September 11 was the beginning of a new era. When the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center we knew that things had changed, that nations would have to deal not only with each other but, from now on, also with small groups that did not represent any country but had the power to make their cause heard across the world, even to ambush a superpower at home rather than wearing it down in some far-flung outpost the way humble independence movements had chiseled away at empires. As the months passed – and the war in Afghanistan came and went and the news went back to old, more routine crises such as those in the Middle East and Kashmir – it appeared that all the talk about the world having changed was an exaggeration, just as the Kennedy assassination had not changed the world, nor the Cuban missile crisis, nor America’s defeat in Vietnam, nor whatever else. But, symbolically, just days after the last piece of debris was removed from the massive hole where the Twin Towers had stood, where nearly 3,000 people were vaporized, the American president last Saturday presented a view of the world which shows just how different things will be from now on. Because we are sailing into uncharted waters, the dangers that are to be faced are difficult to anticipate. America, George Bush said, will no longer defend itself by threatening enemies with massive retaliation but will instead strike at looming danger first. «We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge,» Bush told military cadets at a West Point graduation ceremony. This is perhaps unavoidable, seeing as terrorist networks pass under the fences of nation states. Also, being made up of volunteers who have already decided to die, retaliation poses no danger to them. The only way to punish them is to stop them. And, though the rest of the world tends to forget it, America has been at war since September 11, having suffered a huge loss already. Its focus is different from those of other countries, where many can still look at the world much as it was on September 10 and calculate their actions on the basis of preventing losses. The Americans want to stop those who have already hurt them. Their concern now is to hit terrorists wherever they find them, seal their country as best as they can against infiltration, and comb America itself for any threats that may already be inside. As America is the country whose actions affect the world more than any other, the changes coming about are tantamount to overturning the international judicial and diplomatic system. Confronting threats before they emerge is a great defense. But how does it work in practice? Stopping someone before he does something that you suspect he may do carries the implicit danger of injustice. You cannot punish intentions. And you cannot prove that intentions would have resulted in a crime. Putting punishment before the crime overturns every sense of justice we have held for centuries. Defenders of this policy will argue that the only way to stop suicidal killers is to kill them before they kill others. There is no reply to that, but it is just as clear that a policy of pre-emptive strikes carries within it the seeds of further injustice, anger and resistance. This is a dilemma whose ramifications can be seen clearly in the Middle East. Bush is following the path shown by Israel, which has tried to break the back of Palestinian guerrilla networks by taking the battle to them in the West Bank and Gaza, razing whole parts of settlements when it deems necessary, shooting suspected bombers and assassinating those it suspects of organizing attacks. The benefits of this are evident, but so are the costs. Israel may have destroyed much of the infrastructure of Palestinian resistance, but it has also destroyed the infrastructure of a functioning society with which it could come to an arrangement. Right now, a solution does not appear to be in sight, ensuring that Israel will never rest in its war of survival. Sharon has started building a wall to keep the Palestinians out of Israel. Osama bin Laden and his crackpots have nothing in common with the Palestinian nation but, in trying to hijack its cause, they have given their psychopathic narcissism the illusion of relevance, gaining some credibility among angry Muslims but doing nothing for the Arab or Palestinian cause. They have not got the US out of Saudi Arabia nor brought about the end of Israel. (Instead, they have found themselves chased into the mountains of Afghanistan and brought about the collapse of the Taleban.) In the same way that Ariel Sharon’s government will not let any objections get in its way, George Bush’s administration appears to be following its own path more and more, the one it believes will bring the greatest success. Bush started off his term by taking unilateral decisions and adopting a more isolationist policy than his predecessor. September 11 showed the need for allies all over the world – countries that would provide intelligence and offer military support. But on Saturday Bush said clearly that countries are no longer the only players. Negating three centuries of diplomatic thinking that followed the formation of nation states, he declared that the United States will go after potential threats wherever it deems fit. In short, there are countries that may be friendly to the United States but in which terrorist cells are multiplying. Those governments will have to stand aside when the Americans come calling. This implies that not only is the United Nations a tool to be used or ignored but so are individual states, which are no longer seen as whole, credible entities for Washington to deal with as equals. Bush’s new dogma implies that the American administration feels justified enough in its actions and secure enough in its cause not to care about creating more enemies or overriding the objections of allies. The problem is that this is all well and good when it appears that American military power can win the war against terrorism. As more and more revelations indicate, though, preventing terrorists can only be achieved with good intelligence and the ability to use it. As the Congressional hearings that began on Thursday indicate, American security agencies were able to gather information but unable to use it in a way that would have prevented the September 11 attacks. This prompted President Bush’s second important announcement this week. On Thursday night (Friday morning for us), he presented his proposal for a new Cabinet-level agency that will focus on fighting terrorism. This new department will draw 170,000 employees and a $37-billion budget from about 100 government agencies. This radical overhaul of the United States government is the biggest since the outbreak of the Cold War prompted Harry Truman to create the National Security Council and consolidate the army and navy into the Defense Department in 1947. This illustrates the magnitude of September 11, which, though an isolated event, has wrought changes comparable to those provoked by the Cold War. The Cold War is over, the Berlin Wall is being sold for souvenirs, Russia has joined NATO in an alliance against terrorism. For a brief moment it appeared that the world was heading in another direction. Now there are walls, walls, walls everywhere, and the terrible suspicion that we are building walls when we fear that the enemy is already inside. The United States is intent on pushing down the walls of others to defend itself while setting up new walls and ever-finer nets. Now the individual has shown he can hurt the State and the State has turned its full force against the individual. There can be no victory.