Analysis Global Politics Politics

How has US foreign policy changed since 9/11?

Arun Kohli examines the impact 9/11 has had on US policy decisions

Article Thumbnail

Image Credit: DMCA

On 11 September 2001, the world stopped. A tragedy like no other struck the United States and after 20 years, the effects of that day are still felt. In a split second the world changed. Almost three thousand people lost their lives to an act so earth-shattering that to many, there was no choice but to respond. Since then, wars have been fought, hundreds of thousands more lives have been lost, and our day to day lives have been affected in the name of counterterrorism.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 George W. Bush dropped his domestic agenda that he had campaigned for in the 2000 Presidential Election and turned his focus to holding to account those who committed the atrocities on 11 September. In an unprecedented and historical move, NATO for the first and only time in its history, invoked Article V, allowing them to begin their response to the attacks. Less than a month later, peacetime had ended, and the War on Terror had begun. Led by America, the West in the aftermath of such a tragedy, invaded Afghanistan.

On 26 October 2001, just over a month after 9/11, the Patriot Act came into law in the United States. Since, the Act has become one of the most controversial and divisive laws to be enacted in United States history, allowing the government to change the meaning of surveillance entirely. Wiretapping, indefinite detention of immigrants, and enhanced powers to law enforcement individuals were all included in the bill. This has been one of the most con- sequential things to come out of 9/11, as it has affected ordinary citizens’ day to day, with mass portions of the public being against such provisions.

The attacks on 11 September, and the decisions taken by George W. Bush in the aftermath, would burden every President after him, including the current President, Joe Biden, who recently made the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, 20 years to the day since the attacks.

In 2011, ten years after the attacks, Barack Obama addressed the US and informed the world that US Navy Seals had successfully assassinated Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. That night, millions of Americans and millions of people across the world breathed a sigh of relief.

However, on Afghanistan and on the hundreds of thousands of American troops stationed there, Obama had no answer. By the time he left office, Obama conceded that terrorist insurgents within the nation were still a major problem, but the hope of bringing peace and democracy to Afghanistan was not feasible.

Almost 15 years after the attacks, Donald Trump became President of the United States and vowed to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan and focus on an America First policy. Believing that intervention is not up to America and it should focus on its own agenda. Donald Trump had made a major step in a post-9/11 world where intervention and war in the Middle East had become routine.

Yet 20 years on, despite everything the Western world tried to do to prevent another 9/11 happening, to protect innocent lives and to protect our very way of life, has much changed? In Afghanistan, much like in 2001, the Taliban rule. There are still American troops deployed there. Few lessons have been learnt from actively trying to engage in Middle Eastern affairs. Iraq and Libya became failed states due to interventions from the West.

There seems to be no end in sight for the millions of people living under war in Yemen. And terror still strikes fear in the hearts of so many. Politicians have tried and failed over the past 20 years to contain terror, to eliminate the threat extremism poses on this generation and future generations.

Although terror attacks relating to Islamic extremism have become less common in recent years, a new, potentially more dangerous kind of extremism has plagued our world. Homegrown extremists. Right- wing fanatics. Left-wing radicals. Today, no saying bears more truth than “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” But as the lines of both are becoming more blurred, the Western world faces a challenge ahead with domestic extremism becoming more normalised.

In the same way we talk about 9/11 and 7/7, 6 January is being etched into the history books with white supremacy and extremism being linked more frequently to right-wing America. So, whilst there has not been another 9/11, events such as 6 January, the murder of Jo Cox, the Finsbury Park Mosque attack and the Unite the Right rally show that domestic terrorism and right-wing extremism pose as much threat to society as Islamic extremism.

Latest in Analysis