In the days immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, the world overwhelmingly stood with the United States. The French newspaper Le Monde even wrote on Sept. 12, “Today we are all Americans,” to express a sentiment felt throughout the world: If America’s freedom was being attacked, so was the freedom of anyone in the world, and the world needed to stand united in support.
This sentiment went far beyond a few words. NATO members agreed to recognize the terrorist attacks as an act of war that, per its charter, would warrant a response from all its members – an unprecedented action. No one was forcing foreign nationals to side with the U.S. call to take out the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, yet many offered military or humanitarian support.
Since then, the international goodwill has been squandered through President George W. Bush’s pet projects. The years before the World Trade Center towers were leveled in an explosion of kerosene and hate seem like memories from a past life. But unquestioning support of American ideals now seems unlikely to occur if – god forbid – another attack of this scale should occur.
The reason for this is a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy that harkens back to times most Europeans hoped had ended. A vendetta to take down America’s enemies quickly followed, and justice went out the window just as quickly. (The mere existence of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, not to mention secret CIA-operated prisons worldwide, are a sad testaments to this new goal.)
When the war drums sounded for the first time since Sept. 11, the justification given to the public was that military action was necessary to take out the Taliban regime and al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan. Within a week of the Sept. 11, Osama bin Laden was made public enemy No. 1, and President Bush said, “I want justice,” and went on to say, “There’s an old poster out West, I recall, that said, ‘Wanted, dead or alive.'”
Interestingly, it was fine for bin Laden to attack installations without U.S. interests. When Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, it was the United States that made bin Laden a resistance leader and the CIA that provided his guerilla fighters with military training and equipment.
Back then, the goal of the day was to get the Russians out of Afghanistan. The plan worked, but also created a totalitarian regime in Afghanistan and gave bin Laden the infrastructure and know-how he later used to launch a military campaign against the United States, a country he claims abandoned Afghanistan once the Russian military withdrew from the area.
Similarly, Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian regime was vilified by the Bush administration to justify an attack on Iraq even though Saddam had previously been a close ally. In 1983, Donald Rumsfeld – then a special envoy to the Middle East as part of the Reagan administration – was sent to Baghdad in order to meet with Hussein and discuss any help the United States could give Iraq in its war with Iran.
Hussein was celebrated as an ally, and the United States even supplied Iraq with chemical weapons – or, as they are now called, weapons of mass destruction – because it perceived Iran as a bigger threat to U.S. interests than Iraq.
In the ’80s, Saddam’s use of U.S.-produced WMDs was leveraged as proof that Saddam had WMD – a claim that was not only little more than an
asinine pretense to give President George H. W. Bush what he wanted, but also turned out to be completely false, as Saddam had long destroyed the remaining WMD.
What may come as a shock to many Americans is a simple but painful truth that has been evident to most Europeans since the beginning of the war in Iraq: The world did not change on Sept. 11. America did.
America went back to its dark days of propping up totalitarian regimes to benefit U.S. interests, but potentially attacking anywhere they were not.
The United States is no longer seen as the just and peaceful world leader it briefly attempted to be in the ’90s, but rather much like the rogue nations it claims to be combating: completely unpredictable when it perceives its interests are at stake.
Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in political geography and is a former Oracle opinion editor.