(Part of UPI's Special Report reviewing 2002 and previewing 2003)
WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Do you feel safer than you did last year? Perhaps you do. But you shouldn't.
It was the Year of the Lull before the Storm. The year when the world appeared to settle back to normal after the horrors of the Sept. 11, 2001 mega-terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Towers and mauled the Pentagon and killed 3,000 Americans.
But it was also the year when the great tectonic plates of global civilizations and popular movements groaned and creaked building up tensions
rather than releasing them. And as the year ended, the likelihood of a full-scale U.S. military assault on Iraq appeared imminent.
There were plenty of positive developments during the year, if only because of the absence of worse ones.
First, the United States succeeded with its allies in setting up an interim government in Afghanistan, after toppling the fundamentalist Taliban and driving out the al Qaida terrorists cozily based there at the end of 2001. In a highly positive example of transatlantic cooperation, some 10,000 German soldiers were serving in Afghanistan by the end of this year.
Second, tensions between India and Pakistan grew less, not worse. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage succeeded in little-heralded and widely
unappreciated shuttle diplomacy in helping avert a full scale war between the two giant nations of South Asia that could have all too easily escalated
to the level of nuclear exchanges. In the last few months of the year, Pakistan at last seemed to be making a serious effort to rein in Islamic
guerrilla groups operating out of their controlled territory from making major terrorist strikes across the contested Line of Control against Indian
Third, at the Prague Summit in November, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization carried out the largest expansion in its history, adding all three Baltic states, Slovenia and other nations to its number. The move was widely acclaimed as continuing the stabilization of Central Europe since the collapse of communism in 1989-91.
Fourth, al Qaida was unable to follow up its Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with any more major ones against the U.S. mainland. And certainly,
they failed to pull off anything comparable in scale or intensity. This gave Americans an urgently needed breathing space to psychologically recover and
tom prepare against more assaults in the future.
However, in all too many areas, the tale of the year was one of drift toward distrust and disorganization between the major industrialized
democratic nations while rogue states and extremist terrorist organizations were left in peace to regroup and plot new devilry.
After America's dramatic military victory in Afghanistan in late 2001, the U.S. drive against al Qaida stalled as a result of miserable intelligence
and genuine confusion at the highest levels of the Bush administration about what to do next.
The decision that was finally taken was to put the prime U.S. emphasis on toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and stripping Iraq of its quarter
century long drive to acquire its own weapons of mass destruction. But this distracted the primary attention of the U.S. armed forces and intelligence
community from hunting down al Qaida, the group that actually had killed 3,000 Americans in the fiery immolations of "9/11."
Instead, al Qaida took every advantage of the breathing space. At least 10,000 core al Qaida cadre members escaped the bungled U.S. attempts to trap
them at their Tora Bora complex and then in Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan. They almost all succeeded in fleeing to the sanctity of
Pakistan, next door across the 1,000-mile border between the two nations.
nurse his ailing kidneys with dialysis treatment in the city of Peshawar, before heading south to Karachi, Pakistan's teeming megalopolis.
There, the kidnap and decapitation -- recorded on video -- of Wall Street reporter Daniel Pearl gave sobering notice that ferociously anti-American
Islamic extremist groups could operate all too freely in Pakistan, the sixth most populous nation in the world and the one Islamic nuclear power so far.
And toward the end of the year, communications claiming to be from bin Laden warned of new attacks that would be even more devastating and widespread against U.S. targets than the 9/11 ones had been. U.S. government leaders made clear the warnings were being taken seriously.
In October, nearly 200 people, including more than 130 Australian holidaymakers, were slaughtered when al Qaia destroyed four discotheques enjoying peak Saturday night business on the famous "paradise island" of Bali.
The attacks grimly confirmed the warnings U.S. intelligence agencies had previously given -- in vain -- to both Indonesia and Australia that al Qaida
was organizing for new attacks in Indonesia, the 17,000-island archipelago of 210 million people that is the world's most populous Muslim nation.
It was a year of grim developments and gloomy deterioration in other world crisis zones as well. North Korea in October startled the world by
admitting, in the face of U.S. allegations, that it had willfully defied a 1994 undertaking and pushed ahead with nuclear development programs capable
of making nuclear weapons. The virtually certain conclusion was that it already had some in its arsenal.
In striking contrast to its aggressive stance toward Iraq, the Bush administration reacted cautiously and -- many observers around the
world felt -- indecisively to the news.
Relations between the United States and its major allies around the world quietly declined precipitously through the year. Only Britain, under Prime Minister Tony Blair, remained a strong and committed supporter of the moves for a military strike against Iraq. And even Blair faced strong and growing opposition from within his own ruling Labor Party for his stand.
In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was surprisingly and triumphantly re-elected to a second four-year term despite a miserable record on unemployment and the economic. His winning card was the most anti-American victorious campaign any major party candidate has ever run in the 53-year
history of the Federal Republic.
Schroeder's victory reflected a widespread and steadily growing alarm and distrust of what was widely described as U.S. unilateral, go-it-alone
"cowboy" adventurism throughout the 15-nation, 350 million strong European Union.
In Northeast Asia, U.S. relations with China at least appeared to get no worse but certainly got no better in the course of the year. But relations
with South Korea and Japan were deteriorating even before the North Korean nuclear announcement bombshell.
Both Tokyo and Seoul feared that reckless U.S. speechifying was driving the North Koreans into a dangerous corner and threatening the policy of
This bleak pattern of weakening or even shattering ties with old crucial U.S. allies was repeated in the Middle East. Following reports that the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, an unofficial advisory body, had been briefed by an obscure academic advocating the partition of Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Saudi relations plunged into new depths of distrust.
The Saudis later made clear they would not permit the United States to use military and air bases in their country for any new war against Iraq -- a
strategic concession that had proved of the greatest important to the easy U.S. victory in the 1991 Gulf War. And there were even reports that over the
summer the Saudis had quietly removed up to $600 billion in investments from within the United States.
There was little good cheer elsewhere in the Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued at spasmodically intense levels of violence with hundreds of Israeli civilians being slaughtered by suicide bombers. The attackers repeatedly tried to seek out women and children as their victims. Israel launched heavy military responses deep into the
Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank and Gaza and the conflict showed no sign or hope of abating.
Within the United States itself, President George W. Bush rode high through the year for his forceful and apparently decisive response to the
9/11 terrorist attacks. The failure to capture the bulk of al Qaida forces when it could have been done was entirely overlooked by the Americans
public. They also did not hold against the president the failure to capture or kill bin Laden.
Indeed, on Nov. 5, a predictably low turnout of midterm voters gave the president a historic victory, rewarding him and his Republican Party with control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It was the first time any incumbent president had enjoyed such a midterm vote of confidence since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, riding high on his
achievements of preventing total national collapse and pushing through urgently needed relief programs at the height of the Great Depression.
And before November was out, the president had used his increased clout to push through at last in a lame duck session of Congress approval at last of
his proposed new Homeland Security Department.
But again, as in foreign affairs, the picture was one of only apparent good news with wishful thinking and glossy public relations and spin management skills obscuring far more worrying trends.
Stepped-up measures on airline security proceeded, but at a snail's pace. By the end of November, even the elementary measure of arming all civilian
commercial airline pilots with guns looked months away.
The FBI had made almost no move to recruit urgently need Arabic language linguists. Its almost total lack of such expertise had played a key role in
the failure to grasp the significance of evidence already in its hands over the previous decade warning clearly of the extent and nature of terrorist
cell group penetration within the United States.
And despite the obvious priority given to the issue, the FBI appeared to have failed totally in penetrating and destroying any of the al Qaida and
related terrorist cells believed to be already in place within the domestic United States.
To paraphrase the name of an old British television program, "That Was the Year That Was." What follows the lull remains to be seen.