20 years since 9/11 attacks

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. It's the 20th anniversary of 9/11 coming up real soon, and I thought I'd give you a few thoughts about it. I was here in New York, like so many of us, when the planes flew into the towers. It was shocking. I was in our offices in Midtown at the time. At first, of course, everyone thought it was an accident. And then suddenly it became quite apparent it was not. And it was a gut punch. It was a feeling that the world had changed inextricably even if you didn't know exactly how.


I was scared. I was angry. I certainly wanted the country to take action. And I was quite happy, as I think most Americans were, when we had a leader that promised to bring those who attacked our Homeland to justice. We also didn't know what else was out there. Were there other terrorist attacks? I mean, there were aircraft, fighter jets, American fighter jets that were sort of buzzing around New York for the next several days. And every time you heard one, you immediately sort of thought, "oh my God, was this another attack that was coming?"

And at the same time, there was a concern that the United States, whenever you have a big crisis, you focus overwhelmingly on that crisis and that means at the expense of other things. I mean, the idea of not supporting the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan was almost inconceivable as an American at that point, or as any American ally around the world. And you'll remember even the Russian government, which we weren't happy with at that point, they didn't like us at that point, it was of course still Vladimir Putin, but nonetheless offered for the United States and for NATO to use bases in Central Asia, which never would've happened without Putin's approval, to facilitate logistics for the attacks in Afghanistan.

So, it did feel like the world was coming together. I mean, we, of course, all stood up and applauded as the fire trucks were coming back and we all could smell the dust in the air for months. It was even Thanksgiving. You could still smell. And you knew that there were thousands of dead bodies that were in that debris from downtown. And it was hard. It was hard to go down there. It was hard to walk past, even years after, the actual site itself. Now, we're 20 years past this and we're going to talk a lot on the day about Afghanistan and the end of the war. But I think that it is important to remember that the United States did come together after it was attacked. And the country felt like a country. It felt like it was rallying around values that mattered.

And it is so unfortunate that both the war in Afghanistan's mission became so diffuse and expanded and bad and wrongheaded. And then the war in Iraq, which was wrongheaded and misguided and actively misled from the Bush Administration leadership from day one, that so much damage was done over the course of decades, that Americans now much more fundamentally mistrust the idea of the United States providing security around the world. I mean, I think that the level of opposition for the US being involved in support for nation building internationally has decreased significantly. I think the value that Americans see in military alliances has decreased significantly. And I think that's unfortunate because those things matter. Because as deeply divided as America is right now, the values that the United States and its allies ultimately support are values that would do good for poor human beings around the world, especially compared to the alternative.

Now, the challenge is, of course, that all of those values, when they are harnessed to a military superpower with a strong military industrial complex, tend to operate through that lens. And so, as much as it is true that the United States improved the lives of a lot of young Afghan men and women and gave them opportunities over the last 20 years they wouldn't have otherwise had, it's also true, the war in Afghanistan was overwhelmingly damaging on the ground to towns and villages across that country. And the US would have been vastly better off, as would the planet, if most of the effort had not been focused on the war. Fight terrorism, fight Al Qaeda, but spend more of your money and engage more of your people and actually trying to improve the wellbeing and understand the wellbeing of the people on the ground.

And this is definitely a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water, that the United States in fighting ultimately failed wars is also much less interested in other people around the planet. And that is a lesson we do not want to learn from having now ended the war in Afghanistan. I'm a supporter of having brought the war to a conclusion 20 years on, but I'm not a supporter of forgetting about the people in Afghanistan. Even once we get the remaining 100, 200 American citizens out, the hundreds of thousands of Afghans that fought with side-by-side the NATO coalition, the hundreds of thousands of Afghans that worked with the Americans and the coalition, we have a responsibility to. And also a country that we've spent that much time on the ground in and that much time both supporting and also damaging, it can't just leave you. So I do think that the lesson of 9/11 ultimately should be both resolve, but also compassion.

The United States remains today by far the most powerful country in the world. A 20 year ultimately failed war in Afghanistan does not change that. And being the most powerful country in the world also creates a sense of obligation, a sense of responsibility, a sense of stewardship. Maybe one that we weren't as aware of as we should have been before those planes attacked civilians in the United States almost 20 years ago, but one we need to do a better job of going forward.

So that's the way I think about 9/11, 20 years on. And I hope we can all take a moment of silence to reflect on that on the day. And I hope everyone's doing well. And I'll talk to you real soon.
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