The emergence of the United States of America

The United States of America and its foreign policy have been defined by conflict and war, and the last 100 years have been the bloodiest the world has ever seen. In the early 20th century, American participation in World War I left the then young country dictating the conditions of German surrender and shaping a new world order. The Second World War saw the emergence of the United States of America and the Soviet Union as nuclear superpowers. After each major conflict, American foreign policy seemed to successfully adjust, increasing American power and influence. That influence was mostly achieved through long standing alliances and institutions stewarding world peace. However, in 2001 America’s prestigious military and intelligence reputation was tested.  The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 shook the foundations of American society and its ideals that had remained the same for half a century. George W. Bush responded to the national crisis by providing the shaken American people with reassurance. “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve” (“President Bush Speaks”). A terror attack on such a scale represented a completely new and immediate threat that demanded a paradigm shift in American foreign policy.  George W. Bush’s neoconservative views, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, provided an immediate compass for the world to use during the war on terror, but they also set guidelines for future presidents and trusted allies while putting aggression on notice.  As a result, the American reputation of being the dominant superpower in the world stayed intact. This notion will be demonstrated through the pre 9/11 world, and through the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. George W. Bush’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks left an impressionable mark on the future of American foreign affairs and continues to serve as an example to all presidents. As the Soviet Union caved in on itself in the late 1980s, the world watched in uncertainty. The conflict between ideologies that had shaped the world since the mid 1940’s was finally coming to an end.  In 1987, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev brokered a historic nuclear arms agreement that launched the new era of foreign policy. As the Kremlin backed away from its death grip on satellite states in Eastern Europe, protests and revolts became commonplace throughout the region; some being peaceful and others violent, all of which brought an end to the Soviet Union. While the former Soviet Union territory was in a purgatory of sorts, President George H.W. Bush came to his own conclusion that a militaristic attitude was not always in America’s best interest. As a result, U.S. foreign policy would drastically change. Instead of unilateral action, President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton would rely on collective security, diplomacy, international alliances and military restraint. In 1990, after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, George H. W. Bush and his trusted advisers put together an impressive international coalition to push back against this aggression. In this case, President George H.W. Bush and U.S. allies did use military force, but the President insisted on only driving Hussein from Kuwait while leaving him in power in Iraq. Likewise, in Africa, President Bill Clinton’s hesitance to use force to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 revealed the costs of the United States deciding to stay out of the the conflict. Many regions became unstable following the de-escalation of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Empire. Revolutions and terrorism became a threat the world had never seen before. The rising threat of religious fundamental terrorism, which culminated with the September 11th attacks, shed light on the new type of foreign policy the world would need, and gave way to a new generation of U.S. leaders. Led by George H. W. Bush’s son, who leaned toward proactive and unilateral military action, this new foreign policy is known as the Bush Doctrine (Zelizer). The attacks of September 11th, 2001 were the turning point. It was the event that provided clarity and change for American foreign policy. The attacks signaled the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new one. Any threat had to be taken extremely seriously and neutralized immediately. The costs and consequences were too great not to act swiftly. The attack was masterminded by Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden that not only left nearly three thousand people without their lives, but also decimated the morale of the American people. At the country’s lowest point, George W. Bush aimed to revitalize the country in an instant. As the President read to a group of children at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, the President was notified of the first plane strike, then the second, and finally that America was under attack. George W. Bush was then rapidly ushered to Air Force One. “We’re at war” (Holland), George W. Bush told Vice President Dick Cheney over the phone aboard Air Force One. Hanging up and turning to his aides, he adds: “When we find out who did this, they’re not going to like me as president. Somebody’s going to pay” (Holland).  In the following hours after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush’s vision was clear. His first priority was to deal with the immediate crisis, then launch a serious military response. In a speech on September 12th, the President stated, “we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”  George W. Bush also added that the attacks “were more than acts of terror, they  were acts of war.”  He then closed with Psalms 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Holland). George W. Bush’s actions in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks proved instrumental in demonstrating to the world that there is no place for terror in his America. George W. Bush also demonstrated that the new American foreign policy would directly focus on attacking not only the terrorists responsible for the attacks, but also any state that supported terrorists. In a speech to Congress on September 20, 2001, George W. Bush said, “And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism… Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime” (New York Times).  The attacks of 9/11 gave George W. Bush the political currency to further push his goals toward pre-emptive strikes, not just on terrorism, but on nations that tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction. In his 2002 State of the Union address, George W. Bush stated, “First, we will shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans and bring terrorists to justice. And second, we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world” (BBC News). This provided a message to the world that acts of unprecedented violence will not go unseen in today’s world. As a result, the United States’ reputation as a world leader and as the dominant superpower were further solidified. During the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, George W. Bush decided on three goals: (1)  keep the terrorists from striking again, (2) make it clear to the country and the rest of the world that America had embarked on a new type of war, and (3) help the affected areas recover preventing economic turmoil (Gregg). While the country mourned over the loss of fellow Americans, George W. Bush was hard at work. George W. Bush believed that the U.S. had lost credibility during the 1990s because of President Bill Clinton’s lack of military responses. George W. Bush aimed to reverse this. He abruptly formed a war cabinet made up of his most trusted advisers. He also formed the Department of Homeland Security along with the National Counterterrorism Centre to assure the American public measures were being taken. However, the extent of the American response did not stop there. On September 14th, 2001, just three days after the initial attack, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against terrorists and those who assist them, just as George W. Bush had detailed in his speeches. Four days later, George W. Bush signed that joint resolution, and air strikes in Afghanistan began in early October of 2001. George W. Bush made his own and the general American stance towards terrorism clear in the months following the 9/11 attacks:  the United States would not be attacked without consequences. Two years later in March of 2003, George W. Bush implemented his neoconservative doctrines again during the invasion of Iraq. The new threat that was looming over the world was too immediate and dangerous for the old style of foreign policy to work. The world of rogue nations and terrorists needed to be dealt with unilateral and proactive responses. George W. Bush’s actions on the wake of 9/11 marked the start of a new type of way the United States did things. Subsequently, the American reputation of being the military and intelligence superpower in the world remained whole. As George W. Bush’s eight years in office came to an end, President Barack Obama ran for office determined to end a seemingly endless war on terrorism. President Obama wanted to get away from the overreliance on force that characterized the George W. Bush era. Obama used his motto of Hope and Change to make his counterterrorism policies more nimble, transparent, and ethical than the previous policies implemented during the George W. Bush administration. As President George W. Bush started two wars, Obama aimed to wrap them up. Causally, President Obama downshifted the United States’ focus into a worldwide, yet quieter, campaign against the war on terror. Although Obama’s foreign policy on the war on terror strayed away from the high exposure Bush Doctrine, Obama stayed true to the first strike policy George W. Bush had used years earlier. While using the slogan, Hope and Change, the core values George W. Bush had laid out stayed true over the duration of the Obama presidency. Unilateral and proactive decision making proved to be a major component in Obama’s foreign policy. In 2010, President Obama ordered the CIA to assassinate an American citizen by the name of Anwar al-Awlaki while he was in Yemen. Despite al-Awlaki never being charged with or convicted of any crime, the subsequent year he was killed under Obama’s direct orders through a CIA use of a drone strike in Yemen. Although being an ally of the United States, Yemen was not notified of this attack until after it was carried out. Though it is true that al-Awlaki was not convicted, or in the process of being tried for a crime, his radical Islamic behavior was clear. Al-Awlaki described in his 53 part CD series about what makes a good marriage, the nature of paradise, tolerance, and the holy month of Ramadan. Contrarily, in the same queue of videos the listener experiences a complete shift in tone. Through his tapes, one would find al-Awlaki preaching why Nidal Hasan (who fatally shot 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009) and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (who tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit the same year) were in fact heroes. Moreover, al-Awlaki has been the primary reason for multiple terrorist incidents through the radicalization of young Muslim Americans. Shannon Conley, a 19-year-old Colorado convert to Islam, left behind a pile of al-Awlaki DVDs before trying to fly off to Syria to join the Islamic State in May of 2014. Additionally, Chechyen-born Russian nationals, the Tsarnaev brothers (who are responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013) credit some of their ‘work’ to al-Awlaki (New York Times).  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger brother, tweeted this few weeks before the attack: ”Listen to Anwar al-Awlaki’s … hereafter series, you will gain an unbelievable amount of knowledge” (New York Times). Through President Obama’s usage of drone strikes in the Middle East he continued to follow the path of destruction set by George W. Bush. Subsequently, the American reputation of being the dominant superpower in the world remained unbroken. President Franklin Roosevelt may not have invented the airplane, but he revolutionized American bombing techniques during the Second World War into a staple of the American way of fighting war. General Dwight D. Eisenhower had nothing to do with the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb, yet during his two-term presidency, Eisenhower made nuclear bombs  the centerpiece of U.S. national security policy. The same principle that General President Eisenhower embraced is comparable with Barack Obama and his special operations forces. The U.S. Special Operations Command consists of world renowned operating forces such as the Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy SEALs predated Obama’s presidency by decades.  However, these secret warriors have reached the pinnacle of the U.S. military’s prestige hierarchy under President Obama’s watch. As one observer put it, the Obama White House let Special Operations Command “off the leash” (Huffington Post). From the use of Navy SEAL snipers to rescue the crew of the Maersk Alabama from Somali pirates in 2009 to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, and finally to the capture of a suspect in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Obama has been the mastermind behind these strikes. From the White House, President Obama can choose to strike anybody, anywhere, at anytime. “Our nation’s memory is long, and our reach is far” (Huffington Post), Attorney General Eric Holder stated in July 2015 after the Obama administration had announced that special operations forces had captured Abu Khattala, long suspected of being one of the leaders of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate and CIA facility in Benghazi, Libya. President Obama’s use of special forces epitomized the ideology of his predecessor, George W. Bush. The doctrine of striking the United States enemy before they can mount an attack was prevalent during Obama’s eight years as president. Following the footsteps of George W. Bush, President Obama used unilateral, proactive action to combat the war on terrorism. As a result, President Obama kept the American reputation intact by putting aggression on notice in all cases. The United States of America has seen itself rise to one of the most powerful countries the world has ever seen in the 20th century. Through conflict, the United States has established themselves as one of the loudest voices in global collective security. However, that voice was challenged by the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. The once impermeable nation had just suffered the worst terrorist attack the world had ever seen. The culprit: a poorly funded band of radical islamic terrorist whose main goal was to destroy the United States of America. After that infamous day, the world changed and so would the superpower of the world. George W. Bush’s neoconservative views, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks provided an immediate compass for the world to use during the war on terror, but they also set guidelines for future presidents and trusted allies while putting aggression on notice.  As a result, the American reputation of being the dominant superpower in the world prevailed. The presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama outline the shift in decision making the United States would experience in the post 9/11 world. As President Trump nears the end of his first year in office, the full extent of his decision making has yet to be seen. The unpredictable leader will surely following the precedent set by his republican counterpart George W. Bush but only time will tell.