In the six months since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the US has certainly outperformed the expectations of most at the wake of the attack -- at least according to its own national interests.
If it had been the goal of the perpetrators to prove the fallibility of the US, they accomplished their mission. However, the attackers also created a situation in which the US proved that, while it may not be invincible, it remains the sole superpower. All talk about the ability of other major powers to check the power of the US has essentially been mooted.
Much to the dismay of the "Great China" fanatics on both sides of Taiwan Strait, China is no exception. All their predictions and hopes that the US would compromise its posture (particularly with respect to Taiwan) in order to enlist Beijing's support in the anti-terrorism campaign have been proven wrong. This was amply demonstrated by President George W. Bush's remarks during his recent visit to Beijing.
Of course, China's support for the anti-terrorism campaign, while lukewarm and reserved at best, has had a price tag. Beijing's efforts to link the East Turkestan and Tibet independence movements with terrorism have been rebuffed by the US and many other countries. Nevertheless, it has created such a linkage in its state-run media and is pushing ahead with crackdowns in those areas with renewed vigor. Bei-jing also failed to coerce the US into paying a ransom with a higher value to American security interests in the region, namely, Taiwan.
Yet the US-Sino relationship is at its best in years. The lip service that China pays to the anti-terrorism cause has little to with this. It is more a result of Bush's claims to endorse a new "constructive, cooperative, and candid" relationship. It might also be due to China's realization that the US was able to carry out its war on terrorism pretty much on its own so far, although several nations have contributed troops to the fighting in Afghanistan and are cooperating in efforts to freeze the financial transactions of groups and organizations linked to terrorism. That kind of military and political prowess is something China can only dream about.
Things appear to be looking good for the US and Bush for the moment on all other fronts as well. The American economy has begun to rebound from the downturn that was aggravated by the Sept. 11 attack. In recent opinion surveys, 80 percent of the American people have expressed their unwavering support for their government's actions.
The question for the US then becomes what next? While the war on terrorism has proven the ability of the US to act unilaterally, it must think long and hard about how far it wishes to go down that path. As Bush indicated in his speech on Monday, the fight against terrorism must now enter a new phase under which the US seeks to uproot al-Qaeda cells in the Philippines, Georgia and Yemen. But since al-Qaeda allegedly has cells in as many as 60 countries, the reach of the campaign could expand exponentially. To ensure the stability of the world order, the US must do more to assuage the concerns of its allies about the proposed expansion of its theater of anti-terror operations and to help rebuild Afghanistan.