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September 11: A Crux for Malevolence

After 9/11, the United States was seen asa superpower trying to defeat the emergence of terrorism around the world. However, the reality is that illiberal policies in the U.S., including the pursuit of global hegemony, preventive war, restrictions upon civil liberties in the name of national security, and support for torture under certain circumstances all emerged before the September 11 terrorist attacks.[i] America’s view of the world is ultimately what ended up changing after the attacks, but in order to measure the nature of these changes, it is important to understand where attitude toward international issues stood before the attacks occurred. Perhaps more importantly, it is also pertinent to understand the foreign policy initiatives prior to the attacks versus after the attacks.

By the end of the 1990s, leaders and the public alike were ready for peace and prosperity. While there was a strong consensus in favor of aggressive multilateralism, the general public wanted the nation to be no more or less involved than others. For example, “among foreign affairs experts, satisfaction fell from 60 percent in 1997 to 34 percent,”[ii] specifically linked to concerns about interests and conflicts of traditional allies during President Bush’s administration. However, during this time the Pew Research Center also reported that a “growing minority of Americans (29%) said the media is not providing enough coverage of foreign news.”[iii] Context for analyzing post-attack attitudes on such issues as multilateralism, globalization, public engagement, and the use of American force versus priorities are reflected in the attitudinal trends reshaped by the events of September 11.

It was obviously hard to find research done prior to the effects of 9/11 as labeled “pre-9/11 attitudes.” However, the Pew Research Center and Council on Foreign Relations survey conducted June 21-September 10 of 2001 was meant to measure the views of the nation’s leadership elites on America’s role in the post-Cold War world.[iv] This study has since been used to measure the attitudes of the American general public opinion towards foreign policy before the September 11th attacks. Before 9/11, both the public and many officials believed that foreign terrorists posed a higher risk of weapons of mass destruction than military powers. For leaders, this meant there was an opposition of Bush’s missile defense proposal even if the majority of the public supported the plan. It is also important to note that prior to 9/11, the United States experienced virtually no attack on U.S. territory since World War II. Therefore, the attack on the World Trade Center taking nearly 3,000 people’s lives with more than 6,000 people injured was bound to leave a lasting impression in the American general public towards foreign policy initiatives.

Within hours of the September 11 attacks, American commentators were comparing the event to a “new Pearl Harbor” and expressing unyielding certainty that this event would prove to be a paradigm shift. Similar to abandoning isolationism in 1941, incorporating a containment lens in 1947, or establishing a post-Cold War era in 1989, 2001 marked the beginning of how administration would respond to terrorism.

Beyond air travel and government legislation, the U.S. experienced a change in immigration, tourism, and deportations. The country with the most notable visa issuance after 9/11 was Pakistan. According to U.S. Department of State, in 2002 the number of tourist visas given to Pakistani citizens fell almost 70 percent and immigrant visas more than 40 percent compared to 2001.[v] Similarly, international tourism to the U.S. fell for years after 2001 and it wasn’t until 2004 that it began to rise again. Although deportations rose as a whole by about 104 percent from 2001 to 2010 as reported by the Department of Homeland Security, deportations for persons from Egypt, Pakistan, and Jordan spiked to an increase in 205 percent.[vi] Likewise, anti-Islamic violence in the United States jumped after the 9/11 attacks from reported 28 crimes in 2000 to 481 crimes in 2001 according to the FBI.[vii]

Of Jentleson’s four P’s, Peace and Power are used evaluate a foreign policy strategy for a new era in the United States where it can be applied to the pre and post 9/11 time frame. According to Jentleson, 9/11 “demonstrated how a relatively small group operating from caves in a state deemed too far away and too unimportant to worry about could shake the sense of security of the world’s most powerful country.”[viii] Striking a balance between force and diplomacy has been an international dilemma prior to 9/11; however, the results in Afghanistan and Iraq were no exception. Although “9/11 raised doubts as to whether deterrence would work against Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks,”[ix] the Bush administration developed a doctrine of preemption with a shift from containment to regime change. And while many Europeans saw the United States as victims of unilateralism, “it was clear by 2001-2002 that the list of issues on which the United States and Western Europe were in conflict had been growing longer.”[x] Nonetheless, after the attacks, the United States’ NATO allies “invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and came to its defense with a number of military measures.”[xi] By 2003 the Afghanistan war brought out intra-alliance differences due to Bush wanting greater commitments from allies, a commitment that only a few countries were willing to make.

Russian-American alliances were especially important in the initial war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al Qaeda with American troops set up in former Soviet republics. The cooperation of Putin and Bush included Russian aid to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and consent to the bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The relationship formed with Russia after the attacks show one shift in the mentality of being in a post-Cold War era and transitioning into a post-9/11 era. After September 11, the Russians cast Chechnya as their own war on terrorism with the Russian national security advisor, Sergei Ivanov, declaring that “Russian war in Chechnya was in the West’s interest, with Russia serving as a front-line warrior fighting international terrorism.”[xii] Yet Iraq was another very schismatic issue since in 2002-2003, “when the Bush administration moved toward war, Russia joined France in threatening to use its UN Security Council veto to block American military action.”[xiii]

Notwithstanding, Russian-American alliances are not the only relationships that changed post 9/11. During the Cold War, security in the East Asian-Pacific region was based on the U.S. military presence which ended along with the Cold War. However, the United States and China have both been involved with the nuclear proliferation threat by North Korea in recent years even though China and North Korea remained close allies over the course of the Cold War. And yet according to Richard Holbrooke, who was the UN ambassador during the Clinton administration said that “China and the United States once again share a common strategic concern – terrorism – on which a revitalized relationship can be based.”[xiv] Still, China did not support the United States in the Iraq war even if it was of a lesser degree than France, Germany or Russia.

Another interesting relationship cultivated after the September 11 attacks, was the United States strengthening its relationships with Pakistan. Jentleson notes that the U.S. “traditionally has had much closer relations with Pakistan than with India,”[xv] especially since during the Cold War India had close ties with the Soviet Union. The war on terrorism only pushed the United States and Pakistan closer together with Pakistan being a central spearhead state for launching the war in Afghanistan in 2001. Although tensions between Pakistan and India became more prevalent, with Pakistan’s military working as a guerrilla force in Kashmir, American-Indian relations have strengthened to reflect India’s status as an emerging world power.[xvi]

Unfortunately, U.S. relations with Latin American nations intensified with increased border security and U.S.-African relations depleted due to antiterrorism becoming a priority. As Jentleson mentions, the Bush administration began with much fanfare about improved U.S.-Mexican relations. But immigration reforms ran into post-9/11 priority for greater border security and then to anti-immigration politics. The future of NAFTA was another major issue during the Obama administration as well as the Mexican drug wars. And while the United States did little to nothing during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, following 9/11 the United States paid even less attention to the continent of Africa other than creating Africom to expand U.S. military presence and regional command in Africa.