One year after marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US finds itself struggling to hold on to its position as the world’s sole superpower
This year marks the 21st anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States. Twenty-one is not traditionally a high-profile day of remembrance. People like to mark the passing of the years based upon the attractiveness of the calendar, as opposed to the actual relevance of the moment. One-year anniversaries are important; two years less so. The tenth anniversary is a big deal; not so the eleventh.
Last year, the US and the world marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. What made this date more important than the simple passage of time was that it was relevant – the 2021 event marking America’s entry into what was to become known as the “Global War on Terrorism” occurred less than a month after America’s ignominious retreat from Afghanistan. The Kabul evacuation of August 2021 was the final act in a two-decade-long drama which saw the vision of a “new American century” espoused by an American neoconservative elite, who looked to exploit the horror of 9/11 by turning it into a catalyst for world domination, run aground on the shoals of geopolitical reality, capsizing, and ultimately sinking in a self-created storm of national hubris.
The America that emerged from the 20-year policy disaster that was the “War on Terrorism” (comprised of several distinct conflicts, including Afghanistan and, perhaps most notably, Iraq) was chastened and humiliated, but not defeated or humbled. There is a dichotomy between the geopolitical reality the United States found itself in after 20 years of global neglect while squandering the nation’s blood, treasure, and reputation in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East, and the narcissistic arrogance of an American leadership elite unable and/or unwilling to recognize the damage they had done to the American enterprise, and as such nullify their collective utility in crafting appropriate diplomatic, economic, and security strategies for recovery.
9/11 at 20-plus-one is the first anniversary of this new reality.
Unlike a wedding anniversary, where the bride and groom are cognizant of the initiating date and subsequent results being celebrated, the inability on the part of the American collective – the people, their leadership, and the mainstream media – to engage in fact-based, unemotional reflection on where they were at the 20th anniversary of 9/11, how they got there, and where they were headed means that they fail to grasp the fact that they are marking a one-year anniversary of a post-9/11 reality, which they seem largely ignorant of.
After 20 years of wandering in the geopolitical wilderness of the Middle East and Central Asia, America emerged a much weaker nation – militarily, economically, and diplomatically. Compounding this diminishment was the fact that while America was engaged in its two-decade act of self-immolation, the rest of the world was not treading water, but rather moving forward, building their own capabilities which, while not necessarily designed to confront the United States, put them in a far more advantageous position if the time ever came to do so.
Nations such as Iran, China, and Russia watched as America expended its strength chasing ghosts, taking to heart the lessons America unwittingly was providing regarding its military capability, economic vulnerabilities, and diplomatic shortcomings. These lessons were magnified by the chaotic classroom of American democracy, where the world bore witness to the wild vacillations of policy and principle that came from a two-party system at war with itself. Eight years of the neoconservative aggression of George W. Bush was followed by eight years of neoliberal deception under Barack Obama; the four years of hubris-driven chaos that was the Trump administration has in turn been replaced by two years of misguided and incompetent revanchism by a Biden administration operating under the premise that one can undo the damage done by decades of American policy failure by simply willing it away.
American democracy, the ostensible “shining city on the hill” that was supposed to inspire the rest of the world to want to be like us and as such follow our lead, had been exposed as a Potemkin village, little more than a ghetto disguised as an upscale suburb. The world was able to see this transformation occur before its very eyes; Americans, on the other hand, remained blissfully unaware, coerced into ignorant submission by the false promise of unconstrained consumerism.
Debts, however, must eventually be paid. 9/11 at 20-plus-one reflects the reality of many of these bills, domestic and foreign, coming due.
The 20-plus-one anniversary of 9/11 finds the United States in a political civil war that threatens to explode into partisan-driven violence of a scope and scale unseen since the original American Civil War. The dominance of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency is very much in doubt as global markets, fed up with American interference in their sovereign economic decisions, are dropping the dollar in favor of regional currency “baskets.” After chiding Russia as being little more than a “gas station disguised as a nation,” the United States and its allies find themselves in the position of motorists stranded on a highway in the middle of a wilderness, their fuel tanks empty, and no gas station in sight – mainly because they closed all the stations before undertaking their journey. The economic sanctioning of Russia by the collective West has turned into an act of self-harm, with the economies of Europe collapsing, and America unable and/or unwilling to save them.
American leadership was always predicated on the premise that the American model of democratic governance helped produce the social, economic, and military strength the US relied upon to confront the forces of evil in the world.
This model no longer exists, thanks in large part to how America behaved in the first 20 years after the 9/11 attacks.
9/11 at 20-plus-one finds the United States coming face to face with the reality of what it has wrought, in Ukraine, in the Pacific, in the Middle East, Africa, Asia … and at home. Sow the wind, the Bible says, and reap the whirlwind.