Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Worst Mistake America Made After 9/11

Anne Appelbaum in a thought-provoking article in Slate magazine today believes that "focusing too much on the war on terror undermined our (the American) economy and global power" (some excerpts):
In the wake of al-Qaida's attack on New York and Washington, an organizing principle suddenly presented itself. Like the Cold War, the new "war on terror," as it instantly became known, clearly defined America's friends, enemies, and priorities. Like the Cold War, the war on terror appealed both to American idealism and to American realism. We were fighting genuine bad guys, but the destruction of al-Qaida also lay clearly within the sphere of our national interests. The speed with which we all adopted this new paradigm was impressive, if somewhat alarming. At the time, I marveled at the neatness and cleanliness of this New New World Order and observed "how like an academic article everything suddenly appears to be."

The events of 9/11 reverberated through many spheres of American life but nowhere more profoundly than in American policy toward the outside world. Slowly, the supertanker that is the American foreign and defense establishment turned itself around, creaking and groaning, as Americans prepared to face new enemies. During the subsequent decade, we created a vast new security bureaucracy, encompassing some 1,200 government organizations, 1,900 companies, and 854,000 people with security clearances, according to a Washington Post investigation carried out last year. We launched two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq. We organized counterterrorism operations in far-flung places such as the Philippines and Yemen, changed the culture of our military and reoriented our foreign policy. We sharpened our focus on al-Qaida and its imitators. And we spent, according to one estimate, $3 trillion.

And we were, in the terms defined by the war on terror, successful: Ten years after 9/11, al-Qaida is in profound disarray. Osama bin Laden is dead. Fanatical Islam is on the decline. Our military remains the most sophisticated and experienced in the world. And yet, 10 years after 9/11, it's also clear that the war on terror was far too narrow a prism through which to see the entire planet. And the price we paid to fight it was far too high.

In our single-minded focus on Islamic fanaticism, we missed, for example, the transformation of China from a commercial power into an ambitious political power. We failed to appreciate the significance of economic growth in China's neighborhood, too. When President George W. Bush traveled in Asia in the wake of 9/11, he spoke to his Malaysian and Indonesia interlocutors about their resident terrorist cells. His Chinese colleagues, meanwhile, talked business and trade.
China is not the only area on which American lost focus, according to Appelbaum—she also cites problems with Russia, with Mexican immigration, with domestic investment, that might not have been the problems they currently are with decreased focus on a war against terror. An interesting perspective vis à vis America's position as still the sole superpower... Do take a look!

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