Washington President Bush's war on global terrorism continues apace in its outward form. But the inner clarity and coherence that the president promised to bring to fighting mass murderers and states that support them have been swamped by events and picked apart by competing needs in foreign policy.
Over the past two months, the White House has been forced to trim its sails on an almost daily basis to deal with Israel's military strike into the West Bank, Pakistan's renewed effort to bleed India in Kashmir, and paralyzing U.S. concern about stability in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
These are real and difficult problems that cannot be dismissed. But the president and his aides have allowed foreseeable flare-ups to suck the energy, attention and determination out of the commitment announced eight months ago to go to the sources of terror aimed at America and its allies.
Least helpful of all have been the dizzying verbal contortions the president and his aides have gone through on these problems. Does Bush see Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a man of peace or an unyielding adversary thwarting an important diplomatic initiative? Why does the White House insist that Secretary of State Colin Powell is convening a "meeting" of foreign ministers this summer listen up, it is not a regional peace "conference" while Powell announces a "conference," even though he has earlier privately agreed with the White House that "meeting" is the word that will be used?
Perhaps this is all part of an intricate design I have not grasped and it will bring about diplomatic triumphs I will soon be hailing. I genuinely hope that is the case. But somehow it does not look that way at this stage. The surface confusion over words and motives almost surely reflects an abiding inner confusion that is eating away at the impressive initial response to Sept. 11.
U.S. soldiers are still hunting for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida colleagues in the remote mountain ranges of Central Asia in a necessary and dangerous mission for which they deserve credit and support. A reasonably stable Afghanistan is now a legacy project on which the Bush administration rightly (if silently) labors.
At home the FBI interrogates hundreds of prisoners detained on minor charges and held in secrecy that is justified as a wartime measure. Foreign aid and military training missions are rushed to developing countries swift enough to portray themselves as both vulnerable to being taken over by terrorists and strong enough to use free dollars and trainers to turn back the tide.
No one plays this aid game better than Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, whose grudging and uneven help in the war on terrorism has been purchased at excessive monetary and moral cost to the United States. Washington's unconditional generosity now seems to encourage the Pakistani general to toy with the United States on the subject of terrorism.
He told The Associated Press in Islamabad on May 4 that he had turned down an American extradition request for the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. They will be punished at home, Musharraf maintained a position that effectively prevents the FBI from ever interrogating them on their known links to Pakistan's intelligence services and probable ties to al-Qaida.
Musharraf then dispatched a high-level team to Washington to seek more aid and according to an authoritative report that Pakistan's Dawn newspaper published on May 5 the extradition of a dozen Pakistani "politicians and bureaucrats" from the United States on corruption charges. Pakistanis are likely to see the not-so-hidden taunt and the blocking tactics contained in this sequencing of extradition refusal and request.
After a three-month lull, the Pakistani terrorist groups that infiltrate saboteurs and killers into Kashmir have in recent weeks resumed their normal rate of attacks across the informal "line of control" in the disputed territory. Both the winter's heavy snows and Musharraf's pressure on the Pakistani army to stop the attacks have melted away as American attention has been focused elsewhere.
"There exists an all-time high risk of Pak-India conflict in the coming weeks," Lt. Gen. Ehsan al Haq, Pakistani intelligence chief, told his commanders this week in comments picked up by the Pakistani press.
Pakistani officials frequently overstate the dangers in Kashmir in hopes of provoking American intervention. This time, India's politicians and media are also pointing to the genuine and rising risk of the two nuclear-armed countries stumbling into a shooting war.
It is no time for American leadership to seem confused and wandering in its aims and effectiveness. President Bush must re-engage in the war on terrorism with the unmistakable commitment and moral clarity he originally proclaimed. He must see through the most important task he will ever have.
Jim Hoagland is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.