September 11, 2011


Bush's Fatal 9/11 Flaw: George W. Bush thought al Qaeda's attack was the major geopolitical event of our time. He was wrong. Peter Beinart on the real global shift that W. didn't see--and how Obama can reverse course. (Peter Beinart, Sep 11, 2011, Daily Beast)

The man most responsible for this trajectory, George W. Bush, will be on hand with Barack Obama for the memorial service. Bush's central error, in retrospect, was conflating 9/11's human significance with its geopolitical one. In human terms, 9/11 was one of the singular events in American history. In terms of sheer human pain, no other day in America's recent past even comes close. It was perhaps natural, therefore, that Bush would see 9/11 as geopolitically momentous too. But, in fact, it was not. The defining geopolitical reality of our time was, and is, the shift in power from America and Europe to Asia, a shift with profound consequences for the way Americans live their lives. But Bush never grasped the enormity of this shift, and the way in which it would challenge America's preeminence.

...was that he didn't care about Europe, which he recognized long before the elites had died on the vine. Instead, largely unrecognized by the same folk, he spent his time cultivating new alliances with Asian, African and Latin American nations--from Mongolia, Indonesia and India to Colombia and Brazil to Liberia, South Sudan, etc.--several of which he'd helped liberate, in addition to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now, it is certainly the case that much of this would have occurred irrespective of 9-11--he was going to remove the Saddam regime, make inroads in Latin America, focus on health issues in Africa and make India central to our geostrategic alignment no matter what--but the fact is that 9-11's only lasting significance lies in the fact that it accelerated this shift and gave him a lever with which to force liberalization on the Middle East.

So, in a limited sense Mr. Beinart is right: 9-11 was not the major geopolitical event of our time. The election of George W. Bush was. He was, after all, the first president for whom Europe was an afterthought. Significantly, there will never be another president for whom it is the primary foreign policy focus. It just doesn't matter any more.

After 10 years, it's still a fight for freedom (Jeff Jacoby, September 11, 2011, Boston Globe)

Almost from the outset, President George W. Bush recognized that the United States was engaged in an ideological struggle. During the Cold War two decades earlier, Ronald Reagan had argued that the promotion of freedom should be a priority in American foreign policy. By advancing the ideals of liberty and human dignity, Reagan told the British Parliament in 1982, America and its allies would undermine the Soviet Union and eventually relegate Communist totalitarianism to "the ash-heap of history.'' In much the same way, Bush saw, radical Islam could be weakened by deploying the moral force of liberal democracy and equality.

Just nine days after 9/11, addressing a joint session of Congress, Bush began to lay out an ideological strategy for defeating the jihadist threat.

"Al Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime, but its goal is not making money," Bush said. "Its goal is remaking the world -- and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere." Terrorism was not caused by the religion of Islam but by the Islamists' political fanaticism. "They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions - by abandoning every value except the will to power - they follow in the path of fascism and Nazism and totalitarianism.''

The war on terror, Bush accurately foretold, would be a long struggle fought on many fronts. But ultimately the only way to prevent Al Qaeda and its allies from imposing an "age of terror'' was for America to sustain an "age of liberty, here and across the world.'' While Bush would get plenty of things wrong after 9/11, this ideological insight - that the root of Islamist terrorism was the lack of freedom in the Middle East - was one of the big things he got right.

There were plenty who didn't. Many voices insisted that terrorism was fueled by poverty or lack of education. Other analysts rushed to explain 9/11 as the fruit of US "arrogance,'' or as a reaction to Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In reality, as Princeton economist Alan Krueger demonstrated in a 2007 book, "What Makes A Terrorist?'' the best predictors of terrorism are "the suppression of civil liberties and political rights, including freedom of the press, the freedom to assemble, and democratic rights.''

Bush's campaign to democratize the Middle East - what came to be known as the "freedom agenda'' - was rooted in the conviction that the way to break the back of jihadist hatred was to drain the swamps in which it breeds: the dictatorships and theocracies of the Muslim Middle East.

Posted by at September 11, 2011 8:25 AM

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