In view of the 10th anniversary of 9-11 terrorist attack, it is necessary to assess its policy implications for the future.
To begin with, I would like to mention an interesting column by Brian Jenkins, a senior adviser to the president of the Rand Corporation (“Five myths about 9/11”; Washington Post; August 29, 2011). Jenkins examines widely spread misconceptions about the War on Terror. Although 9-11 appears a bolt from the blue, it was expected as low-tech raids by Al Qaeda were carried out before. Quite importantly, Osama bin Laden mis-assumed that America was so afraid of combat risks that it would not retaliate against Al Qaeda terrorist attack, as the Clinton administration withdrew from Somalia quickly. Also, Islam did not unite against the Western coalition as Osama envisioned when the War on Terror broke out.
The focal point of this article is US reaction. Jenkins says that the Bush administration acted right to attack Afghanistan and Iraq. When terrorist attacks happened, further raids by Al Qaeda were anticipated. Therefore, the United States had no choice but to improve intelligence, to strengthen security at home, and to use military force abroad in order to remove hostile regime and potential threat. I would argue that this point needs more attention, in order to understand US-led efforts for Middle East democratization and nuclear nonproliferation. It is America’s Middle East strategy since 9-11 that provokes the Arab Spring.
However, American citizens are somewhat fed up with long wars, and budget debates pose psychological constraints to defense spending. Karlyn Bowman, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, conducted a poll to understand how Americans see the War on Terror now (“The War on Terror: Ten Years of Polls on American Attitudes”; AEI Political Report; September 2011). According to the report, “Public concern about terrorism is not as high as it was ten years ago, but Americans have not lost sight of the threat.” The American public gives credit to both the Bush administration and the Obama administration in tackling terrorism. However, they have ambiguous feeling to the War on Terror. While Americans want the government to take tough measures to protect themselves from terrorists, they are increasingly concerned with civil liberties by strict surveillance. The war in Afghanistan is another issue of ambiguous sentiment. Though 57% of Americans still see the initial decision to intervene in Afghanistan was right, 64% of them believe that the troop level be reduced now. We can conclude that American citizens want to lower war burdens for their own life, but they are keen to keep their country safe.
Finally, let me mention grassroots movements of 9-11 events. In such an atmosphere, conservative civic organizations like Move America Forward (MAF), launch vigorous campaigns to appeal support for US troops fighting against terrorists. MAF sent an e-mail alert on August 30 to call an attention to still ongoing wars in the Middle East as the 10th 9-11 anniversary is coming close. Since then, MAF has been sending messages to appeal grassroots support for the War on Terror, including missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their campaigns may have some impacts on presidential election debates.
Currently, both Democrats and Republicans are preoccupied with the economy. The 10th anniversary of 9-11 can provoke more talks on defense. We must keep in mind that the Tea Party does not just represent free market libertarians, but also constitutional patriots. The latter is dedicated to build a strong America to defend the nation of Founding Fathers. This anniversary can stimulate patriotic sentiments, which may activate debates on defense budget for the presidential election.