9 Years after 9/11: Is the Empire Crumbling?

Updated: Sep 11, 2010, 17:26 PM IST

Stanly Johny

It’s been nine years since terrorists attacked the World Trade Centre in New York. And it’s been as many years since former president George W Bush launched a war against terror, saying the US would “smoke al-Qaeda fighters out of the holes” in Afghanistan and eventually win over terrorism. Since then, the world has seen two major wars, spreading terrorist attacks, widening terror networks, deteriorating peace and a destabilizing Middle East. Is this the world the Bush administration promised when it went to war in 2001 October?

The 9/11 attack was a watershed in US history. It took place at a time when the US was marching ahead as an unrivalled economic and military power. It was still enjoying the freedom of being the most powerful country in the world. The memories of the defeat in Vietnam were buried deep down. The Soviet Union was dead and international Communism was disappearing. The Latin American new Left was yet to breath easy and the Middle East was far from chaos. China’s rise to glory was still debatable. Everybody foresaw a new American century. An unparalleled century dominated by an unparalleled power. Liberal philosopher Francis Fukuyama even predicted the “end of history” and the ultimate triumph of the US. Then came 9/11.

The attack was a shock, both to the US and the world. It challenged the myth that the US is immune to attacks. Within weeks of the attack, the Bush administration declared war on terror. It bombed Afghanistan, routed Taliban from power, forced al-Qaeda to retreat to Tora Bora Mountains and established a puppet “democratic” regime in Kabul. Still, it failed to win the war over terror. And the war on Iraq, launched by Bush to eliminate the “ally” of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, proved to be a strategic blunder. Over one lakh American troops were bogged down in the morass of Iraq, crippling America’s strategic capabilities.

What’s the upshot of these two wars? America launched war on terror to defeat terrorists across the world. It toppled two regimes and killed millions. But terror networks still remain robust in Asia and the Middle East. If al-Qaeda had only one base when the war on terror was launched in 2001, at present the terror outfits have branches is several parts of the world. Even President Obama admitted that al-Qaeda in Yemen is a growing threat. A different branch of the outfit has surrounded Somalia’s West-backed regime. The North West Frontier Province of Pakistan is a refuge for al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan. Even if Obama wins the war in Afghanistan, which is by far a remote possibility given the ground situation; he will need lot many troops, resources and strategies to take on the spreading terror networks in the East.

That’s why famous geopolitical strategist George Friedman, who is the founder of American private intelligence agency Stratfor, wrote that the war on terror trapped the US in a region between Hindu Kush and Mesopotamia. It shifted “the US from a global stance to a regional one, allowing other powers to take advantage of this focus to create significant potential challenges”, Friedman wrote in his weekly column in Stratfor website.

In today’s world, where asymmetric strategies hold a greater sway in conflicts, one country cannot win a war only with its military power. Even the US, arguably the most powerful country in the world, is helpless when its conventional military doctrines are tested in asymmetric conflicts. The Vietnam debacle should have been a lesson for US policy makers at least for the next 100 years. And Afghanistan is a country which has a history of defeating two greatest empires – the British and Soviet Union. Still, if American policy makers had thought that waging a war against Taliban would be a cake-walk, they should now blame themselves.

Nine years after 9/11, the US is now facing multiple challenges. Even The Economist, the mouthpiece of the Western Liberal rightwing, says the war in Afghanistan is being lost. The might of American-centered free market economy is a thing of the past. The Middle East is as chaotic as ever. A rising Latin America is no longer a backyard of the US. China is fast emerging as a potential threat to the West. Does the US have the potential to meet these challenges and reinstate itself as the sole super power of the world? Not even the best optimists around would be thinking so…