At first it seemed that September 11 had rescued George Bush from himself. It showed that terrorism was global, and proved the response needed to be global too.
Until the fateful date, Bush had been saying something like the opposite, positing a world that no longer required the United States to be its designer and protector, and reverting to the oldest roots of a longed-for American isolationism.
His election campaign had hinted at it, and the Republicans who returned to the Congress included a significant number who would press for that kind of world view.
Appalling though they were, the airliner-bombings of New York and Washington therefore seemed likely to have one good effect. They would overturn this visionary nonsense.
The one superpower would see that it was dealing with an indivisible world which it, by far the loudest single voice, could not tame by shouting. For its own security, it would have to stretch its geographical horizons and deepen its political understanding.
It would rediscover the capacity for global empathy that marked, to one degree or another,
all occupants of the White House from Roosevelt to Clinton.
Things haven't worked out like that.
For a few weeks after September 11, it seemed as if they might do. Bush drew a potent alliance together to destroy the Taliban and attempt to root al Qaeda out of Afghanistan. He seized on, and became part of, a fleeting sense of solidarity against terrorism.
But this hasn't lasted. So the world has become doubly dangerous since September 11.
There remains the danger from ruthless, God-driven, suicidal terrorism. But a parallel danger arises from the way the US has chosen to respond, which increasingly rejects the globe and focuses on the nation.
Far from mobilising American public opinion towards an unfamiliar internationalism, all Bush has tried to do is build on his own nation's fear for its own security.
There will be some global benefits from this. Defending America against al Qaeda has called forth massive military resources no other country could ever mobilise, and if al Qaeda gets its head chopped off, we will all be safer.
Maybe only the US stopped a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, and that is undoubtedly a good thing.
But any sense of true global solidarity, with partners whose voices and interests deserve to be taken seriously, seems to be fading fast.
On issue after issue - judicial, environmental, humanitarian, economic - the Bush administration almost revels in a contrariness that has but a single theme: that the American national interest is narrowly conceived and must always triumph.
Such expectant and righteous triumphalism may soon reach a climax in Iraq.
But for September 11, it's hard to believe there would have been much domestic support for any American president who declared a policy to get rid of Saddam Hussein by all available means. Now, the idea attracts rather little domestic opposition in the US, save from elements in the military.
Pre-emption has become the vogueish doctrine: one with little basis in international law but with huge impetus deriving from the horror of September 11.
It can be heard in British governing circles as well, though perhaps nowhere else in Europe.
It is a most perilous basis on which to run the world, inviting imitation by any number of countries with grievances they see as threats. China? India? Israel? Where does this self-declared and unregulated new doctrine stop? Where America leads, who can fail to follow?
Almost one year on from that unforgettable day, the world feels a far more dangerous place.www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/09/01/1030508159855.htmlE-mail this article