9/11: The Doctrines of Bush, Obama, Trump & Biden

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Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on September 11, 2001 as a historical event and provide how this day continues to shape the way the United States sees itself in the world?

Richard Falk: The attack itself on 9/11 was a most momentous event from the perspective of international relations, undermining the dominating historic role of hard power under the control of national governments in explaining historical agency.

Dramatically, 9/11 revealed the vulnerability of the most powerful country, as measured by military capabilities and global security hegemony, in all of world history, to the violent tactics of non-state combatants in coercive interactions labeled by war planners as ‘asymmetric warfare.’

On the basis of minimal expenditures of lives and resources, al-Qaeda produced a traumatizing and disorienting shock on the United States from which it has yet to recover, responding in ways that are fundamentally dysfunctional with respect to achieving tolerable levels of global stability in a historical period when security threats were moving away from traditional geopolitical rivalries as climate. While not fulfilling its goals, great devastation and human suffering was spread far and wide, especially in the Middle East and Asia.

Such an efficient use of terrorist tactics by al-Qaeda, not only as an instrument of destruction, but as a mighty symbolic blow directed at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, embodiments of American economic and military hegemony. The effect was further magnified by its status as a spectacular visual moment unforgettably inscribed on the political consciousness of worldwide TV audiences, conveying the vulnerability of the strong to the imaginative rage and dedicated sacrifice of the avenging weak.

Of course, the ‘success’ of this attack was short-lived, producing an initial wave of global empathy for the innocent victims of such mayhem, heralding widespread support in the spirit of internationalist solidarity on behalf of greatly augmented efforts at criminal enforcement of anti-terrorist policies and norms. Yet this early international reaction sympathetic to the U.S. has been erased in the American memory, as well as overshadowed internationally by the effects of the American over-reaction that claimed during the next twenty years many times the number of innocent victims than were lost on 9/11. This over-reaction has had counterrevolutionary impacts worldwide that are still reverberating.

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Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Daniel Falcone is a PhD student in the World History program at St. John’s University in Jamaica, NY and is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. He also teaches humanities at the school of the UN and resides in Queens.

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