5 years later, the question is, Are we still all Americans?
COMMENTARY | September 13, 2006
A sampling of editorial opinion in Italy, Germany, Britain and Qatar has the U.S. moving from being the most respected nation then to being the most suspected now
By John Burke
PARIS—As the fifth anniversary of that fateful September day that has defined the beginning of the twentieth century approached, the European press reflected upon the immediate and long-term effects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. All reached similar conclusions.
In the days and months following the attack, most columnists agreed, general international sentiment was embodied best in the French daily Le Monde’s famous headline, “We are all Americans.”
Five years on, however, ironically as the Bushies trumpeted since the beginning of the Iraq War, shock and awe have replaced fraternity.
Shock comes in the realization that in a relatively short period of time, American reaction to 9/11 has caused the country to lose its status as the most respected nation on earth to become one of the most suspected.
Awe abounds in foreign columns because their authors don’t foresee the neo-con administration making amends at any point. They fear things will get worse and can’t say if they are ever to get better.
The policies of the “Bush doctrine,” a reversal from previous American administrations, led Italy’s La Stampa to ask, “Are we still all Americans?”
“Is the post-September 11 world safer or less safe than before? Unfortunately, it isn't hard to answer this question, posed by the man who promised us all that the Iraq War - presented as an answer to the chaos triggered by Islamist terrorism - would lead to a better and safer planet. He definitely deceived himself, and all of us, too.
“The shock of September 11, in fact, had produced unity and cohesion; five years later, we are forced to acknowledge that this capital of goodwill has been dissipated, wasted, and manipulated. As a matter of fact, rarely has there been such a mismatch between a historic situation and the capacity of the one who had to face it, and that is President Bush…
“Getting back to September 11, what is it that we can reproach the United States for? In addition to its lack of foresight, mainly two things. First, a historical contradiction: the U.S. is not an empire, and does not aim at becoming one. And any U.S. initiative that carries the "imperial" stamp provokes an even greater weakening of America. The U.S. is and must remain a trade-oriented Republic…
“Second, a strategic contradiction. After 1945, the free world was rebuilt on two pillars: containment and development. While containing the Soviet Empire, it was necessary at the same time to promote the development of democracy through free trade. And what did Bush Junior decree instead? Preemptive action; that is to say, preemptive war in the place of containment. That has changed everything.”
An astounding reversal
In “Not all Americans now,” the UK’s Times is astounded at the rapid reversal of international sentiment for the world’s only superpower after 9/11, but argues that even some Americans are joining the rest of the world in disbelief and disdain for their country’s policies:
“The rest of the world has always had a complex set of attitudes towards America — a mixture of envy, admiration, disdain, gratitude, exasperation, hope and, sometimes, fear…
“As it prepares to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attacks, America stands reviled in the world as never before. It is a remarkable turnabout. In the same amount of time that elapsed between the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the Treaty of Versailles, in as many months as passed between Germany’s invasion of Poland and D-Day, the U.S. has gone from innocent victim of unimaginable villainy to principal perpetrator of global suffering.
“So complete has been this transformation in global sentiment that it is inconceivable now, should America be attacked again, today, that the tragedy would elicit the same response. There would be horror and sympathy in good measure, certainly, from most decent people. But there would also be much Schadenfreude, and even from the sympathetic a grim, unsmiling sense that America had reaped what it had sown…
“For some time after September 11, many U.S. critics distinguished between anti-Bush and anti-American sentiment. It was possible to argue that U.S. actions after 9/11 did not reflect any deep national shift in strategic direction but were simply the result of decisions made by an unrepresentative leadership which had, some insisted, “stolen” the election in 2000.
“But after President Bush’s narrow but decisive election triumph in November 2004 that became less plausible. Americans had been given a chance to pass judgment on their leadership in the early years of the post-9/11 world…
“(America’s) impact on the world is denounced not just for what its military does but for what its companies and workers do, from Exxon Mobil to McDonald’s…
“But global warming, religious observance, McDonald’s and even Starbucks were features of the U.S. long before 9/11. In the end, deep as the cultural differences between Europe and America are, there is little doubt that it is the policies — the military and diplomatic stance of the U.S. in the past five years — that have caused the rest of the world to turn away from its traditional ally.
“If the 2004 election seemed to confirm that the world is ill at ease with America, it has since become clear that Americans themselves appear to be profoundly ill at ease with their country.
“In short, it seems to some that Americans are converging once again with the rest of the West’s views on how to handle the War on Terror and international relations in general.”
The Economist: The U.S. has been transformed in ‘unthinkable ways’
The Economist writes that “America’s longest war” has transformed the nation in previously unthinkable ways, including making George Bush, a man that may have played a trivial role in history, a defining president:
“That September 11th changed America dramatically is hardly open to debate: George Bush's presidency has been about little else since then. But some of the changes have been unexpected. Who would have guessed, as a shocked country rallied round the flag, that five years later partisan divisions would be deeper than ever? Who would have guessed, as the president pledged that ‘the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,’ that five years later Mr bin Laden would still be at liberty and America would be bogged down in Iraq?
“The main (dramatic change in America after 9/11) is a new emphasis on national security. In 2000, despite a series of increasingly devastating terrorist attacks, including the first bombing of the World Trade Centre, only 12% of Americans cited “world affairs” as a “paramount issue”. Today they are central.
“The concentration on national security reflects a second big change: America's new but continuing sense of vulnerability. This has deepened over the years. The war in Iraq has proved how difficult it is for America to use its military might to change the world. The fiasco of failing to find any WMD in Iraq underlined the weakness of its intelligence services. The response to Hurricane Katrina showed dramatically what several congressional reports had already pointed out: that the administration had done little to prepare for another catastrophic attack.
“Lastly, September 11th has turned the Bush presidency into a big deal. Before the aircraft struck, Mr Bush looked like a small-bore president—divisive, to be sure, but divisive about little things. On the morning of September 11th Mr Bush was reading “My Pet Goat” to a class of second-graders. His speech-writer, Michael Gerson, was working on a speech on “Communities of Character”. America is now as divided as possible about Mr Bush. His supporters regard him as a “transformative” figure like Ronald Reagan. His critics view him as a catastrophe—possibly the worst president in American history, according to Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian. But, thanks to September 11th, nobody can dismiss him as a mere footnote.”
Manipulating disasters for political gain
The Guardian sees two similarities between the aftermath of 9/11 and that of Katrina: the ineptitude of the Bush administration but also its skill at manipulating disasters for its own political gain, all the while making George Bush look good:
“Over the past six years, George Bush's performance, both in office and on the campaign trail, has often been less than stellar. But his packaging has, for the most part, been exemplary…
“Only twice did reality intrude on this meticulously constructed and carefully choreographed image: first after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and then almost exactly four years later, following Hurricane Katrina…
“If these anniversaries reveal a lot about Bush, they also tell us a great deal about America.
“On both occasions Bush displayed not a commanding presence but a conspicuous absence. On hearing of the terrorist attacks he finished reading My Pet Goat to schoolchildren in Florida before zigzagging around the country for fear that he too would become a target. This did little to inspire confidence in the nation in its hour of need…
“The fact that, after just five years, this is remembered as his finest hour is a triumph of image over reality. The nation felt the need for a strong leader. When he was found lacking, his consigliere, Karl Rove, projected one…
“September 11 highlighted America's vulnerability as a global superpower; Katrina highlighted how little that superpower status meant to many Americans. The fruits of freedom and opportunity that Bush sought to impose in the Middle East at the barrel of a gun had yet to reach middle America…
“With Osama bin Laden still at large and much of New Orleans still looking like a bomb site, Bush twice failed to seize the moment to accomplish the immediate task at hand or comfort a traumatised nation. But both times he and his party moved quickly to exploit the chaos to advance their own agenda…
“The causes and the solutions for these two tragedies couldn't be more different. But they raise the same two central questions: how can America use its superpower status, at home and abroad, to make the world a safer, better place for ordinary working people; and what form of collective intuitive malaise convinced a majority of Americans - albeit a slender one - to check their guts and then choose this man?”
The Independent says a rushing, sloppy Congress gave Bush too much power
Britain’s The Independent recognizes the severe significance of September 11, 2001, but focuses on the following week as the moment when the world really began to change:
“…September 18 is the real date to circle. That day, Congress rushed through its Authorisation For Use of Military Force (AUMF), entitling the President, as the nation's commander in chief, to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against "those nations,
organisations, or persons" that "he determines" were responsible for the September 11 atrocities, "...in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organisations, or persons." It's the "such" that's the key, the
inclusion of nations, organisations, or persons "of that sort", which nicely covers, for instance, the invasion of Iraq, the arrest and detention of most of the prisoners now languishing in Guantanamo Bay, possible future military action against Iran, or Syria, or both, and heaven knows what else, since "such" is a term of potentially limitless capacity to make hitherto unguessed-at likenesses and connections.
“The sloppily-worded AUMF endowed the administration with unique and wide-ranging powers. It has become the licence for the executive branch to wave at Congress and the judiciary whenever its actions are questioned or censured. On September 18 2001, the delicate balance between the three branches of government, as laid out in the American constitution, was thrown severely out of whack; since that day, one branch, the presidency, has enjoyed an unprecedented primacy over the others, and we've been living with the consequences of AUMF ever since.”
Die Zeit: What if there was no 9/11?
In subtle derision of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, Germany’s Die Zeit wonders what could have been “If September 11 Never Happened”:
“Democrats, we learned in school, never conduct wars of aggression, but employ peaceful means of cooperation and diplomacy. Also, they don't distinguish between people of different ancestry. To the contrary: discrimination by race or religion is constitutionally forbidden…
“In democracies there is no propaganda, no incitement of hysteria against certain groups of citizens by the press or politicians. A democratic country protects innocent citizens. It doesn't take away his nail clippers, doesn't listen to his phone or read his e-mail. A democratic state controls its secret services, doesn't deploy the army in its own borders, takes fingerprints exclusively from criminals, and doesn't use cameras at tollbooths to film harmless vehicles on the highway.
“Because a democracy trusts its citizens, it knows that it relies on the consent of its citizenry, because otherwise it doesn't deserve to be called a democracy. If a crime occurs, however dreadful, a democratic state turns all of its resources to fighting that crime without labeling it a "war." For "war" is a dreadful concept. War directs itself not against the individual criminal, but holds entire regions, entire countries, entire areas of the globe responsible for a few inhabitants.”
Al-Watan in Qatar gives America ‘a big zero’
Not only is Qatar’s Al-Watan convinced that the Bush administration has been the nation’s worst in almost a century, but that its policies have caused the exact opposite of what it set out to accomplish. All in all, “America ‘Gets a Big Zero’ for Post 9-11 Performance”:
“If we were to grade the performance of the United States over the last five years, we would have to say without hesitation that it gets a big zero - and the blame goes to the worst administration to govern the United States since World War I…
“Everything has crashed against the rock of arrogance. Their baffled experts ran around confused in search of a way out, but all the exits are closed save one. America must walk the passageway toward dispelling conditions that create impotence and humiliation, and succumb to the only solution: to cooperate with the rest of humanity…
“A careful reading of U.S. activities over the five years since the Twin Towers were destroyed adds another big zero to the first; America's excessive use of force to combat ‘terrorism’ has brought about the opposite results from those the United States had hoped to achieve…
“And whoever heard George Bush's recent speeches noticed that he no longer focuses on the virtues of the "peace that will settle over Iraq" as he has in the past, but instead warns of the consequences of U.S. failure and military withdrawal. But his dark tone is not unusual, as his decisions are emotional and improvised. This is why he has declared war on the world and is responsible for the deaths of 100,000 people…
“Washington's behavior is the number one producer of terrorists. Thus, the painful truth that must be recognized is that the American administration didn't only fail to meet its stated objectives - it has succeeded in achieving the exact opposite!”
Europe, who cares
Bryan Tate -
10/03/2006, 05:00 PM
The old European culture is dying, who cares what those pacifist, socialists think. I only care about BRIC.
The rising global powers of BRIC are where our dialogue and attention should be. That is where the future of influence lies, and the US is generally regarded more favorable by those countries.
We are entering into a new era, a reorganization of the global order if you will, adapt or get left behind by history.