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From 9/11's ashes, new world took shape


Nepalnews
2021 Sep 11, 8:16,

In the ghastly rubble of ground zero’s fallen towers 20 years ago, Hour Zero arrived, a chance to start anew.

World affairs reordered abruptly on that morning of blue skies, black ash, fire, and death.

In Iran, chants of “death to America” quickly gave way to candlelight vigils to mourn the American dead. Vladimir Putin weighed in with substantive help as the US prepared to go to war in Russia’s region of influence.

Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, a murderous dictator with a poetic streak, spoke of the “human duty” to be with Americans after “these horrifying and awesome events, which are bound to awaken human conscience.”

From the first terrible moments, America’s longstanding allies were joined by longtime enemies in that singularly galvanizing instant. No nation with global standing was cheering the stateless terrorists vowing to conquer capitalism and democracy. How rare is that?

Too rare to last, it turned out.


A plane takes off from Washington Reagan National Airport as a large U.S. flag is unfurled at the Pentagon ahead of ceremonies at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Sept. 11, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo)
A plane takes off from Washington Reagan National Airport as a large U.S. flag is unfurled at the Pentagon ahead of ceremonies at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Sept. 11, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo)

Civilizations have their allegories for rebirth in times of devastation. A global favorite is that of the phoenix, a magical and magnificent bird, rising from ashes. In the hellscape of Germany at the end of World War II, it was the concept of Hour Zero, or Stunde Null, that offered the opportunity to start anew.

For the US, the zero hour of Sept. 11, 2001, meant a chance to reshape its place in the post-Cold War world from a high perch of influence and goodwill as it entered the new millennium. This was only a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union left America with both the moral authority and the financial and military muscle to be unquestionably the lone superpower.

Those advantages were soon squandered. Instead of a new order, 9/11 fueled 20 years of war abroad. In the US, it gave rise to the angry, aggrieved, self-proclaimed patriot, and heightened surveillance and suspicion in the name of common defense.


US Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit try to take shelter from a sand storm at forward operating base Dwyer in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan on May 7, 2008. (AP Photo)
US Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit try to take shelter from a sand storm at forward operating base Dwyer in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan on May 7, 2008. (AP Photo)

It opened an era of deference to the armed forces as lawmakers pulled back on oversight and let presidents give primacy to the military over law enforcement in the fight against terrorism. And it sparked anti-immigrant sentiment, primarily directed at Muslim countries, that lingers today.

A war of necessity — in the eyes of most of the world — in Afghanistan was followed two years later by a war of choice as the U.S. invaded Iraq on false claims that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. President George W. Bush labeled Iran, Iraq and North Korea an “axis of evil.”

Thus opened the deep, deadly mineshaft of “forever wars.” There were convulsions throughout the Middle East, and U.S. foreign policy — for half a century a force for ballast — instead gave way to a head-snapping change in approaches in foreign policy from Bush to Obama to Trump. With that came waning trust in America’s leadership and reliability.


FILE - In this Tuesday, July 4, 2017 file photo, fleeing Iraqi civilians walk past the heavily damaged al-Nuri mosque as Iraqi forces continue their advance against Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. As Iraqi forces continued to advance on the last few hundred square kilometers of Mosul held by the Islamic State group, the country's Prime Minister said Tuesday the gains show Iraqis reject terrorism. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Tuesday, July 4, 2017 file photo, fleeing Iraqi civilians walk past the heavily damaged al-Nuri mosque as Iraqi forces continue their advance against Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq. As Iraqi forces continued to advance on the last few hundred square kilometers of Mosul held by the Islamic State group, the country's Prime Minister said Tuesday the gains show Iraqis reject terrorism. (AP Photo)

Other parts of the world were not immune. Far-right populist movements coursed through Europe. Britain voted to break away from the European Union. And China steadily ascended in the global pecking order.

President Joe Biden is trying to restore trust in the belief of a steady hand from the U.S. but there is no easy path. He is ending war, but what comes next?

In Afghanistan in August, the Taliban seized control with menacing swiftness as the Afghan government and security forces that the United States and its allies had spent two decades trying to build collapsed. No steady hand was evident from the US in the harried, disorganized evacuation of Afghans desperately trying to flee the country in the first weeks of the Taliban’s re-established rule.

Allies whose troops had fought and died in the US-led war in Afghanistan expressed dismay at Biden’s management of the US withdrawal, under a deal President Donald Trump had struck with the Taliban.



FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 file photo, Taliban fighters patrol Kabul, Afghanistan,. The Taliban celebrated Afghanistan's Independence Day on Thursday by declaring they beat the United States, but challenges to their rule ranging from running a country severely short on cash and bureaucrats to potentially facing an armed opposition began to emerge. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 file photo, Taliban fighters patrol Kabul, Afghanistan,. The Taliban celebrated Afghanistan's Independence Day on Thursday by declaring they beat the United States, but challenges to their rule ranging from running a country severely short on cash and bureaucrats to potentially facing an armed opposition began to emerge. (AP Photo)

THE ‘HOMELAND’

In the United States, the Sept. 11 attacks set loose a torrent of rage.

In shock from the assault, a swath of American society embraced the us vs. them binary outlook articulated by Bush — “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” — and has never let go of it.

You could hear it in the country songs and talk radio, and during presidential campaigns, offering the balm of a bloodlust cry for revenge. “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way,” Toby Keith promised America’s enemies in one of the most popular of those songs in 2002.


Liberty County resident the Rev. M. Timonthy Elder, Sr., retired, repositions one of his wind-blown U.S. flags in Bristol, Fla., Sept. 13, 2001. (AP Photo)
Liberty County resident the Rev. M. Timonthy Elder, Sr., retired, repositions one of his wind-blown U.S. flags in Bristol, Fla., Sept. 13, 2001. (AP Photo)

Americans stuck flags in yards and on the back of trucks. Factionalism hardened inside America, in school board fights, on Facebook posts, and in national politics, so that opposing views were treated as propaganda from mortal enemies. The concept of enemy also evolved, from not simply the terrorist but also to the immigrant, or the conflation of the terrorist as an immigrant trying to cross the border.

The patriot under threat became a personal and political identity in the United States. Fifteen years later, Trump harnessed it to help him win the presidency.

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