20 years after September 11, has the United States learned from its mistakes?

After the attacks on the United States on September 11, President George W Bush vowed revenge and told the world, “You are with us or against us. A coalition was formed and the United States pursued the terrorists. Four presidencies later, current President Joseph Biden said, “The United States cannot afford to remain committed to policies creating a response to a world as it was 20 years ago. We must face threats where they are today. These threats are where they were 20 years ago, still in Afghanistan, and now backed by state force. A little with the United States, a little always against.

What happened to America, that “shining city on a hill” that drew light to its shores and won allies? A certain self-delusion, a belief that he was still the world monarch after WWII. And, most importantly, the inability to distinguish between friends and foes over the past two decades.

At the time of the September 11 attacks, the United States dominated the world discourse. Its multinational companies were global entities, with outposts everywhere. The American banks and the Treasury were the bigwigs, intertwined.

The attacks did not stop any of this. They added a new dimension to the American economic and political calculation: defense. America’s foreign policy has been steeped in security, to support which the defense industry has developed.

While American soldiers were fighting in Afghanistan, ordinary Americans were shopping. In 2006, American consumers were king. Inexpensive products from China flooded Western markets, especially the United States, where anyone could now purchase this ambitious cashmere sweater for just $ 59.99. Invisible was the fact that wages were not rising and increasingly reliable manufacturing jobs were being outsourced to China.

The warning bell had rung, but few heard it. With no productive national economy to lend to, U.S. banks created exotic new financial instruments to play with, resulting in the 2007 housing crisis and 2008 Western financial crisis.

Washington bailed out the greats of Wall Street with almost no consequences. The productive economy of America’s cars, textile factories and gadgets has been replaced by a dazzling digital signage from California tech and social media companies, and a massive arms defense industry and security makers. .

And so began the illusions, the miscalculation of an America, which confused friend and foe. The United States, which understood Europe, preferred to be guided by the former British colonial power when it came to South Asia. It was missing from Washington’s calculation that Britain had never forgotten or forgiven the loss of its empire, making it an imperfect guide. Britain created Pakistan when he left and supported it. The United States has also looked to Pakistan as a shepherd in South Asia. Our cunning neighbor, strapped for funds and an unproductive economy, used confused US policies to secure billions in the fight against terrorism, earning him the title of “great non-NATO ally”.

“Pakistan manipulated America, and America was willing,” said Neelam Deo, a former diplomat. “America’s understanding of the world has become obscure and inexplicable, especially its understanding of what drives countries like Pakistan, where the state has made its Islamic aspirations clear. “

Iran, which should have been a friend and initially aided the United States in Afghanistan, has become an enemy again – the result of Israeli influence. Meanwhile, China has used the US concerns to expand. Other new players have entered the scene, including India, whose GDP grew by 9% in 2008.

America’s digital economy has grown, and so have the billionaires of Palo Alto. But Central America was growing. The same is true for many other countries like Egypt, which has seen more and more investment bypassing it en route to China. China’s shadow and opportunity engulfed Southeast Asia’s ancient tiger economies, turning them into pygmies and vassals.

Job losses and growing inequalities around the world sparked the Arab protests in 2011, as well as the Occupy movement in the United States. Social media giants like Facebook have amplified these protests. The same social media companies have become “big business,” with prominent lobbyists in Washington pushing for a liberal agenda. But that didn’t help the 99 percent.

The setback was the election of Donald Trump who denounced China for its unfair commercialism and the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. He neutralized the oil economies of West Asia by encouraging shale. And he cut aid to Pakistan. But like all American presidents, he failed and did not denounce his perfidy. Neither does his successor. Their one-stop-shop on Afghanistan is still Pakistan, and the go-to person on Afghanistan is still African-American Zalmay Khalilzad, despite his continued failure and lack of accountability.

Today, 20 years later, the threats of the past are back and visible. The Taliban are back in Afghanistan, unchanged. He is likely to plan new terrorist wars with the help of Pakistan, and the protection and assistance of China, and possibly other Islamic states and Russia.

The United States is not back. Instead, America is isolating itself from Europe, and although it says it will turn its attention to Asia and Chinese rule, its allies – old and new – are not sure. . The US military has a more powerful arsenal than ever. But China is catching up.

American observers reiterate that the country has a unique capacity to reinvent itself, to reinforce its capacities again. Maybe it is. An acknowledgment of his mistakes and a questioning of his friends and enemies could bring him back to his pole position in the world – if the Taliban and Pakistan allow it.

This column first appeared in the paper edition on September 15, 2021 under the title “With friends like these”. Writer is Executive Director, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations

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