Effects of 9/11 on US foreign policy - Eddie Copeland

International Relations

The effects of 9/11 on US Foreign Policy

18 Apr , 2013  

An essay exploring the short, medium and long term effects of the events of 9/11 on American foreign policy.

‘In the context of US politics, 9/11 was so far-reaching and catastrophic that it flipped the political world upside down; put new issues on the agenda; and changed the political, cultural and economic climate… overnight’.

This is the view put forward by Kellner (2003: p.39) in his book, ‘From 9/11 to Terror War: The Dangers of the Bush Legacy’. He is certainly not alone in suggesting that the events of 11th September, 2001 (henceforth abbreviated to: ‘9/11’) had a deep impact on American politics. Commentators such as Bacevich and Prodromou (2004), McCartney (2004), Hirsh (2002) and Gaddis (2005) all concur that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93, had profound effects on US foreign policy, bringing about a series of changes to its focus, approach and conduct. Arguing against this view, academics such as Kennedy-Pipe and Rengger (2006) and Leffler (2003 & 2005) counter that little or nothing was fundamentally changed by 9/11, except perhaps for a widespread belief that something had changed (see especially Kennedy-Pipe and Rengger 2006).

This article will critically examine both sets of views, and argue that the effects of 9/11 on US foreign policy can be divided into those which are: short-term (enduring only as long as the Bush administration); medium-term (enduring into the Obama administration, but not likely beyond); and lastly, long-term (with the potential to represent a fundamental and long-lasting shift in policy). The article will agree with Leffler (2003 & 2005) that many of the short- and medium-term effects were continuations of previous trends in US foreign policy. Finally, it will be shown that the major long-term effect of 9/11 is to commit the US to an open-ended War on Terror (WoT) which will require future administrations to focus not only on hostile and failed states, but also non-state actors, for the purposes of American security.

Foreign Policy under Clinton and George W. Bush Pre-9/11

To provide a meaningful context against which any purported effects can be judged, the key features of foreign policy under the Clinton and pre-9/11 George W. Bush administrations should first be considered. Miller (1994) explains that the end of the Cold War removed the focal point around which US foreign policy had long been defined. For decades, the USSR had provided the US with a clear rival and adversary – both ideologically and militarily – which enabled a grand strategy narrative to be written. This was encapsulated by the term ‘Containment’, coined in 1946-7 by George Kennan, and adopted to a lesser or greater extent by presidents from Truman to Reagan (Porter, 2009: p.286). Clinton himself declared in his Preface to his National Security Strategy for a Global Age: ‘We are blessed to be citizens of a country, with… no overriding external threats abroad’, (2000: p.3, italics mine). Whilst Clinton here frames the situation in a positive light, both Miller and Haass (2000) argue that the lack of defining external threats resulted in Clinton’s foreign policy being ‘reactive’ and ‘ad hoc’, with no clear strategy or direction. As Haass summarises, there was no coherent ‘Clinton doctrine’ (2000: p.139).

This view of the Clinton presidency has not gone uncontested. Brinkley (1997) explains how the administration came to adopt – albeit belatedly – the term ‘Enlargement’ to encapsulate the driving philosophy behind the President’s foreign policy agenda. The concept was composed of two underlying foreign policy goals: to elevate the role of economics in foreign policy, and to promote democracy abroad. Whilst Brinkley does not disagree that there was a less singular focus in foreign policy than under previous administrations, he concurs with Heilbrunn (1996) that the lack of a grand narrative was not only understandable but skilful: by not ideologically restricting himself, Clinton retained the necessary flexibility to deal with the realities of the new world order.

During the 2000 Presidential campaign and in office prior to 9/11, Bush offered a ‘pragmatic’ and ‘humble’ foreign policy agenda, largely focusing instead on domestic priorities such as tax cuts and improving education through his No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The key stated foreign policy aim of his administration was developing relations with Russia and the strategic competitor, China. Intervention in other countries’ affairs was explicitly stated as being an undesirable distraction from domestic policy priorities. As one European commentator put it: ‘Under Bill Clinton, Americans wanted to save the world from itself, albeit with reluctance. Under Bush, they intend to protect themselves from the world or even withdraw from it’ (Moïsi, 2001: p.150).

Short-term Effects of 9/11

Against this backdrop, and in being the first major externally-originating attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941, it was perhaps inevitable that 9/11 would provoke some immediate and dramatic effects on US foreign policy. In this section, five major short-term effects will be discussed, including: 1) the emergence of a clear foreign policy focus for the first time since the end of the Cold War; 2) the initiation of the ‘Bush doctrine’, including the concept of preventative warfare; 3) a largely unilateralist approach to foreign affairs; 4) the combining of the President’s evangelicalism with the neoconservative agenda; and 5) the introduction of overtly religious and nationalistic vocabulary and their conceptual frameworks for describing foreign affairs.

Arguably the single most significant effect on US foreign policy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was that for the first time since the Cold War, the US faced an overriding external threat. ‘The Al-Qaeda attacks… brought the post-Cold War period to an abrupt end’, asserts Buzan, adding: ‘It solved the threat deficit problem for the US.’ (2006: p.1103). Hirsh agrees, stating: ‘The United States was faced with an irreconcilable enemy; the sort of black-and-white challenge that has supposedly been transcended in the post-Cold War period, when the great clash of ideologies had ended’ (2002: p.18). Whether it was by virtue or failing that the Clinton administration appeared to lack direction in foreign policy, 9/11 once again made it possible to formulate a grand narrative for the USA’s role in the world. The ‘threat deficit’ was replaced by a single clear and overriding focus: to combat terrorists and the states which supported them. The National Security Strategy (NSSS) 2002, explicitly highlights 9/11 as a turning point for foreign policy, declaring that it ‘fundamentally changed the context for relations between the United States and other main centers of global power’ (NSSS, 2002: p.28). All the effects which followed, and which are considered below, stem from the fact that 9/11 shifted the way that both the Bush administration and the American people perceived the world and the threats within it. Of course, some critics (c.f. Kellner, 2003; Buzan, 2006) have suggested that 9/11 was used as an excuse to carry out elements of foreign policy which key figures in the administration had long desired – particularly military action against Iraq. Whatever the veracity of such theories, it was nonetheless 9/11 which created the necessary political environment enabling those policies to be enacted.

The impression that something fundamental had shifted in international politics seemed to be felt by other states as well. As Kennedy-Pipe and Rengger explain: ‘Very quickly, after 9/11, both out of genuine shock and horror and perhaps also out of a recognition of the likely ferocity of the US response, states that had been rivals… stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States (2006: p.541). Relations with many countries were now defined in the light of the post-9/11 world. The USA found new levels of commonality with Russia, China and India in their respective battles against terrorism (Hirsh, 2000: p.19). The US/UK relationship would be driven by joint military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reflecting on the feeling that not only America but the whole West had been attacked on 9/11, French journalist, Jean-Marie Colombani, wrote in the Le Monde newspaper on 12th September 2001, ‘we are all Americans!’.

The collection of responses from the Bush administration to the emergence of this new threat has been largely encapsulated in the term, ‘Bush doctrine’. Whilst commentators may disagree as to which exact components should be ascribed to this doctrine, most agree that it at least includes: the use and acceptance of preventative warfare (described below); using the spread of democracy in theocratic or authoritarian regimes to combat the origins of and support for terrorism; and a willingness to pursue unilaterally US military and national interests. These ideas are articulately expressed in the NSSS 2002, which committed the USA to perpetuating its global military supremacy, designating democratic capitalism the ‘single sustainable model of national success’, and ascribing to the United States a missionary obligation to ‘extend the benefits of freedom across the globe’ (NSSS, 2002: p.ii).

One of the most contested elements of the Bush doctrine is its advocating of not only pre-emptive, but preventative warfare. Some confusion is present in the academic literature as to whether or not the use of pre-emption – the concept of taking action against an aggressor posing an immediate threat – was a new phenomenon caused by 9/11. After all, international law has long allowed such actions to forestall clear and immediately present dangers. Gaddis (2005) explains that this confusion is caused by the Bush administration’s use of the term ‘pre-emption’ when what they were propounding was something indeed more novel, preventative action. ‘“Prevention” meant starting a war against a state that might, at some future point, pose… risks… the Bush administration conflated these terms, using the word “pre-emption” to justify what turned out to be a “preventative” war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq’ (2005: p.4). Dunne and Mulaj concur, stating that when ‘Dick Cheney said… Iraq ought to be struck before it acquired nuclear weapons, he was clearly evoking the doctrine of preventive war’ (2010: p.1292). In short, Bush argued that 9/11 had demonstrated that waiting for a clear and present military threat before acting did not work: in the WoT there would be no obvious military build up to indicate when an attack would occur. As Bush told graduates at West Point in June, 2002: ‘We cannot defend America by hoping for the best… If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long… We must take the battle to the enemy… and confront the worst threats before they emerge’.

The Bush administration’s perceived unilateralism is another key feature which both critics and supporters highlight in US foreign policy following 9/11. Calling the President’s early efforts to build a coalition of countries to support the WoT a half-hearted ‘flip flop’ policy, Kellner argues that the USA ‘alienated itself from many of its allies in the war against terror by its aggressive unilateralism and efforts to affirm and assert US military hegemony’ (2003: p.2). Hirsh agrees, stating that ‘The Bush doctrine has been used to justify a new assertiveness abroad unprecedented since the early days of the Cold War’, demonstrating a ‘take-it-or-leave-it unilateralism’ (2002: p.41). Bush indeed stated it plainly in his address to Congress on 20th September, 2001, when he declared to the world: ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists’. Hirsh does concede that the effect of 9/11 may have actually been to highlight the USA’s pre-existing unilateralist tendencies rather than bringing them about, commenting that: ‘When the going got tough… the Clintonites could act just as unilaterally’ (2002: p.38). Gaddis meanwhile explores why the Iraq war in particular gained less international support than the administration had anticipated. His reasons include: ‘The outdated structure of the UN Security Council…; the appearance Bush gave of having decided to go to war with or without that body’s consent; [and] the difficulty of establishing a credible connection between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda’ (2005: p.5-6). He concludes that whatever the administration’s efforts to involve other countries, Bush’s decision to invade Iraq with or without multilateral support led to an ‘unprecedented collapse in support for the United States abroad’ (2005: p.6).

According to Bacevich and Prodromou, a further major effect of 9/11 was that it brought about ‘a marriage of the president’s no-nonsense evangelicalism with the muscular, highly militarised utopianism of the neo-conservative… Right’ (2004: p.48). As evidence that this did not occur prior to 9/11, they recall that during the 2000 presidential primaries, prominent neoconservatives had largely backed Senator John McCain. Furthermore, despite being well represented within the administration from the outset (particularly in the office of the Vice President and Department of Defense) neoconservatives’ influence before 9/11 seems to have been limited by the presence of more moderate voices, particularly in the State Department, under the direction of Secretary of State, Colin Powell. This was evident during the spy plane crisis with China in early 2001, when it was largely the more pragmatic and multilateral faction who won the day, rejecting neoconservative calls for a strong reaction against China. 9/11 would change all this. Whilst both factions viewed that day ‘as a tragedy… the neocons also saw it as an opportunity and… won President Bush over to that view’ (Bacevich and Prodromou, 2004: p.51). This marriage of ideas came about in part because Bush found common ground with neoconservatives who, like him, ‘tended to see the world in stark, with-us-or-against-us terms’, albeit it terms of democracy verses dictatorship rather than the President’s ‘good against evil’ (Bacevich and Prodromou, 2004: p.51). To a president needing to demonstrate a tough response to 9/11, the neoconservatives’ doctrine endorsing ‘the projection of US power as the primary instrument of change’ presented the more plausible course of action (Dunne and Mulaj, 2010: p.1291).

The final major short-term effect was how, in the weeks following 9/11, the Bush administration (and especially the President himself), used overtly religious and nationalistic vocabulary and their conceptual frameworks to describe foreign affairs. McCartney argues that the aim in doing so ‘was to define the world in Manichean terms, with the United States symbolising “good” and its enemies embodying “evil”. Doing so provided implicit moral justification for… the eventual administration response’ (2004: p.408). Kellner agrees, suggesting that ‘The right wing of the Bush administration seeks to promote Terror War as… an apocalyptic battle between good and evil’ (2003: p.6-7). Such language was famously used in Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech, in which he described the states of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as constituting an ‘axis of evil’.

Focusing on the religious vocabulary in Bush’s statements, Bacevich and Prodromou suggest that ‘Religion offered an immediately available frame of reference that enabled President Bush to make sense of otherwise senseless events’ (2004: p.47), adding that ‘In the eyes of his supporters… Bush has infused US Policy with a moral clarity and conviction that it lacked prior to 9/11’ (2004: p.43). There were numerous instances of the President using religious vocabulary to justify his actions. The result, according to McCartney, is that ‘both Muslims and… non-Muslims, including Europeans of all stripes, have believed that America’s war against terrorism has had a Christian dimension.’ He cites examples such as The National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, where ‘the symbolism of the President preaching literally from the altar communicated far more than about the religious center of gravity in the American nation than did his subsequent pleas for tolerance’ (2004: p.410).

Examining the way the administration appealed to nationalistic instincts, McCartney insists that ‘It would be mistaken to understate the powerful role that the attacks themselves played in not only clarifying American nationalism but also in merging it with American foreign policy (2004: p.411). In using the ‘legitimating power of nationalism’ to describe the attacks of 9/11, Bush ‘was able to provide a context in which Americans could understand and accept a set of foreign policy goals far broader and more ambitious than a simple response to the immediate attacks would have suggested’ (2004: p.400).

In evaluating these short-term effects, it should be emphasised that whilst they appeared following 9/11, it would be a mistake to regard all of them as novel in US foreign policy. After all, examples can be found of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt using pre-emptive (if not preventative) military action; Kennedy and Johnson adopting unilateralist measures; and Reagan describing the world in Manichean terms of good and evil (Leffler, 2005: p.401). Bush was likewise certainly not responsible for bringing religion into political discourse, although he used 9/11 to reinforce and ‘put his own particular imprimatur on this already well-established relationship’ (Bachevich and Promodrou, 2004: p.44). In short, the effect of 9/11 was to resurrect rather than create such trends.

Why did these effects not endure beyond the Bush administration? Firstly, just as 9/11 forced a clear foreign policy priority onto the agenda, subsequent events of international importance would inevitably arise requiring their own consideration, diluting the singular focus on the WoT. The 2008 financial crisis provides a salient example, diverting as it did attention onto global economic matters. The new emphasis on the economy was reflected in American public opinion, which would in turn influence the priorities of the nation’s politicians, not least in the 2008 presidential race. During the 2004 Presidential Election, 34% of voters surveyed claimed that Iraq and the WoT were the most important issues influencing their vote; by 2008 the most pressing concern for 57% of voters was the economy (CNN Polls 2004 & 2008).

The second point is made by Hirsh (2002), who argues that, like any trauma, 9/11 temporarily increased the perceived level of threat, leading the public to accept a new style foreign policy. With the distance of time, however, and no subsequent terrorist attacks on US soil during the Bush presidency, public opinion was susceptible to change. Writing in 2006, Buzan argues that the perception of a threat can be as powerful as the threat itself, but that the perceived threat underlying the WoT would be weakened if the legitimacy of US actions on terror came into question. Those actions were indeed called into question with the widespread dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq, leading to a situation in which ‘the rationale for preventative war… lacks credibility’ (Dunne and Mulaj, 2010: p.1297). Dunne and Mulaj also stress the importance of maintaining support outside the USA for the ‘new rules’ of foreign policy (such as preventative warfare and regime change), saying they would be perceived as ‘legitimate only if the US and its allies had persuaded other members of international society to consent to new rules or exempt the US from breaches of existing ones.’ They conclude that: ‘Neither permissive condition applied’ (2010: p.1294).

Finally, some elements of foreign policy post-9/11 were closely associated with the personnel involved in the Bush Administration, and hence foreign policy would change in their absence. As described earlier, a significant number of neoconservatives formed part of the foreign policy decision making team, in addition to establishment hawks such as Cheney and Rumsfeld. With the exception of Robert Gates in the Department of Defense, none continued their presence into the Obama administration. Moreover, in the 2008 election, Obama explicitly campaigned as the ‘change’ candidate, promising a renewed emphasis on multilateral solutions to global problems; the removal of the ‘Axis of Evil’ label; and the possibility of diplomatic relations with rogue states such as Iran, Syria and North Korea (Dunne and Mulaj, 2010: p.1298). Obama’s rhetoric in Office has continued in this theme, with the NSSS 2010 being emphatically multilateral, indicating that ‘the United States of America will continue to underwrite global security through our commitments to allies, partners, and institutions’ (2010: p.1). The Bush doctrine died with the arrival of Obama.

Medium-Term Effects of 9/11

Whilst the effects outlined above largely ended with the Bush administration, two others would not be disbanded so swiftly: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Following his November 2001 announcement to Congress that the US was committed to combating not just terrorists but the states which supported them, and with criticism of his policies at a record low following the 9/11 atrocities, ‘Washington’s ‘war on terror’ evolved into a wider mission including regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq to replace the incumbents with reliable allies, in turn producing less terrorism and more stability’, (Dunne and Mulaj, 2010: p.1291). It is these military engagements that this article regards as constituting the medium-term effects of 9/11; enduring into the Obama administration, but with a likelihood of ceasing before the end-point of a hypothetical Obama second term.

On 7th October, 2001, Bush announced the start of military action in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban; a direct response to 9/11. Whilst the goal of toppling the governing regime was achieved swiftly, the enduring insurgency of Taliban fighters in the aftermath perpetuated the conflict beyond the Bush presidency. O’Hanlon recalls that the initial military action was widely supported, both by other countries and the American public, yet ‘Today, the war in Afghanistan is a controversial conflict: fewer than half of Americans support the ongoing effort, even as roughly 100,000 U.S. troops are in harm’s way’ (2010: p.63). This may be predicated on a widespread realisation that, according to Biddle, Christina and Thier, ‘there is no political end state that is both acceptable and achievable at reasonable cost’ (2010: p.48). The Obama administration has not described in detail what a successful endpoint in Afghanistan would look like.

Such ambiguity makes predicting exactly how long the US may remain militarily involved in Afghanistan difficult. For whilst there is a continued desire to deny al Qaeda a safe haven in the country, ‘voters and policymakers… have begun debating whether a Taliban takeover would necessarily mean al Qaeda’s return; whether al Qaeda really still seeks an Afghan sanctuary… and whether U.S. forces could contain any future al Qaeda presence through the kinds of military drone strikes now commonly employed in Pakistan (O’Hanlon, 2010: p.64). The resulting public anxiety may well have influenced Obama’s pledge to begin removing troops from Afghanistan by July 2011. Yet O’Hanlon suggests that July 2011 will not mark the end point of the US military commitment in the country. After all, since his presidential campaign, Obama has declared the Afghan-Pakistani theatre to be his top national security priority. Having ‘gained full ownership of this war…, to accelerate the U.S. departure prematurely – before the insurgency was weakened and Afghan forces adequately improved – would risk being seen as conceding defeat in a war that he chose and led’ (O’Hanlon, 2010: p.77). As Obama put it at a 2010 press conference with President Karzai of Afghanistan: ‘Beginning in 2011, July, we will start bringing those troops down and turning over more and more responsibility to Afghan forces that we are building up. But we are not suddenly, as of July 2011, finished in Afghanistan’ (Obama, 2010).

On 20th March, 2003, the first attacks against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq were initiated following the withdrawal of UN weapons inspectors. The Washington Post reported the 9/11 Commission’s finding that they was ‘no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States’ (‘Al Qaeda-Hussein Link Is Dismissed’, 2004), yet the Bush administration repeatedly made inferences to the contrary. Buzan (2006) writes in detail about how Bush gave numerous speeches concerning 9/11 and the WoT, during which he would move seamlessly to discussion of Iraq, thereby encouraging in the minds of both Americans and the international community a connection between the two. Even if some claim that that ‘liberating’ Iraq had long been a preoccupation of the neoconservative moment (see for example, Bacevich and Prodromou, 2004), it was undoubtedly an effect of 9/11, which created the political environment making military intervention possible.

Whilst the military objective of toppling the ruling regime was achieved swiftly, the administration was widely criticised for having no effective plan for rebuilding the country afterwards. As Gaddis comments: ‘Enough troops were deployed to defeat the Iraqi army, but not to restore order, suppress looting, and protect critical infrastructure’ (2005: p.8). If the Bush administration had been expecting their involvement to be brief, the realities of post-Hussein Iraq clearly demanded their continued presence. Most problematic in the long-term was the fact that within a year, the administration’s assertion that Iraq had been developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was revealed to be incorrect, and within two years the prevailing perception was that the invasion had made the problem of jihadist terrorism worse than it was in 2003, ‘provoking widespread derision about the rationale for war’ (Dunne and Mulaj, 2010: p.1297). This exacerbated the nation’s ‘war fatigue’ (O’Hanlon, 2010: p.64), culminating in Obama’s 2008 election as the anti-Iraq candidate. In August 2010, the BBC reported that Obama would largely fulfil his campaign commitment to bring combat troops out of Iraq, whilst leaving troops to ‘train Iraqi security forces, conduct counterterrorism operations and provide civilians with ongoing security’ (‘Obama confirms plan for US troop withdrawal from Iraq’, 2010). Major military involvement in Iraq would not be long-term.


Long-term Effects of 9/11

If the style and substance of the Bush doctrine were largely short-term, and if even the military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq can be regarded as representing medium-term effects, were there any long-term shifts in US foreign policy as a result of 9/11? Here it is argued that there was at least one: the open-ended commitment to the WoT, requiring administrations for the foreseeable future to focus on addressing both weak and failing states, as well as aggressive non-state terrorist groups, specifically for the purposes of protecting American security.

Evidently, directing attention to failing states and terrorist groups did not occur for the first time following 9/11. However, the difference is that: ‘In the wake of September 11, the threat of terrorism has given the problem of failed nation-states an immediacy and importance that transcends its previous humanitarian dimension’ (Rotberg, 2002: p.127, italics mine). Rotberg goes on to argue that as a result of the interconnectedness of the modern, globalised world, failing states have moved from being of concern only to themselves and their immediate neighbours to presenting security issues around the globe. In the minds of the Bush administration, the threat posed by failing states and stateless terrorist groups are heavily interlinked. In the NSSS 2000, Bush asserts that: ‘America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones. We are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies in the hands of the embittered few’ (NSSS, 2002: p.6). Looking to the long-term, Gaddis explains that: ‘Neither Bush nor his successors, whatever their party, can ignore what the events of September 11, 2001, made clear: that deterrence against states affords insufficient protection from attack by gangs, which can now inflict the kind of damage only states fighting wars used to be able to achieve’ (2005: p.2).

Whatever other points they may disagree over, academics writing about the WoT seem to agree on one point: that it will be long. Gordon (2007) represents this view well, arguing that the WoT is less like a traditional war (for example, the Hundred Years War, World War I, and so on) which can have a clear and definitive endpoint, and more like the Cold War, where the struggle is more ideological, and the end less tangible. As he points out, above and beyond any US military action, it will be economic development, the rise of the middle class, and increasing access to the internet and all the knowledge it brings, that will ultimately help weaken the attractiveness of extremist leaders to Muslim communities around the world. The onus on the USA, therefore, is to demonstrate clearly that the values of freedom and democracy represent a preferable and viable alternative future. And this cannot be achieved quickly.

Turning attention specifically to the use of hard power, if the WoT depends on public support, Buzan argues that:

‘Even if the general securitization [i.e. perception of the need to address the threat] continues to command wide support, reaction against it could… grow from US attempts to link to it issues that are either related, but hotly contested (most obviously Israel’s own WoT), or hotly contested because the facts of the link to the… [Global War on Terror] are themselves controversial (most obviously the invasion of Iraq on the grounds of its alleged possession of WMD and its links to Al-Qaeda).’ (2006: p.1111).

Clearly, public backlash against military action in Iraq and Afghanistan may make it harder for future administrations to initiate interventions against other failing states. Nevertheless, at this stage it seems inconceivable that US foreign policy could move away from addressing – whether through hard or soft power – the security threat posed by failing states and stateless actors such as al Qaeda. Yet as with the specific war in Afghanistan, to have any prospect of an endpoint, the overall WoT needs a theory of victory. As Porter laments, the WoT is ‘a war declared on a tactical method rather than an identifiable group, for cosmic rather than achievable goals, with little grasp of ends’ (2009: p.290). Rubin, meanwhile, wonders when the US will address Pakistan ‘the main centre of terrorism “of global reach”’ (2007: p.58). And as Hirsh concludes: ‘there is very little clarity about the real direction of U.S. foreign policy and the war on terror’ (2002: p.19). Whatever the endpoint, the WoT will indeed be a long-term effect of 9/11.



This article has argued that the effects of 9/11 on US foreign policy can be divided into those which are short-term, medium-term and long-term. It has been shown that the short-term effects were not entirely innovations brought about by 9/11, but more often reappearances of elements witnessed under previous administrations. They disappeared as new events arose, public opinion tired of the policies of the Bush doctrine, and the Obama administration changed key personnel. The medium term effects are the US military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, which seem probable to come to completion – if completion can be defined – within the next few years. The key long-term effect is the commitment to the War on Terror which will require future administrations to pay attention not only to hostile and failed states, but also non-state actors, for the purposes of American security.


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