We still have no name for the epoch after 9/11. Ten years ago, I thought something was beginning here that would occupy us for the next decades — perhaps similar to the Cold War.
But perhaps it was only an intermezzo — between America’s “unipolar moment” after the fall of communism and the “rise of the rest” (the new powers China, Brazil, India, South Africa, etc.).
The notion of a “global war on terror” (already at that time a peculiar concept) has with good reason been dropped tacitly. Today the battle against terrorism is again in the hands of secret services, the police, the special forces — where it belongs. The delusional idea to conduct it with the means of the military was an expensive aberration. British reporter Jason Burke estimates the casualties of the “9/11 Wars” at not less than 250,000.
Osama bin Laden is dead; al-Qaida survives, but as a bothersome epiphenomenon that one must hold in check, not as the signature of an epoch. Mohammed Bouazzi was perhaps the more important figure in the history to come: A self-immolation achieved more than all of the suicide bombings of al-Qaida. The fall of the tyrants is not happening through terror, but rather through a people’s revolt.
We did not find the weapons of mass destruction. They were not in a bunker in Baghdad, but rather in our own depots. Credit default swaps are more dangerous for the West than IEDs. Debts are a greater threat to survival for Western countries than dirty bombs. The greatest geopolitical challenges for the U.S. are the debts with the Chinese and the competition with China for ever shrinking resources.
The notion of a battle of cultures has been deceptive, as the Arab rebellion demonstrates. The fight for freedom and dignity goes right through cultures and religions. Anders Breivik and Arid Uka are brothers in spirit.
Europe will spend many years introducing the unfrozen Arab world to the world system. That will be a conflict-ridden and difficult process, just as significant as the reunification of Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It will absorb much energy, though it may also lead to a new power center around the Mediterranean.
The boundless wars after 9/11 have blocked the view of the true geopolitical challenges — the relative descent of the West during the concurrent ascent of the rest (which in no way needs to be described in apocalyptic terms, because it means prosperity and freedom for billions of people on the other side of the world).
The West has compromised its own core values through the politics of fear after 9/11. The approval of torture remains a disgrace, as well as the lies about the reasons for the war and the removal of constitutional rights.
America is exhausted after two wars, which (according to the Financial Times) devoured $1,000 billion — for a rather dubious outcome. The vision of a hyper-power that can act preemptively alone, whenever it suits, is passé. Afghanistan will be given back to the Afghanis. The Taliban will be a part of the new order. The experiment of the new Iraq remains open for the time being. It doesn’t have to fail, but the price was too high. Great influence in both countries is enjoyed by Iran, which also grew to be a major power in the region through the 9/11 wars and — really — is working on weapons of mass destruction. What can be done to prevent that, no one in truth knows.
The Arab peoples are taking the future into their own hands — and in the process they care little for neither the neoconservatives’ vision of democracy nor theocracy to the liking of al-Qaida.
NATO’s Libyan intervention leads the West back to the time before 9/11. It has very much more to do with the involvement in Bosnia and Kosovo than with the 9/11 wars. Here a besieged group of insurgents is being helped against an autocrat. NATO may have construed its mandate broadly — the responsibility to protect remains the criterion. There was regional support and a mandate of NATO. Now NATO will withdraw. The age of intervention is therefore not past — but we are drawing on necessary, limited and legitimate interventions, as before 9/11. Be that as it may, even the limited action in Libya brought NATO to the edge of exhaustion. It would not have been able to last much longer. Therefore, wars in the future will perhaps also be approached more carefully, even if they are unavoidable.
And that is not a bad thing.