The Challenges of Post-9/11
Dickinson professors weigh in on how terroristic threats continue to rock our world
September 9, 2011
The man above is walking across a tightrope of words: language, crisis, terror, crusade and repercussion. Illustration by Hadi Farahani.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the world changed. Or so Americans thought. Ten years later, how much has changed? Dickinson faculty—and their expertise—may help shed some light. Read some reflections below.
First, the United States declared a war on terror and invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, then invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The American invasions generated popular resentments in the Middle East, even though Washington did keep good relations with its allies in the Arab world. The U.S. treatment of prisoners from the Afghan and Iraqi wars made many people angry. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib became symbols of American hypocrisy about human rights, fueled anger toward the U.S. and led many to believe that the war on terror was really a war on Islam. I don’t think the Arab Spring has anything to do with the ripple effects of Iraq. If anything, the chaos and destruction in Iraq, in the name of bringing democracy, strengthened the argument for stability and order under kings and authoritarian presidents.
—David Commins, professor of history and Benjamin Rush Chair in the Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Many argue that in pursuit of national interests, the U.S. has placed too much emphasis on military instruments of power and insufficient emphasis on economic instruments of power. Fresh from his post as director of budget and management in the Obama administration, Peter Orzag linked the structural issues associated with the U.S. health-care system to U.S. national interests. Over the past two decades, people of the world have become more interdependent, and the structure of the global system has changed. As a byproduct of those developments, the nature of threats to the national interests of each country has become more complex. The list of immediate and longer-term threats to the national interests of the United States or of other countries now includes interstate conflicts, civil wars marked by genocide, abuses of human rights, attacks on civilian populations by terrorist organizations, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global pandemics and the catastrophic effects of global climate change.
—Michael Fratantuono, associate professor of international business & management and international studies, and chair of security studies.
There’s been a drift toward more government surveillance, but there’s no evidence that it’s led to the type of surveillance that constituted the political harassment that happened in the 1960s and ’70s. Government authority has broadened, but it’s not as big a paradigm shift as some commentators have suggested. Americans have adapted to a notion that we’re in a semi-permanent state of war. Here we are, 10 years into it, and there’s conceivably no end to it. It’s not an existential war where the existence of the United State is in question, but a semi-permanent state of low-level war. In such a conflict, if we are to maintain our adherence to the traditional laws of war, we must be very cautious about how we define the enemy. The enemy, those who can be subjected to military detention or targeted and killed, should be limited to actual combatants, not to civilians who merely support or sympathize with radical Islam. Also, we don’t want to lose the values and principles that we’ve been working on for more than 200 years. The torture issue, the enhanced interrogations—whatever you want to call it—is a terrible stain on America’s record around the world, and it’s cost us a great deal because it has created so many new terrorists looking for revenge. Fighting this kind of low-level war in accordance with law, both international and domestic, is a great asset for us; we should not foolishly throw it away. For this reason alone, Americans should take seriously our responsibility to understand what this war is about, how much security is possible, how much is desirable and what trade-offs are required.
—H.L. Pohlman, executive director of The Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues, professor of political science and A. Lee Fritschler Professor of Public Policy.
Sept. 11 has had a profound impact on intergroup relations and how Americans of all backgrounds see themselves in the world and experience the other. It’s interesting and disturbing that during the past two to three years, the demonization of Muslims has increased, not decreased. At the same time, there has been a profound awakening of interfaith efforts, of bridge-building efforts in this country, of seeing all communities as united and equally affected. … The issue is never religion alone. The issue is always religion in relationship to ethnoreligious identification, nationalism or politics. The ability of religious leaders to interpret the tradition is all context based. It’s related to these external, political, social conditions. The challenge post-9/11 is the choices that individual religious leaders continue to make: Do they lead people by challenging their fears and suspicions of the other, or do they reinforce those fears and suspicions?
—Shalom Staub, associate provost for first-year programs and community-based learning/research, first-year dean and director, Conflict Resolution Resource Center.
It’s an interesting study in how emotion can drive foreign policy. I remember Congress standing on the steps of the Capitol singing together, the outpouring of patriotism and the intense retaliatory move that was encouraged by the Bush administration. It led us in directions that were unfortunate. As [former] Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) says, the ox is in the ditch. We suddenly found ourselves in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a more complex and appropriate debate began to take shape about the way we were handling the war on terrorism. Reactions to things like Abu Ghraib contributed to that more modest, more humbled and chastened approach to foreign policy. The American public has learned that the issues are much more multifaceted than at the beginning.
—Douglas Stuart, professor of political science and international studies and J. William and Helen D. Stuart Chair in International Studies, Business & Management.