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US policy and American psyche after September 11, 2001

Its almost 6 years since four planes were hijacked on a fateful Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001 and spawned an unprecedented catastrophe that changed the US and the ensuing world order. The terrorist attack on World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001 was among the most significant events in the history of United States of America. The attack had profound affect on American people, their life and views and their contextual perception of the world in which they lived. It was a momentous jolt that shook every aspect of American attitude and philosophy and its social, political and economical dimensions.

Further, the effects of attack also refocused and redirected America’s foreign policy that was going through a phase of relative indecision after the end of cold war, since 1990 (Gareau, 2004). The heat generated by the attack galvanized American political and strategic interests, illuminating the course of their path through initial phase of the 21st century, while clearly identifying their goals and possible achievements. The September 11, 2001 attack brought in question the direction of US diplomacy in correlation to world politics and the political Islam, especially of the Middle East.

Initially the attack generated the predictable set of queries on its immediate cause and possible government failure in prevention and containment. It also brought in focus the more lasting questions of vulnerabilities of a democratic structure, the relevance and necessity of a global coalition against rising threats of structured terrorism and the dynamics of various regional conflicts, especially the Israel and Palestine conflict in middle east and Balkan conflict in Eastern Europe (Gokay and Walker, 2003).

Indeed the complete implication of the attack and its full set of consequences are yet not manifest and like effect of Hiroshima attack, would continue to appear in decades coming ahead. Yet, from the moment the attacks were made, it was implicit that in a highly globalized, interconnected and inter-dependent world, their effect would not be limited to the US alone. The fact that United States is at the center of world’s economic system and is a powerful force guiding global political strategy ensured that a disturbance in this center would consequently affect a great number of nations and people (Crockatt, 2003).

Eventually, the later incidences have proved that indeed the effect of attacks have spread to a wider horizon. The US response of attack saw changing of world political and strategic order, with end of Taliban rule in Afghanistan and termination of Saddam Hussein rule in Iraq, which in itself is one of the most significant incidences of this decade. And yet, there are no signs that world has seen end of the consequences that September 11 attacks have instigated.

This purpose of this paper is to study the impact of the 9/11 attacks on shaping the psyche of American people, both from the immediate and the long-term perspective. Further it shall also focus on the direction of the US foreign policy after the attack, its reorientation and its renewed set of priorities in the face of a changed, but highly polarized and surcharged Middle East political conundrum. Precursors to the attack The September 11 attack was an event without parlance in America’s 300 years long history in the sense that it constituted first incidence of attack on the American soil.

The nation had survived two world wars, a Cold War, and a number of intervening conflicts without once coming directly under the line of fire. Although from the point of view of its foreign policy, US was actively engaged in world affairs since the end of the Second World War, yet the nation and people themselves were immune and isolated from the events taking place ‘outside’ (Crockatt, 2003). Indeed the only real semblance of threat that US had seen before was the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 (Woollacott, 2001).

Attempts are also made to equate 9/11 with Pearl Harbor attack on 7th December, 1941, however there are great contrasts between the two events as the later was on an American naval base situated thousands of miles from the mainland, was an act of war by one nation against another, the identity of the aggressor being clearly known, and moreover an act directed at military, not against common innocent civilians (Crockatt, 2003). Apart from that, the domestic affairs and internal interests of US were completely shunned anything happening in the world beyond.

America was their world and they lived in a protective shell, secured by a powerful government and an unequaled military against the outside world. However, the events in the outside world were increasingly getting complex and disastrous as proved later on. There are innumerable sources that claim that September 11 attacks were not entirely unpredictable and that in a way they were natural consequences of US foreign policy with its willingness to step in every quagmire of world (Fawn, 2003).

Further, as said by Boyle (2004), since the ascendancy of George Bush Jr. as the President of the United States, US domestic and foreign policies became more radical and extreme, forcing international opinion to take an unfavorable stand against rashness of Bush administration. Meanwhile it was already apparent that Osama Bin Laden and the terrorist group Al Qaeda constituted a great danger for United States and even in the Presidential tenure of Bill Clinton, efforts were made to apprehend Bin Laden (Fawn, 2004).

The fact that American intelligence agencies were preparing to handle a mass terrorist attacks (Falkenrath, 2001), suggests that the attack in itself was not entirely surprising, although no one could be sure of its date and timing. American Psyche as the result of attack It has become a cliche to say that September 11 forever changed the American perception about themselves and the world they lived in. People watched in horror and disbelief as two of the tallest symbols of modern US crumpled, while another symbol of US’s allegedly unimpeachable military might laid part in ruins (Sakamoto, 2003).

The views of one plane entering the second Trade Center while the first was still bellowing out smokes from a similar audacious assaults minutes ago, people leaning from the windows of the high rise structure, frantically searching for a route of escape that did not exist and the slow crumbling of the two buildings leading to death of more than 2500 people and devastation in lives of thousands of people, left millions in deeply traumatized state of shock and disbelief (Suganami, 2003).

The attack greatly indented the American sense of security, belief in their immunity against outside world and to an extent their sense of tolerance and accommodation against people from different, especially Asian ethnicity. The attacks instilled in them a sense of vulnerability to threat of sudden, unexpected and disastrous death, something that they had not experienced, while forcing them to rethink their position and dangers of living in a irrational and disparately working world (Suganami, 2003).

In the days immediately following the tragic event, there was a great sense of fear mixed with feelings of helplessness, grief, confusion and anger at the seemingly inexplicable enormity of the act (Cvetkovich, 2003). To an ordinary US citizen, unaware of the complexities and challenges present in the world through which US normally wades through, the entire episode of attack of bewildering and unfathomable, apparently without any cause or justification.

People realized that anyone could be a victim of terrorism and as this realization sank deeper, people started to respond with distress and disharmony in their personal and professional behavior. This was a radical departure even in the so far noted consequences, which usually remained secluded to victims, their family members and the witness (Perrine et al, 2004. ).

However, post September 11 attack the effect was observed across wide geographical scale and in various studies and researches undertaken it was reported that people were actually under stress, having observed the cataclysmic events time and again on their televisions sets (Vlahov et al. 2004). Immediate instances of emotional strains were marked in people, with sadness, anger, and panic disorder in people affected by the vicarious effect of the terrorist attacks (Perrine et al, 2004).

It was also widely reported that due to apprehensions on safety and the heightened perception of vulnerabilities, people were afraid to go to their workplace, especially if they happened to work in high rise structures (Hansen, 2002). This adversely affected their ability to work, respond rationally and show tendency to stay in constant state of anxiety.

Another debatable, and perhaps one of the most important domestic consequences of the attack has been the targeting of Arab-Muslims and racial profiling launched by US government, that have sparked intense friction leading to sharp division in the public and intellectual opinion across USA As a direct effect of the attack, where perpetrators were identified as young Arab nationals, the nation started to demonize Arab-Muslims-Americans leading to their round up, detention, prosecution and harassment as a part of official government policy since the 9/11 attacks (Akram, 2002).

These measures have raised serious questions on concepts of civil liberties and democratic ideals of freedom, equality and justice for all, that have been the core tenets of US since its independence and a deviance in them certainly implies that at some level even these core tenets have been shaken by the attack. As a result of the stereotypes and maligned images of Arab-Americans, the post 9/11 America psyche treated the Arab-Americans with coldness, suspicion, hostility, and anger that, regrettably, at times translated to direct assault on the members of this community (Akram, 2002).

However, these isolated events paled in comparison with the systematic efforts initiated by the American government against members of this ethnic minority as a result of the hysteria that had swept through America after the attack. With an unparalleled eagerness and urgency, government rounded up hundreds of Arab nationals and people from Asian background merely on suspicion while increasing surveillance on Islamic organization and tightening its noose around anyone from Middle Eastern countries.

Further, as part of its terror-containment program, the US government made the visa rule stringent for ‘certain’ countries and started deportation of all the Arab and Islamic students who had over stayed their visa. Another major shift in the American psyche as a result of the attack was reflected in the remarkable and almost overnight change in attitude over the issue of racial profiling, which was traditionally a subject of contention between the government and the US intelligentsia as it was seen as violation of civil liberty rights.

.Notwithstanding the years of condemnation and opposition lashed out against the racial profiling bill, the events of 9/11 transformed the view of the former opponents, many of whom withdrew their opposition to the bill and started to support and advocate it in the same form in which it was opposed (Hoopes, Quinlan and Ramirez, 2003). In the months immediately following the attack, surveys conducted across the country showed massive support for the racial profiling bill as an effective tool to curb terrorism.

Muslim ethnic groups were started being questioned, grilled and supervised on the common apprehension that they may bear links to terrorist groups (Hoopes, Quinlan and Ramirez, 2003). These measures eroded the confidence and faith of minority communities, especially the Muslim minority communities in the fairness of American governance and people, forcing them in isolation from the mainstream society (ibid). What comes in mind from this study is the picture of a nation badly traumatized, perplexed, and hysterical that is skeptical of even its own shadow.

Without doubt for a certain period of time after the attack, this was the state of the American society, as it tried to find adequate responses, both at the personal and social levels to grapple with the enormous tragedy. However, fortunately, the American psyche did not become a prisoner of its own fears, rather very soon it rallied and re-emerged in a new strength and unity to take on the challenges that the new century had presented it. People came united in a tragedy, experiencing the same common bond of a universal tragedy that tied them together (Winston, 2002).

Before the attacks the general perception of Americans among themselves was of a materialistic, self centered society where every individual lives for his/her own needs, making insignificant contribution to the nation, either in its social development of political and intellectual maturity. However, when people witnessed the brave effort of fire fighters in saving lives through burning World Trade and perishing in the process, the heroics of the families who had suffered the permanent losses of their loved ones, they realized the value of coming together, existing as a nation and eventually being American (Winston, 2002).

US Foreign policy after September 11, 2001 The September 11 attack may have completely changed the attitude and beliefs of American people forever, but from the strategic and directional point of view, it had relatively lesser impact on the US national foreign policy (Boyle, 2004). There was already a consensus in the political leadership in Washington on the greater role and responsibility that United States must play as world’s only superpower and carry on George Bush Sr. ’s vision of a new world order that he articulated after the end of first Gulf War (Crockatt, 2003).

This vision comprised the idea that all democratic nations of world would come together to create a world order on the common platform on peace, security, justice, freedom and equality of law. The new government under President George Bush Jr. was in the process of laying framework for this vision when the world trade center attack took place (Boyle, 2004). It’s difficult to suggest what route the American foreign policy had taken if 9/11 had not occurred, but nonetheless it would have come to same juncture as it did after the attacks.

It was quite apparent from the moment President George Bush Jr. came in power that US would aggressively pursue its policy of globalization, from a unilateralist perspective of US interests and the objectives of maintaining US hegemony, securing American vulnerabilities and making the nation unassailable against any perceived threat as its long time objective, issues that were in some ways part of every US administration since the Second World War (Anderson, 2004; Cockatt, 2003).

Therefore, the attack, in a way acted as a catalyst to speed up the shaping and implementation of American policy framework (Gokay, 2004). Yet, the attack introduced certain novelties in the foreign policy itself. It brought in focus the theories related to ‘clash of civilization’, the ‘crusade’ against medieval ideologies, the ‘holy war’ as pronounced by Osama Bin Laden and questions related to end of US isolation and emergence of new neo-liberal borderless world with stringent laws and governance, putting security and democratic values at the premium (Anderson, 2004).

As the US realized, its enemy was not a nation, or a person but an ideology of terror and anti-democratic values that was spread across the world. In the final analysis, the US decided to combat this ideology and decided to launch the ‘War against Terror’, making it probably the first instance in history when a nation officially declares war against a syndrome rather than any physical entity such as state or person (Barone, 2004; Boyle, 2004; Mansbach, 2004).

There was a universal demand within the nation for the foreign policy of US in the aftermath of the attack to adopt an explicit doctrine of combating terror in its every form and at every place. Strategist and thinkers argued that the extraordinary security threats posed by the new modus operandi and expansive designs of terror networks require equally extraordinary containment and preventive actions to reduce the threats of future terrorist events along with working towards formation of legal, moral and political framework to determine the parameters of the first post-modern war against terror (Falk, 2004).

The direction of US foreign policy was also guided by the huge amount of international support that poured in, especially from the European Union, United Nations, Russia and Britain, expressing solidarity with the US and identifying themselves with US’s grief and loss. In response to both the domestic and international calls for tough actions, United States saw the consensus and requirement for an international coalition against terror networks, giving it the opportunity to plug the lapses and root out the threats to its security.

As a result the foreign policy took a fundamental and radical orientation that is best described in the address of President Bush to Congress on September 20, 200 (quoted in Crockatt, 2003). “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime”

This policy implied enormous consequences for the entire world as it immediately divided the world in two distinct, non-overlapping parts; one supporting the US in its endeavors and hence supporting the ideals of democracy, freedom, tolerance and multilateralism, while the others who did not support US led coalition were seen as supporters of medieval age of ideologies of terror, intolerance and bigotry (Crockatt, 2003).

Much in the same way as the world was divided in two camps during the period of Cold War, a similar scenario arose now, the only difference being that this time the conflict is defined as between good and evil forces or rather between the allies and the ‘axis of evil forces’(Gareau, 2004, 191).

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