9/11: The Waning of the American Superpower?

The US was the unrivalled global power on the eve of 9/11, but two decades on the US is a shell of its former self after trampling upon the very values it was exporting
Umar Ahmed Umar Ahmed10th September 20216 min

The 11th of September 2001 (aka. 9/11), will forever be remembered as a critical juncture in world history. Two decades on the global superpower has lost a lot of the credibility it had. The US position in the world rather than being stronger has weakened with the recent military withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq is not exactly a success story in nation building. Today Americans are far more pessimistic about America’s global position than even after 9/11.

The US emerged as the sole superpower after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The 1990s was a unique moment after the decades long Cold War. The US had no peer competitor and could shape the world to her liking. Globalisation on steroids is what took place, with American companies entering markets that were for long behind the iron curtain and India was welcomed into the global free market and US corporations expanded around the world. Central Asia was seen as the new Middle East with their huge oil and gas reserves and new pipelines were on the horizon to bring this energy to international markets. None of this would be possible without a stable government in Afghanistan, which would transpire in 1996 when the Taliban captured Kabul. The support the US provided to the Mujahideen in the 1980s against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was morphing into a major problem by the mid-1990s as many of these fighters turned against the US and her allies after the Soviets were defeated and as their demand for a Caliphate grew.

The neocons envisioned a substantial military presence in the Middle East. In their project for the New American Century, they stated: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf.”[1]

Despite America’s political, cultural and economic strength the neocons who came to dominate US policy making in the 1990s saw a substantial expansion of US military presence across the world and regime change in a number of key nations as the best use of US power. They recognised the opposition against this from the US public: “Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”[2] Regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq was on the US agenda from the mid-1990s and the events of 9/11 became the pretext to advance this ambition.

Despite America’s political, cultural and economic strength the neocons who came to dominate US policy making in the 1990s saw a substantial expansion of US military presence across the world and regime change in a number of key nations as the best use of US power

The attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11 saw a whole industry emerge around terrorism. The US launched the global War on Terror as a result of the attacks. However, terrorism, the use of terror or violence is a tactic, that has been utilised by a wide array of individuals, groups and states and something that has existed throughout history. Terrorism did not come into existence on the 11th September. Terror or violence transcends across various fault lines and there is no single creed, ethnicity, political persuasion or nationality with a monopoly on terrorism. Individuals and groups of individuals from almost every conceivable background from late Victorian-era anarchists to tribal clansmen to North Korean intelligence officers have conducted terrorist attacks.

Despite this, the US launched a war against terror which saw it invade Afghanistan and Iraq as well as launch drone-strikes against many other nations in undeclared wars. The US President George W Bush justified the invasions by declaring securing freedom and democracy in America requires establishing these values in other parts of the world, even if it was by force.

The result was truly catastrophic as the retaliation led to a devastating war for two decades – it is almost darkly poetic that the occupation culminated with the restoration of the ousted regime in Afghanistan. The impact spread throughout the Muslim world as Muslims found themselves at the receiving end of Western incursion. Individuals tagged as ‘potential extremists’ filled the cells at America’s concentration camp – Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, with many still incarcerated.

Amid all the heat, the war on terror saw Western nations enact various laws that targeted their Muslim citizens. Using anti-terror laws mainstream Islamic concepts were outlawed and restrictions were placed upon Muslims. Muslim loyalty to the national histories and values in the nations they were residing in was turned into into a stick, to force Muslims to integrate.

Twenty years after the US launched the war on terror, the costs stand at $8 trillion and 900,000 deaths, according to a report from the Costs of War project at Brown University. The war on terror was the first attempt after the Cold War to export Western values across the world. After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, Amer­ica found herself in a unique position—she was not only the world’s leading state, but also the world’s lone superpower.

Now it remains to be seen if any other power can take advantage of America’s overreach and challenge her in areas of the world where the US has long been dominant

Two decades into the 21st century US credibility is in tatters and the values she was exporting are being questioned by her own people. The US has had very few foreign policy successes in the 21st century and the American century seems like a thing of the past. Even Francis Fukiyama feels silly about his “end of history” remarks today.  

In 2008, the US National Intelligence Coun­cil admitted for the first time that America’s global power was indeed on a declining trajectory. In one of its periodic futuristic reports, Global Trends 2025, the Council cited “the transfer of global wealth and economic power now under way, roughly from West to East” and “without precedent in modern history,” is the primary factor in the decline of the “United States’ relative strength—even in the military realm.”[3]

America’s exceptionalism rapidly evaporated after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. The US was embroiled in a protracted guerrilla war that has bled her and resulted in her becoming overstretched. America’s military prowess, the bedrock of her glob­al position, has been undermined in the graveyard of empires by the Taliban.

The failure of the war on terror has made many see the US as a colonial warmonger who has no problem torturing, massacring and working with the worst dictators in the world. In the defence of her values, the US abandoned them. Now it remains to be seen if any other power can take advantage of America’s overreach and challenge her in areas of the world where the US has long been dominant.

 


 

1 Wayback Machine (archive.org)

2. ibid

3. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Reports%20and%20Pubs/2025_Global_Trends_Final_Report.pdf

 

One comment

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    Abu Isa

    11th September 2021 at 1:48 pm

    An interesting article, however it could do with further proofs / evidences to back up the statements – made in a “matter of fact way”. . Eg “Today Americans are far more pessimistic about America’s global position than even after 9/11.” What is the evidence for this – references study / poll etc. “as their demand for a Caliphate grew.” – the general / western scholarship view is / presented as a power struggle between factions and also an anti-occupation narrative rather than an ideological demand for K.
    Two decades into the 21st century US credibility is in tatters and the values she was exporting are being questioned by her own people. – another statement which would be worth substantiating.

    Backing up statements / conclusions would make for a more robust article.
    Failing to do so could simply open the door for someone to say the opposite – and the opinion / position being equally valid.

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