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Legacy of 9/11
22 years later, we look at the global impact of September 11, 2001
All of us know where we were on September 11, 2001 when we heard the Twin Towers in New York City were hit by planes. I was in middle school in McPherson, Kansas and the PA system played the news through the school halls. The events that day transformed the world and its impact is still felt today. This post is about how 9/11 affected the world of the last two decades.
In 1996, Osama bin Laden, the son of a wealthy Saudi construction family, was kicked out of Sudan by the government. He moved to Afghanistan, a weakly governed state in Central Asia. He was building an organization called Al Qaeda. He used early internet chat rooms to recruit like-minded volunteers to his cause. Few Americans noticed when Al Qaeda bombed the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224, in 1998. Likewise, few noticed when Al Qaeda rammed the USS Cole with a boat full of explosives, killing 17 American sailors, while at port in Yemen in October 2000.
Figure 1: Rescuers at the rubble of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (1998)
8 days after 9/11, CIA officers picked up $3 million cash in three cardboard boxes. This money would enable them to pay the local militia in northern Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance (NA). The NA commanders would use the money to pay their troops and convince other tribes to rally to the NA. The NA fighters, other local warlords, and US special forces rode on horseback to take the capital Kabul from the Taliban, aided by US military air strikes. By November 12th, 62 days after 9/11, Kabul fell and the Taliban were removed from power. The US would stay in Afghanistan for 20 more years and the Taliban would retake control of Afghanistan in 2021 upon our departure.
Figure 2: The first American boots on the ground in Afghanistan (CIA) in 2001
President Bush’s approval would surge after 9/11 and the Administration would use this bipartisan support to rally America to invade Iraq in 2003. The argument was for preventative war to remove Saddam Hussein, a potential sponsor of terrorists, from power. It was insinuated that Iraq helped plan 9/11 and possessed WMDs, though neither claim was ever proven. America invaded Iraq in March 2003 and took control of the capital, Baghdad, 20 days later. The American Occupation would incite a civil war, indirectly kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and become a domestic political liability that led to the rise of Barack Obama. The US would leave Iraq 8 years later in 2011.
In 2011, the Arab world erupted into mass protest during the “Arab Spring” after a cellphone video from Tunisia went viral. The demonstrations were loudly encouraged by the US and facilitated by the chaotic wake left by the US-intervention in Iraq. The demonstrations spread to Libya, where the US intervened to support the protestors by imposing a no-fly zone. The leader of the country, Muammar Gaddafi, was killed by protestors and the country slipped into civil war in 2014. As a sidenote, Libya, Iraq, and Ukraine possessed and then later relinquished nuclear weapons programs and were later invaded.
Figure 3: Cairo, Egypt (2011)
Around the same time, Syria fell into civil war between dictator Bashir Al-Assad and protestors as a result of the Arab Spring. In 2014, the Islamic State (IS) began to control vast swaths of land in war-torn Syria and the vacuum of post-Invasion Iraq, its neighbor. The US commenced another intervention. Today, Syria is destroyed and Assad is still in power.
Figure 4: Kobaine, Syria (2015)
All this chaos generated a wave of migrants, which crested in Europe in 2015. All told, at least 7 million migrants arrived in Europe between 2010-2020. The rapid influx of immigrants overwhelmed many countries social services and generated a backlash of outsider, anti-immigrant political parties, destabilizing politics. Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and others have all seen a surge in outsider, anti-immigrant party support.
Figure 5: Migration to Europe from the Middle East
Costs of war
There has been no major terror attack on US-soil since 9/11 but at great cost. As a result of the Global War on Terror, over 7000 American soldiers have died and 20 more take their own life daily after returning home. Chaos and botched drone strikes have created the next generation of terrorists and Middle Eastern attitudes have turned sharply negative towards the US. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria have cost $8 trillion and counting (we’re still in Syria). The federal debt on 9/10/2001 was $5.8 trillion and today its $31 trillion, a 434% increase.
Figure 6: CBO federal debt forecast
Reflecting on the two decades following 9/11, it's evident that the ripple effects of that day have cascaded throughout the globe in ways both overt and nuanced. Nations have risen and fallen, millions have migrated, and the sociopolitical landscape of entire regions has been altered. As we remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001, it's important to also acknowledge the interconnectedness of our global community and to strive for a world where understanding takes precedence over division and conflict.
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