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Offense as Defense: U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11, Application Essay Example

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Application Essay

Introduction

It is an extraordinary thing that one single event can alter the directions taken by the greatest nationalist power in the world.  This, however, is exactly what occurred with the United States following the terrorist strikes of September 11, 2001.  Prior to this, the U.S. had been conducting foreign relations in ways reliant chiefly on mutual interest, diplomatic agendas, and commercial and military concerns.  More importantly, it had done so from a position of unquestioned authority, if not outright dominance, and this was a position largely due to a perceived invulnerability.  After 9/11, circumspection and caution would take the place of confidence in international relations.  Beyond this, a new component of immense import was added, in that it became essential for the U.S. to comprehend which of its global ties was not affiliated in any way with those forces out to destroy it.  Essentially, 9/11 changed U.S. foreign policy in many ways, but the most overt is the modern and ongoing aggression prompted by a new sense of extreme vulnerability.

Discussion

No understanding of how U.S. foreign policy changed after 9/11 can be had, of course, without a sense of how it existed before that day.  To be sure, and even as the U.S. enjoyed a position of unparalleled presence in world affairs, periods of sometimes intense insecurity influenced international policy.  For example, the Reagan administration of the 1980s emphasized to the public the aggressive nature of the Soviet Union, a policy reflecting genuine concern within the administration itself (Thrall, Cramer, 2009, p. 181).   This in turn mirrors Cold War fears in place during the 1950s and 1960s, when the increasing strength of the Soviet Union was perceived as foreshadowing a global presence determined to imprint Communism in other nations, and consequently threaten U.S. interests.  With the dissolution of the Soviet Union then came something of an enormous respite for U.S. concerns; in essence, the great threat was gone and the nation could more confidently conduct foreign affairs as the sole superpower.

The form this new confidence took is evident in the U.S. interventions in Iraq in the 1990s.  To date, criticism abounds regarding the aggressive – and often ineffective – military policies engaged in by the U.S. then, but one factor seems evident: the U.S. was asserting its presence in a way indicating implacable confidence.  This may be clearly seen in Operation Desert Shield in 1990, when the George W. Bush administration acted to protect Saudi Arabian interests, which related to American interests, from Iraqi aggression.  What is telling here is that the very conservative Saudi government agreed to U.S. forces being deployed on its own soil, as a defensive measure.  The agreement was unprecedented (Hastedt, 2009, p. 367), as the scope of both Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm indicate intense confidence on the part of the U.S.  Goals and results are, again, subject to debate, but it is inescapable that this was a U.S. profoundly assured of its legitimacy in taking international directions removed, at least in essence, from interests directly related to itself.

Everything changed after 9/11 simply because, with the exception of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. had never been attacked by a foreign power on its own shores.  Moreover, and importantly, the inherently covert aspect of terrorism served to obfuscate the enemy.  This was no nation attacking another nation, but a vastly powerful network of forces of no single origin.  U.S. reaction in terms of foreign policy, then, has been based on a persistent wariness, along with direct interventions in suspected arenas.  There can be no underestimating of the impact of the wariness; as the identity of potentially hostile allies of terrorism is a concern, policy becomes investigative, rather than overt, and intelligence agencies eclipse military strategies.  9/11 created a U.S. unsure, not of itself, but of its standing throughout the world.  Consequently, defense policies are largely internal, as Americans have sacrificed liberties formerly unquestioned in order to protect the nation from the internal threats typically marking terrorism.

In terms of broader foreign policy, it is interesting to note that, as 9/11 has receded as a fear component, the U.S. is returning to policies echoing those of the Cold War years, when suspicions of Soviet aggression ran so high.  There is a definite correlation between how the USSR was perceived and the way American officials today view China, Russia, and unstable states like Iraq and North Korea (Thrall, Cramer, 2009,  p. 35).  Then, and more immediately on the heels of 9/11, U.S. actions internationally, or even professed intentions, were alienating other major powers.  Initially, widespread support came from France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom; by the summer of 2002, this had eroded in the face of perceived aggression and intrusive actions on the part of the U.S.  foreign polic (O’Connor,  2007,  p. 209).  This would be further exacerbated in very little time, and through policies indicating something of a state of governmental concern bordering on panic.  As a sense of vulnerability overtook the Bush administration following 9/11, and other militaristic motives aside, foreign policy took a drastic and violent turn in the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq.   As is known today, a variety of misconceptions, mistaken in nature or actually constructed by the government, indicated a need for force.  President Bush famously declared on TV, for instance, that weapons of mass destruction had been identified within Iraq by U.S. intelligence.  This was not true.  Bush also strongly suggested that Saddam Hussein was allied with the Al-Qaeda forces responsible for 9/11 and likely preparing another assault, another statement unfounded in fact (Thrall, Kramer,  2009,  p. xiii).  While the administration’s motives remain questionable, there remains the reality that this was, in effect, foreign policy shaped by threat inflation, or an overestimation of an existing threat created by a recent vulnerability.  If 9/11 may be said to have altered U.S. foreign policy in any specific manner, it is this perception of being vulnerable, which then dictates actual policy.

Conclusion

       As noted, U.S. history is not without periods of vulnerability dictating foreign policy, as in the decades of the Cold War.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, however, the U.S. was enabled to more forcefully look after its international interests, a confidence that would be shattered by the terrorist strikes of 9/11.  The changes are immense.  The nation that earlier proceeded boldly in Mid-East affairs, launching an ostensibly heroic action to protect Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from a hostile Iraq, gave way to a nation that would draw international and domestic censure for aggressively pursuing an “enemy” under false pretenses.  Ultimately, it may be argued that 9/11 changed U.S. foreign policy much as it changed the average American citizen, and fear replaced confidence.  9/11 altered U.S. foreign policy in many ways, but the most basic is its ongoing aggression prompted by a new sense of extreme vulnerability.

 References

Hastedt, G. P.  (2009).  Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy.  New York: Infobase Publishing.

O’Connor, B. (2007).  Anti-Americanism: Causes and Sources.  Westport: Greenwood Publishing          Group.

Thrall, A. T., & Cramer, J. K.  (2009).  American Foreign Policy and The Politics of Fear: Threat             Inflation since 9/11.  New York: Routledge.

Wittkopf, E. R., & McCormick, J. M.  (2008).  The Domestic Sources of American Foreign        Policy: Insights and Evidence.  Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

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