The importance of the terrorist attacks of 9 11 01
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The Importance of the Terrorist Attacks of 9/11/01. PO 326: American Foreign Policy. US Foreign Policy at the Dawn of the New Century.

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The Importance of the Terrorist Attacks of 9/11/01

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The importance of the terrorist attacks of 9 11 01

The Importance of the Terrorist Attacks of 9/11/01

PO 326: American Foreign Policy

Us foreign policy at the dawn of the new century

US Foreign Policy at the Dawn of the New Century

  • We have seen that the demise of the longstanding Soviet threat left America without a fully cogent general approach to foreign policy in the 1990s, though the tension between the moral and power political requirements of USFP remained important

  • Al-Qaeda’s attacks on 9/11 impact American hegemony and its foreign policy in new ways

    • New enemy could give direction, but the enemy is elusive and shadowy – difficult to defeat

    • Radical Islamic terrorism seeks to impose lower-level costs to convince the US to unilaterally change its Middle Eastern policy; not predicated on overwhelming force as with the Soviets

    • Seems to necessitate drastic changes in USFP – but some existing considerations remain important

      • How can we dry up the wellspring of terrorism and safeguard against the creation of new terrorists (Wilsonianism and “nation-building”)?

      • How do we use existing forces to fight this new enemy (defense infrastructure)?

      • How does the new war compare and contrast with notions about the state system (Alliances? American unilateralism? Sovereignty?)

The gw bush administration before 9 11

The GW Bush Administration Before 9/11

  • Prior to 9/11, the Bush Administration’s general FP approach differed significantly from that of Clinton

    • Predicated on a more “realist” view of the need to check existing and emerging threats in an uncertain world

      • Key staff (Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld) largely realist thinkers – generally view key threats to US security as emanating from other states

      • Elevates pressure on major powers; limits human rights opposition to China in favor of treating them as potential power adversary

      • In regards to rogue states, seeks to develop national missile defense (NMD) – willingly abrogates ABM Treaty to do so (offends Russians, alters security of MAD)

      • Sought to limit the “nation-building” military function so integral to Clinton’s “reluctant humanitarian” approach; seeks development of armed forces capable of serving traditional combat roles

  • In sum, the new administration develops a foreign policy somewhat similar to Kennedy’s “flexible response” – involves the capacity to meet threats of any kind to US security

  • 9/11 represents a threat largely unanticipated and unaddressed by Bush – how does his approach change?

History of radical islamic terrorist attacks on the usa

History of Radical Islamic Terrorist Attacks on the USA

  • Though there had been several instances of fundamentalist terrorism against the US over two decades, terrorism is never at the top of America’s foreign policy priority list before 9/11 (Why?)

  • Real Beginning: Takeover of US Embassy in Tehran, 1979 – signal of animosity

  • Arab Muslim community

  • Bombing of US Marine Barracks in Beirut, October 1983

  • Bombing of Berlin Nightclub, April 1986

  • Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, December 1988

  • Truck Bombing of WTC, February 1993

  • Attack on Khobar Towers, June 1996

  • Car Bombing of US Embassies in Africa, August 1998

  • Bombing of USS Cole, October 2000

Patterns before 9 11 01

Patterns Before 9/11/01

  • Pan-Arab movement (not confined to one state)

  • State Sponsorship common at outset, but declines

  • All attacks perpetrated on US soldiers/citizens abroad

  • Casualties often high, but subject to “ceiling” (about 300)

  • American ambivalence in response

    • Retribution against governments when state sponsorship suspected

    • Prosecution

    • Haphazard responses (Embassy bombings), no responses (USS Cole) common

    • Nuisance, not direct threat

  • Sense of security (Gulf War)

9 11 01


  • Obviously, most spectacular attacks

  • Highly coordinated (planning, acquiring necessary skills, dry runs, coordination on day of attack)

  • Not all terrorists involved knew it was to be a suicide mission

  • 4 planes hijacked with box cutters and knives – crashed into WTC and Pentagon

  • Symbolism evident, but inflicting destruction and loss of life was the primary motivation

  • Establishment of symbiotic relationship with other groups claiming Islam as secondary motivation

What is al qaeda what does it want

What is Al-Qaeda? What Does it Want?

  • Association with Salafis

    • Abandonment of true path by Muslim governments

    • Reincarnation of Muhammad’s war to rid Islam of idolaters

  • US as universal enemy

    • Prop for illegitimate rulers

    • Poisoning of traditional society (cultural imperialism)

    • Presence in Saudi Arabia during Gulf War

    • Unification of various Salafiyya movements

  • Organization: Complex (both cell structure and evidence of strict hierarchy)

  • Bin Laden – Unifier

    • Financial Means

  • Fatwas

What is al qaeda what does it want1

What is Al-Qaeda? What Does it Want?

  • OVERALL GOAL: Elicit reversion to traditional society by targeting sponsor of and influence over governments embodying flawed Islam (US). They do not aim for military defeat of the US, but for one of two outcomes:

  • Impose enough costs to get US to reconsider Middle East policy (withdraw), thereby destroying support for Islamic governments

  • Force US to engage in war that alienates the majority of the umma, who will then engage in terrorist activity to impose enough costs on the US to get them to stop the war OR rise up and overthrow existing governments

The bush administration s initial responses to 9 11

The Bush Administration’s Initial Responses to 9/11

  • Key FP goal: Destruction of Al-Qaeda, capture/killing of Bin Laden, limitation of terrorist “spin-offs” – but how to go about accomplishing it?

  • Administration has the benefit of vast initial international and domestic support for war against terror

  • The Bush Administration’s initial and continuing foreign policy responses to 9/11 reflect a mélange of realist thought, existing threat perceptions, and America’s prior lack of preparedness in dealing with a terrorist enemy

The bush doctrine

The Bush Doctrine

  • Bush Doctrine: In the war on terrorism, “we will make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them.” This statement involves several key assumptions and positions, and will have enormous ramifications for America’s activities and relations with the world

    • Woodward – Bush constructs doctrine with little expert input

    • No real definition or delineation of who is a terrorist or what constitutes terrorism – Al-Qaeda is primary target, but Bush explicitly states that all terrorists are targets - ambiguous

    • Statement explicitly threatens the continued tenure of governments that support terrorists – in doing so, Bush signals his desire to view the new threat through traditional realism (state sovereignty). Why?

      • Allows for the fighting of traditional wars against state enemies – makes identification of enemies easier at precisely the point where such identification is problematic

      • Allows for leverage in determining enemies and better chances of declarable victory

The bush doctrine1

The Bush Doctrine

  • The Preventive or Preemptive War Corollary: The Administration states rather specifically that, when links between regimes and terrorists are readily identifiable, or when regimes have interests in and show willingness to arm terrorists (especially with WMD), the US has the right to preemptively depose those regimes

    • Expands on initial “harboring” language of doctrine

    • Though no explicit connection made, seems to make targets of rogue states and, especially, the “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, North Korea)

    • Key difficulty: Deciding what constitutes meaningful linkages – will necessitate decisions made by the US that will ultimately cost it the majority of its international support

Us foreign policy immediately following 9 11

US Foreign Policy Immediately Following 9/11

  • Like previous presidents, Bush’s initial approach to post-Cold War foreign policy largely ignores terrorism

  • When 9/11 occurs, Bush’s response is largely predicated on a view of the terrorist threat that is inherently realist and statist; this view shapes America’s foreign policy actions, impacts its alliances

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