Eleven years since 9/11: what has changed?
Every year on this day, since 2001, we remember the thousands who perished in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers. Alongside the annual prayer for their restful eternity, we ask ourselves how America changed since 9/11, whether it is more or less secure, and what has become of America's international perception over the past decade.
Perhaps the most important aspect of 9/11 is that it was a rude reminder for America that it can never be away or isolated from the world, the effects it has on it and vice versa, much in the same way that Pearl Harbour demonstrated 60 years earlier that world events can very much include the United States.
One distinct shift in American foreign policy after 9/11 was that it became basically all about terrorism, and that took precedence over everything else; more than the State Department, the Pentagon also made counter-terrorism nothing less than its modus operandi, especially if the Iraqi and Afghan adventures are to be taken into account. Essentially, this single focus introduced a visible case of myopia in Washington about the rest of the world, as much of America’s foreign policy actions are broken through the terrorist prism. These lead to decisions that can be good in some respects, but run the risk of being too narrow-minded. President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq over WMDs that ended up being a work of fiction is a prime example.
The question of threats to America in the 21st century is still open-ended as well. Terrorism continues to rank high on the priority list, but this is not a sufficient viewpoint. If American foreign policy is going to engage this century, it should recognize a more interdependent view of the world rather than frame it predominantly through terrorism.
Forming a list would be useless, but recognizing several priorities is important for producing a more balanced foreign policy approach in Washington.
Terrorism will remain a threat to which no country is immune and it will continue to affect the least to most developed states. Asymmetrical warfare is a tactic, used effectively against central power since time immemorial, but its solution is ultimately political, not military. For this reason, talking to people rather than killing them tends to produce better results in the long-term.
We should also recognize another emergent security risk – the fluidity of global finance. While the financial sharks of Wall Street are the agents of its motion, the patchwork of investors, borrowers, and intermediaries that underlie a housing price bubble can subsequently start a process that will see America’s reduced capacity to assert itself economically and around the world on a fundamental level. Simply put, the machinations of an investor who wants to start a money panic are far graver than the risk the next pet proxy war project poses. Such machinations, incidentally, allowed the terrorists to find the financing and connections to carry out the attack.
Russia is a mixed bag for the United States, but it is an important partner to have. Despite the occasional spikes in rhetoric, a stable and cooperative Russo-American relationship is a source for peace and predictability in a world that is becoming ever more competitive, polarized and conflicted about what it is and what it is going to be in the future.
Most importantly, China might receive much the same kind of political treatment Russia does - competitors, friends, adjust rhetoric accordingly, rinse and repeat. Beijing will be a strategic partner, perhaps more important than the biggest country in the world.
Overall, 9/11 is a tragic memory for America, but its relevance is not lost 11 years later. The anniversary represents a multidimensional lesson, not only for remembering those who perished, but also about America’s place in a world Washington could not afford to ignore before and now cannot afford to treat as singularly as it has through a foreign policy that is imbalanced on terrorism.