The domestic and international legacy of 9/11

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

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Today marks the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, with events across the United States honoring the sacrifices made the day that Americans were targeted in a series of coordinated terrorist strikes. It has been 12 years since the Twin Towers fell in New York, the Pentagon was targeted and a diverted attack caused a plane to crash into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Many 9/11 rituals have remained unchanged in the U.S., particularly in New York and the capital. Thousands of relatives of 9/11 victims will gather today near Ground Zero for the 12th annual commemoration, which will include a reading of the approximately 3,000 victims’ names. The reading will commence after the bells of the city’s various houses of worship toll at the exact moment when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center- 8:46 a.m. Occasionally, other politicians are allowed to ascend the stage and offer up brief readings; however, this ritual was not exercised in previous years, such as 2012, when Mitt Romney was running against Barack Obama, in order to prevent politicization of the event.

A series of events across the nation will aim to remember the lives lost and the dedication of the first responders and service members in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Some events taking place will include the 9/11 Ride for the Warriors at the Morehead City-Beaufort Elks Lodge and the completion of the Swansboro Fire Department’s 9/11 memorial, which will receive and bear part of a steel beam from the World Trade Center’s second tower by 6:30 p.m. today.

Domestic debates and statistical changes

While the memories of 9/11 are still fresh and overwhelming to many in the United States, others around the country have been debating the meaning and legacy of the 9/11 attacks. A main issue that arises is whether it is appropriate to conduct political rallies and protests addressing sociopolitical and socioeconomic grievances at the anniversary of the attacks.

Approval ratings have tremendously changed though, after a decade of foreign policies aimed at war

Majid Rafizadeh

The 9/11 terrorists acts were viewed as an act of war by the Bush administration, which allowed Bush to lead extensive military operations in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Many American citizens argue that the Bush administration led them to believe that dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapon of mass destruction, and that the war was going to last only a few months. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were sent to Kabul and Baghdad, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqi and Afghan people— along with thousands of soldiers— lost their lives or were severely wounded.

Many Americans also argue that the administration claimed that it was going to liberate Iraqi men, women, and children from Hussein. Trillions of dollars were passed around, and then the great recession of 2008 hit the United States, followed by the further crippling global economic recession. A decade has passed since the Americans entered Iraq, and the Middle Eastern country is still entrenched in violence and internal conflict. Some Americans believe that the Obama administration has pursued policies similar to the Bush administration regarding the language of war and terrorism, pointing out that the Obama administration has even increased the use of military tactics and technology with drone warfare.

With conflict still brewing in the Middle East, and with the American desire to intervene still present over a decade later, has the relationship and connection between the American government and American citizens significantly and statistically changed? And if the answer is affirmative, then how have the citizenry’s perceptions, intensions, communication and exchanges altered towards the federal government?

Public and political trust

A major factor of change regarding public perception of the government is the shifting level of trust and support. Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, the level of trust in the American government was at its the highest— President Bush’s approval rating soared to 90 percent. This confidence in the American government was blended with a high level of patriotism and nationalistic sentiments right after 9/11, a time of trauma and stress, causing almost a jingoistic period.

Approval ratings have tremendously changed though, after a decade of foreign policies aimed at war and attempts at improving the economy. Currently, according to a recent Gallup Poll from June 2013, it is apparent that only 10 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. This is the lowest point that American trust in Congress has reached since the inception of Gallup surveys in 1973. This can be attributed to some citizens’ belief that they have lost some of their privacy and liberties in post-9/11 America, particularly after the passing of the Patriot Act, and more recently after Edward Snowden revealed further government-backed surveillance programs. Despite all the military action and trillions of dollars of spending undertaken by the American government, many continue to assert that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban (in Pakistan) have continued to grow and evolve.

With regards to international affairs, only 19 percent of the American people have trust in their federal government to handle domestic and international affairs efficiently. For many, post-9/11 policies, interactions, contradictions and excesses have raised many questions about American legitimacy as a world power in the international community.

Fundamentally, the decline in American trust of the federal government— primarily due to post-9/11 policies in Iraq and Afghanistan— has caused severe implications in addressing the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and of those who have been targeted by chemical weapons.

The war in Iraq and the issue of chemical weapons still linger in the minds of many Americans. Although Syria is not Iraq, polls show that almost 70 percent of American people are opposed to limited military strikes. The American people are weary of becoming involved in Syria, wondering if this is another attempt by the federal government to sell war to the people. Will this be another act of militarism? Or is it a legitimate use of force for humanitarian purposes? In any case, Syria seems to have become subject to all the policies that were implemented following, and in response to, the 9/11 attacks.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC. Twitter: @majidrafizadeh

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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