's nato allies, still want the U.S. to lay out the evidence linking bin Laden to the attacks, and nearly every state conditions support on keeping civilian casualties to a minimum; but the early signs suggest a broader and more cohesive coalition than expected. "Concern is dying down, because the vibe from Washington is that we will talk tough and move quickly, but not just rain Armageddon down on Afghanistan," says a senior U.S. diplomat in Europe.
As the contours of the coalition began to emerge, so did the deal making. When the U.S. secured support from Pakistan, both parties knew relief from sanctions imposed on Islamabad for its nuclear capability would be dangled; sources told Time that Japan has also approved $500 million in debt restructuring. China, leery of Islamic insurrection in Xinjiang, said it stands "side by side" with the U.S. and Britain astounding enthusiasm, given last spring's spy-plane flap but also said it expects Washington to stifle itself when Beijing cracks down on Tibetan and Muslim separatists within its borders. Regimes in Yemen, Libya and Sudan all offered their support to Washington, calculating that helping the U.S. might provide a lifeline out of the international doghouse.
Much of last week's diplomatic frenzy focused on exacting support, or at least nonresistance, from pivotal states in the Middle East. Iran said it wants to be a player in a U.N.-led fight against terrorism and showed tentative signs of considering engagement with the U.S.: President Mohammed Khatami fielded calls from Britain's Tony Blair, who is seen as Washington's intermediary. Iran's strategic importance and its intelligence on the Taliban would make it an invaluable member of the coalition; but if Washington wants Iran's direct cooperation, Tehran will expect the U.S. to remove Iran from its list of terror sponsors and begin the sanctions-lifting process. "This is a golden opportunity for both sides to sit and talk," says Mohammed Sadeq Husseini, an analyst with close ties to prominent conservatives.
The moderate Arab nations that joined the Gulf War coalition in 1991 may prove tougher to persuade this time around; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, usually a reliable ally, said it was "too early" even to talk about building a coalition, and Jordan and Saudi Arabia hedged on outright participation in a U.S.-led campaign out of fear of inciting revolts by homegrown radicals. But one of the chief conditions of long-term Arab involvement Israeli pullback from the occupied territories was at least tentatively addressed by the declaration of an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire last week.
That respite may also prove critical for holding public opinion in Europe, where sympathy for the U.S. is huge but Arab participation is perceived as crucial. Among nato allies, support for the U.S. has remained steady. Europe's governments tend to diverge from Washington over questions of military intervention, and the Administration's previous unilateralism has eroded some goodwill. But, says one senior British official, "It's a new world." nato's prompt invocation of Article 5 which regards an attack on one as an attack on all, provided the attack is from outside the country was the first sign of that; in Washington last week French President Jacques Chirac told Bush France is "completely determined to fight by your side" and called French military action "conceivable." German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced "unrestricted solidarity with the U.S. in all necessary measures." nato unity has tightened as members have learned more about American plans. "I don't detect any wobbliness," says a senior British official. A continental European diplomat told Time that after Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage briefed nato ministers for 40 minutes last Thursday, allies offered "unalloyed" expressions of solidarity.
What will that mean in practice? The U.S. doesn't need much military assistance for a strike against Afghanistan. At a meeting in Brussels Friday evening, E.U. leaders backed the validity of an American response and said member states "are ready, each according to its means, to engage themselves in such actions." Blair said British soldiers will be part of any operation, and military analysts say that Britain's 700 special-force troops will likely play a role in a grab-and-snatch offensive against bin Laden. The U.S. may also call on French commandos, or Germany's élite ksk force, if only to assure allies that it plans to carry out a lightning strike in Afghanistan rather than a large-scale bombing campaign. "What would go over badly in Europe would be indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets," says French foreign-policy expert Dominique Mo´si. "What will go over well are commando operations."
A European diplomat says the Americans have already "delicately cast some more targeted requests" for intelligence on Afghanistan from allies and other potential partners. The U.S. has propositioned unlikely allies in Central Asia and the Middle East, who could offer intelligence, bases and airspace to mount an attack on the Taliban. Pakistan says it has been asked for intelligence sharing, overflight permission and logistical help in the use of ports and minefields; it is expected that military airfields in Baluchistan province will be used in any U.S. operation. On Friday a delegation of senior State Department officials flew to Islamabad to discuss arrangements with the government. The U.S. also wants cooperation from five former Soviet republics that could provide corridors into Afghanistan and even some military firepower. Uzbekistan, the biggest regional power, boasts 80,000 troops and a closet full of weapons; it also has experience battling insurgents acting out of Afghanistan. Days after the attacks in the U.S., the Uzbek Foreign Minister offered Washington the use of Uzbek territory, but last week, under heavy pressure from Russia, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said merely that "we're ready and open for discussion of issues connected to our joint struggle against terrorism."
Getting Moscow on board for a broad assault on terrorism remains an unfinished task. On Thursday Armitage told nato that Russian participation is vital for eradicating Afghan-based terror networks. Putin has pledged rhetorical backing, but the government has ruled out "even the hypothetical possibility" of making Russian air passages or bases available to the U.S. Still, American officials have convinced Moscow to share its vast intelligence on Islamic terror cells in Afghanistan and how to wage war there; in return Moscow will seek more influence over America's missile-defense plans and a freer hand in its own struggle against Chechen "terrorism."
The U.S. may have little choice, now that the war on terrorism has pushed aside other foreign-policy concerns. There may be drawbacks to that approach: Kashmir could heat up again, if either India or Pakistan responds to the current crisis by stirring up mischief in that contested territory; and bringing Iran into the coalition may require ignoring evidence of Tehran's record of funding international terrorism. But there are also lustrous opportunities for global cooperation on a range of issues from weapons proliferation to Middle East peace if the coalition sticks and Bush's war against the agents of terror is successful.
Neither is guaranteed. The U.S. must figure out how to construct a lasting identity for its coalition, and whether it will seek a formal international sanction such as a U.N. Security Council resolution for military action. Then comes the operation itself: any strike seen as excessive could inflame parts of the Muslim world, destabilize vital regimes and send running many of the countries now gingerly joining America's coalition. The war for the world's hearts and minds, like the campaign against terrorism itself, has only just begun.