What 9/11 has wrought for U.S. Mideast policy

The horrible truth of what 9/11 has wrought is that America was induced to make a series of errors in the Middle East that plague us today

Dr. John C. Hulsman

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On Sept. 11, 2001, the Washington foreign-policy community, myself included, was emotionally terrorized in a way we had never been before. This alone explains the dramatic foreign-policy overreaction that tragically occurred in the Middle East soon after, and plagues us to this day.

Al-Qaeda understood the power of human emotion in a manner we American intellectuals did not. By terrorizing us, it set in motion the overreaction of then-President George W Bush and his neoconservative cabal, and the consequent under-reaction of his successor Barack Obama that has followed.

My life - like everyone else’s in New York and Washington - changed on 9/11. In that tragic, powerless, fearful interlude lay the seeds for the calamity that would follow. Much as I loathe what the Bush administration did next, on one level it was a very human response to the terror that had been visited upon us.

America was uniquely powerful and uniquely vulnerable. We had been horrendously attacked, and had to strike back quickly so such a thing would never happen again. From that nugget of understandable emotion sprang the neoconservative program to democratize the Middle East, by gunpoint if necessary.

Misreading the world

The next Bush-administration mistake can also be seen as a reasonable assessment at the time. With the triumphant end of the Cold War, it seemed as if America was basking in the sun of a new uni-polar era, where U.S. predominance would continue far into the future. Now, after the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crisis and the rise of China, it is hard to remember how dominant America seemed for that fleeting moment.

The horrible truth of what 9/11 has wrought is that America was induced to make a series of calamitous (if understandable) errors in the Middle East that plague us to this day

Dr. John C. Hulsman

Historically, uni-polar moments are far from the norm, and this case proved no exception. Short of colonizing Iraq for 100 years (which is what the Romans would have done in their heyday), Baghdad was not about to forget its intrinsic history, culture, sociology, economic structure and ethno-religious basis to fall in line with deeply flawed neoconservative yearnings for a region that would elect Iraqi versions of George Washington.

Intellectually worse, the neocons were trying to remake a country of which they knew next to nothing, which is where I entirely fault them. The Republican party is founded on a healthy (and correct) distrust of social engineering in the United States, believing that the market and individuals tend to do a better job of knowing their own interests than far-away bureaucrats in Washington.

As I kept hammering home to the Bush people, if we do not think we can reengineer America, of which we know a lot, how do we think we can remake Iraq, of which we know relatively little? As a result I was fired from my job, but that does not mean I was wrong.

What Bush hath wrought

The invasion of Iraq, and its consequent collapse as a functioning state, was the direct result of 9/11. Through its colossal strategic miscalculation - brought on by the understandable human urge to pacify the region that had wreaked such havoc on America - the United States has unwittingly left its geopolitical foe Iran immeasurably strengthened in the vital Gulf. The dismemberment of Iraq has facilitated the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and all the horror that has followed from that.

The Bush administration did not follow such a baleful course because it was evil. It did not - as I wearily hear constantly - even do so primarily to get Iraq’s oil. The more horrifying if simple truth is that these were powerful, confident men and women, who as U.S. citizens had never experienced a true moment of terror and struck out after a devastating and unexpected blow.

The horrible truth of what 9/11 has wrought is that, under the terrible pressure inflicted upon us by the murderers of Al-Qaeda, America was induced to make a series of calamitous (if understandable) errors in the Middle East that plague us to this day.


Dr. John C. Hulsman is the President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a successful global political risk consulting firm. An eminent foreign policy expert, John is the senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the city of London. Hulsman is a Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The author of all or part of 11 books, Hulsman has also given 1490 interviews, written over 410 articles, prepared over 1270 briefings, and delivered more than 460 speeches on foreign policy around the world.

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