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Superpower Takes a Back Seat

1999 News of the Nation

The four days of air strikes against Iraq in Dec. 1998, an international P.R. disaster for the U.S. and Britain, were followed by a low-profile war of attrition, in which hundreds of almost daily bombings have been directed against Iraqi targets within the no-fly zones. Although the air strikes continued throughout the year, the press all but ignored them, particularly during the Kosovo crisis. In that latter conflict, the U.S. and Britain took the lead in NATO's war on Belgrade, a war the American public cautiously embraced. Since the grisly deaths of American soldiers in Somalia in 1993, the public has lowered its threshold for sacrifice on foreign soil.

In its role as the world's only superpower, however, the U.S. lost considerable credibility in 1999: not only did its enormous U.N. debt remain in arrears, but the Senate summarily rejected ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in October. Deeply disappointed, Clinton contended that without U.S. participation, the treaty lost all clout as a nuclear safeguard, a frightening thought given the recent nuclear pugilism of Pakistan, India, and North Korea.


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