The fallout from September 11 haunts the region today

The September 11, 2001 attacks on America changed the course of human history, writes Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi

Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, director general of the ECSSR. Christopher Pike / The National
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The September 11, 2001 attacks on America are among the most significant and grievous events of the 21st century. They damaged American pride and their aftershocks reverberated across the globe. This prompted a sharp movement in United States policy, which was characterised by swift revenge. The sweeping military operations that ensued served to demonstrate American power to the world. In the process, catastrophic errors were committed for which the world continues to pay a high price.

Adding to the lasting impacts of September 11 is the notion that these attacks took place while the neoconservative politicians held power in Washington. These attacks, moreover, had taken place while the US felt that it was at the forefront of world affairs. In their aftermath, the US needed to confirm its strength and worthiness as a global leader.

While the entire world has been affected by post-September 11 decisions, policies and wars, the Arab and Islamic regions have been most affected. Wars have been waged that have resulted in massive disorder – particularly in the 2001 Afghanistan invasion and the 2003 Iraq invasion, and American schemes most commonly known as the “democratisation” of the region.

While the US used the September 11 attacks to assert its dominance through military force, this event has actually marked the beginning of the decline of US power in the world. Moreover, it spurred other powers to compete with America to gain ground in the global power hierarchy. This has happened as the US economy became laden with significant and exhaustive financial burdens partly derived from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The failure of these policies has since haunted American policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and forced president Barack Obama to withdraw militarily from both countries despite unstable conditions on the ground.

As a result of former president George W Bush’s policies, an isolationist approach has indeed emerged – as represented through Mr Obama’s declining intervention in global affairs, the principle of leadership from behind and the hesitation to send American troops abroad. Such an approach features clearly in the declarations of Donald Trump, the Republican candidate in the presidential election.

The significance and gravity of the September 11 attacks stems not only from the significant number of casualties, or from the entities targeted, but also from the fact that the effectsare still felt today, nearly 15 years later. Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has collapsed, but it has not completely disappeared. Striking at the heart of the western world and inciting fear, horror and destruction, groups such as Al Qaeda have evolved their terrorist ideologies, as exemplified through the declaration of ISIL’s “caliphate”.

To this day, the US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq continues to sow discord, bloodshed and division – with no hope for any sort of stability, coexistence or agreement in the two countries in the near, or even distant, future. The disorder that the Arab region is now witnessing following the so-called Arab Spring that began in 2011 has indeed stemmed from the events a decade before. The year 2011 was the culmination of a course that had begun many years prior – a course based on the US vision that emerged after September 11.

This course consists of many elements. The first concerns the superficial explanation for the root cause of terrorism, which cited the lack of democracy in the Arab world as the problem. At the American University in Cairo in 2005, former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice famously summed this sentiment up when she said: “For 60 years, my country pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East – and we achieved neither.” The second element revolves around the concept of “creative chaos”, a term that was also adopted by Ms Rice. This method, deemed as the gateway to change the region, uses a period of turmoil and conflict to eliminate the causes of conflict and extremism. This is what our region has actually been experiencing since 2011.

What the September 11 attacks provided was an opportunity for global solidarity against a common threat – terrorism – and to launch a global war against it. In reality, however, this war rages on and terrorism continues to expand undeterred because the approach within this war on terrorism melded religion and politics with security, the true issue at hand.

Such events have stirred up hostility against Islam and Muslims, viewed as a threat to western civilisation. Grudges have been sown among people and religions and holy sites have been turned into arenas for conflict and for the settling of accounts upon which copious amounts of innocent blood have been relentlessly shed.

The events of September 11 have unmasked the danger of using religion to achieve political ends. The CIA, for example, used the concept of jihad to defeat the former USSR in Afghanistan through supporting the mujaheddin who were headed by Osama bin Laden.

The end of this war unleashed the genie of terrorism from its bottle. Uncontrollable and incapable of being stopped, it wove its way to the September 11 attacks – a lesson, both harsh and significant, for the entire world.

Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is the director general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research