Anyone who, Rip Van Winkle-like, might have gone to sleep 20 years back and just awakened, would probably be astonished at the new lineup of nations on the international scene.
Who would have thought, for example, that United States military forces would be waging war in Afghanistan while Russia looked on approvingly? Who could have imagined that the targets of our action would include elements of the very same Mujahadin whom an American secretary of state -- Jimmy Carter's Zbigniew Brezenski -- toasted as being "on God's side." (It is tempting to conclude in hindsight that a Soviet-dominated Afghanistan -- the status quo we so strained against a generation ago -- was to be far preferred to the successor regime of the Taliban and the international terrorists to whom it gave protection.)
Similarly, was it possible to anticipate 20 years ago that the United States would ever be making common cause with Iran? With Syria? In 1981, no American president could have used the word "Palestine" to describe a potential Islamic state co-existing peaceably side by side with Israel. An American president has just done so.
Two decades ago, most Americans wondered if America would ever be able to catch up economically with Japan. For the last five years, of course, the United States -- which, for most of that time, enjoyed an unprecedented boom -- was in the position of holding up the Japanese economy and preventing it from utter collapse.
These are just a few instances of the fluidity that confronts us on the international scene. Most of them are to be welcomed. What needs to be guarded against, as a new millennium begins to define itself, is the substitution of one implacable enemy for another. One of the more commendable efforts of the Bush administration is the ongoing one to avoid such a Manichean standoff. Indeed, some of the new alignments alluded to above stem from that effort.
If there's one thing we don't need as the international order is being reshuffled, it is another polarity of Us versus Them. If, as in the old saw, it takes two to tango, we'd just as soon not dance.
On the statewide scene, Saturday's endorsement of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen by 8th District congressman John Tanner lends further momentum to the possibility that both the Democratic Party, with Bredesen, and the Republicans, with U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary, might have in effect already picked their candidates.
Such is literally not the case, however. Not only is there a long primary season yet to come before next May, but former state Representative Jim Henry, who is running against Hilleary, and three Democrats -- Knoxville district attorney Randy Nichols, former state Representative Andy Womack, and former state Education Commissioner Charles Smith -- are all making constructive points that are being overlooked by the two favored candidates. In particular, all four are more open-minded on the question of tax reform than either Bredesen or Hilleary seem to be.
It is too early to salt this race and pack it away. The four challengers for governor should be listened to, and we in the media should make certain that they are.