18.11.2020

The 9/11 Era Is Now History

What Comes Next for U.S. Foreign Policy

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In a new FES Perspective Paper, Max Bergmann and James Lamond argue that over the last decade, the 9/11 era has started to become history.

The events of that day two decades ago have cast a long shadow on America, and especially American foreign policy. While the centrality of terrorism in America’s political conscience and discourse has been waning for some time, terrorism as a topic was largely absent in the 2020 election. Issues of systemic racism and police brutality, which were major topics prior to 9/11 burst back into national consciousness with the murder of George Floyd. COVID exposed the deep contradictions of the 9/11 era. While there was a massive expansion of state power through the military, the police, and the state’s intelligence capabilities, the era saw a tremendous weakening of the government’s ability to support the wellbeing of its public. The events of the past year in the United States have brought about a clear end to the era. 

Often lost in analysis of the recent period in American politics is the impact of the 9/11 wars. America is struggling with the aftermath of the 9/11 era because it is an era ultimately defined by defeat. America didn’t win its wars; it withdrew and is still withdrawing from them. In Trump’s defining slogan, there is a recognition of defeat. »Make America Great Again,« posits that right now, America isn’t great. Defeat is the history that hurts and can leave a lasting scar on the psyche of a nation. As Washington’s foreign policy establishment turned the page on the 9/11 era and pivoted to a focus on great power competition, much of the rest of the country has struggled with what comes next. 

America just had a post 9/11 election be- cause the 9/11 era is over. There is no way for a new Biden administration to return to the way things were before Trump because the era before Trump is over. There is no going back. The question now is: what comes next? The Middle East will no longer drive American foreign policy the way it has for the last two decades. The focus on China and Russia will mean a renewed attention to a national revival. The response to 9/11 was divorced largely from domestic conditions and did not call for any broader national strategy. But competing with an alternative vision of government and how to organize society with a potential peer rival like China could wake America up once more to a sense of national purpose. 

The full paper is available to download in English here.

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