WASHINGTON - As the United States builds an improbable posse of friend and foe to fight global terrorism, some analysts fear it could end up compromising some long-cherished principles for short-term support.
Washington claims the backing of more than 100 nations in its bid to exact justice for the September 11 terror onslaught. It is an unlikely grouping indeed, including NATO, Russia, China and countries from the Gulf to Central Asia.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has called it less of a grand wartime alliance than "floating coalitions of countries which may change and evolve," contributing in different ways.
Many states have their own agendas, several have a price. And the Americans, their blood fired by the murderous attacks on Washington and New York, have not been shy about handing out carrots.
The United States muted its criticism of Russia's military actions in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, acknowledging Moscow's claim of rebel links to terror suspect Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network.
Washington waived sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan for their 1998 nuclear tests. It went along with a UN decision to lift diplomatic and travel restrictions on Sudan, still listed here as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Subtle and not-so-subtle approaches have been made to and from traditional arch enemies like Cuba, Syria, Libya and North Korea. Human rights concerns appear to have been put on the back burner in many areas.
Such jockeying has prompted expressions of concern from some in the US foreign policy establishment who fear the Bush administration may be breaking too much other diplomatic furniture in its focus on terrorism.
Morton Halperin, a former director of the State Department's policy planning staff and a veteran Washington hand, said the government had come "very close to the edge" in some of its dealings.
"There's a danger that we will lapse into what we did during the Cold War, that is to support anybody who is anti-Communist and lay the seeds for future repressive regimes," he said.
"There is a danger and we have to be sensitive to it," Halperin added. "But we need the support of those people and we have to do what we have to do. I would hesitate to say whether we have crossed the line."
Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director for Human Rights Watch/Asia, said it was too early to tell whether the drive for support in the anti-terrorism war would lead to a scaling down of the US commitment on rights issues.
But he added: "The administration has got to be careful that in forming these alliances it does not lose sight of its long-term objectives."
Other foreign policy experts were less concerned about the long-range implications of President George W. Bush's campaign, arguing that the terrorist threat warranted decisive action.
Charles Fairbanks, director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University here, acknowledged some previous diplomatic goals might have fallen by the wayside in the push to forge an anti-terrorism front.
"But that's what wars always do," he said. "They lead to opportunistic alliances. War is inherently unpredictable and it changes the whole environment in ways you haven't anticipated."
"The threat (of terrorism) is great enough that I think it is worth it," Fairbanks said. "The concern of human rights will return when there is no longer the primary issue."
Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, was not bothered by the US decision to waive nuclear sanctions on Pakistan and India since the move was in the works anyway.
Sokolski said the issue was not whether Washington was sacrificing long-term aims for shorter-term objectives. The key question, he said, was whether it was sidling up to the right partners.
He said the United States had to work with Pakistan if it planned any move into neighboring Afghanistan. But "it would be unseemly if we saddle up with the Iranians or North Koreans or Sudanese."
His rule of thumb for coalition building: choose your friends carefully and don't make any concessions that you don't have to.
"Don't get into the habit," he said. "A little bit of heroin may be necessary when you are in the hospital, but don't make a habit of it."
Copyright © 2001 AFP