In the early days after 9-11, the history was clear. The world understood that the United States had to find and eliminate the people responsible for launching and supporting that attack. The world rallied to the US cause.
As time went on, however, a new history began to develop. It became apparent that the US’s place in the world was beset not just by the likes of al Qaeda, but also by the forces of other nations that considered the US an enemy and even by some nations who publicly called the US a friend. The world started making excuses.
One of the nations mobilized against the United States was Iraq. Since 1991, the US dedicated tens of thousands of military personnel to containing Iraq’s homicidal dictator who had a record of unprovoked war and attacking US interests. The decision to invade Iraq was a complex and sometimes flawed one, but one that was inevitably necessary. The world took a step back.
Starting in 2003, the United States found itself progressively alone as nation after nation revealed itself complicit in the activities of the US’s enemies. The world was now against the nation that al Qaeda attacked.
Europe accused the United States of unprovoked war in Iraq even as several of its nations were guilty of accepting billions of dollars from Iraq in return for weapons and equipment Europe had pledged not to give. European companies provided materials and support to Iran’s nuclear program in contravention of international agreement.
Russia resumed its role as the Cold War bear, meddling in the affairs of neighboring nations, bullying the world over oil and natural gas, and supplying support to adversaries like Iran. It threatened US allies and even invaded them.
In South America, leftists took over governments. The president of Venezuela started his own little war of words against the United States, and Russian bombers and warships conducted military exercises with them.
Iran and North Korea continued to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Syria tried to get in on the act. Somali pirates attempt to attack international shipping almost every day, and Islamic fundamentalists almost succeed in overrunning that country.
The world watched to see what the US would do.
9-11 ripped away the veneer of global peace and security that had settled over the United States since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Suddenly, one attack revealed the cruel reality of the US place as the world’s sole superpower for all that it was. Seven years later, the United States stands among few friends and many enemies on the world stage.
The history of civilization shows that powerful nations that fail to exercise their power in their own self-interest fall. Every powerful nation that stepped back from that exercise no longer exists. Look at Egypt. Look at Rome. Look at Britain.
One of the enduring lessons of 9-11 is that the United States can only survive though the eternal vigilance of its own citizens and government. No other nation will secure the US’s interests or maintain its security. No other nation will preserve the US’s liberty or quality of life.
In 1996, the government of Sudan tried to turn Osama bin Laden over to the United States, but the US failed to act. In 1998, Saddam Hussein kicked the UN weapons inspectors out of Iraq, but the United States failed to act with the sufficient military force authorized by UN mandate. In 1999, the US failed to kill bin Laden with a missile strike out of fear of world reaction. These failures to exercise US power inevitably led to weakening of the US position on the world stage.
Now, the United States faces threats around the world. Al Qaeda and the Taliban threaten. Iran and North Korea threaten. Venezuela and Russia threaten. Seven years after 9-11, the United States is no safer than it was before 9-11 because the world is no more for the United States than it was then. The only way for a nation like the US to ensure its place in the world is through its own strength. In 2008, the United States will answer that question for itself, and the rest will be consequence and history.