So What Has Not Changed?

 One hundred and eighty years after the French Revolution, Zhou Enlai was asked by a reporter what he thought its impact had been.

 One hundred and eighty years after the French Revolution, Zhou Enlai was asked by a reporter what he thought its impact had been.  "It is too soon to tell." 

The same should be said about the impact of 9/11.  There is absolutely no doubt that the events of that day make it one of those moments in history on which everyone will recall where they were.  Such events make indelible headlines.  They do not always change history.   

What is missing today, consequently, is an appraisal of what has not changed in the wake of 9/11.  It is important for Americans, especially, to understand this not only to make sense out of what has been going on in the world but also to decide what should be done in Iraq. 

We live in a very unsettled post-9/11 world, with an incredible number of fluid situations.  The shape of the emerging international system is obscure. There is no balance of power.  9/11 did not create all that. 

Ever since the end of the Cold War, in fact, we have been living in an age where, as Vaclav Havel put it, "everything is possible and nothing is certain."  So uncertain were we in academia of what was going on, that we were unable - and are still unable - to even name this era by applying a label that would enable us all to at least agree on what it is.  Instead, common ground only exists in speaking about what it is not: it is not the era of the cold war. 

9/11, I predict, will be eventually classified as one in a series of events that follow when world order collapses.  This particular period of systemic collapse, in fact, probably began with the denouement of the Vietnam war (which brought with it both the fall of the American-backed government in the South and the defeat a few years later of China when it went to war against a unified Vietnam), the fall of the Shah, the defeat of Russia in Afghanistan and the downfall of the Soviet regime, and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. Terrorists played an important role in each of these events.  There was also much about 9/11, consequently, that was already quite familiar rather than revolutionary.  Airliners were hijacked.  Terrorists were willing to become suicide bombers.  American symbols were the target.  The buildings had been struck before.  Religious doctrines were perverted.  People were photographed dancing in the streets because the rich and powerful were brought low. 

So the first thing that 9/11 did not change is the state of world disorder.  There have been more wars (internal as well as between states) in the fourteen years since the end of the Cold War than in the previous fifty.  The number of rogue states has grown and, with this, nuclear proliferation.  Chemical weapons have been used.  And, as Henry Kissinger observed in the Summer 2001 issue of The National Interest, "noninterference in the domestic affairs of other states has been abandoned in favor of a concept of universal humanitarian intervention or universal jurisdiction, not only by the United States but by many West European countries."  Witness France's ongoing intervention in the Ivory Coast - an action neither sanctioned by a UN Resolution nor undertaken in coalition with other countries. 

Anti-Americanism is also nothing new.   

Well before 9/11, political movements and leaders in Western Europe were deeply engaged in protesting American culture, commerce and science, as well as foreign policy.  The Oxford-Cambridge Union featured as its debating topic "Resolved that the United States is a rogue state" in 1998-1999.  The leaders on the so-called Arab street have taken deep exception to our policies and bolstered their arguments by reference to widely-accepted, outrageous conspiracy theories for years.  Asian leaders spoke in some considerable unison against the actions of George Soros and the theories of Samuel Huntington, accusing one of provoking a clash of civilizations and the other of welcoming it as the surest way to preserve American power.  And there has been a lively debate in our own society for at least a decade about just how much Americans need to be concerned with problems in other countries, as well as whether or not we should act unilaterally on those issues and in those matters on which we chose to become engaged.  That there is still division and uncertainty in America about what to do is not new in the wake of 9/11. 

The third phenomenon that is not new is our vulnerability.   

The leaders of the U.S. intelligence community have consistently warned for a decade that, with the end of the cold war, the U.S. would become even more a target of hostility and face a wide range of threats against which defenses would be difficult to find and costly to maintain.  Some used the metaphor of Saint George slaying a dragon that turned out to be filled with hundreds of still very deadly snakes.  Others argued that the challenges and threats would emerge from a Pandora's Box of troubles in the failed states left in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet system and its satellites.  Both metaphors turned out to be apt.  A legion of retired diplomats and foreign area experts, moreover, have also been warning for a least a decade that the United States placed itself at considerable risk by relying on tactical alliances with repressive regimes, particularly in the Near East.  Such regimes, they argued, will be quite capable of promising both what the American government wants in a particular region while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the activities of radical and terrorist organizations who seek our demise.