Former President George W. Bush, in a National Geographic Channel interview, admits he and his administration had no strategy following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. I understand this completely. American Presidents have rarely had a coherent foreign policy strategy. President Thomas Jefferson paid a ransom to the Barbary pirates and sent in the Marines (…you should be humming the USMC hymn now “from the shores of Tripoli…”), President James Madison waffled on British attacks on U.S. shipping and which resulted in the War of 1812, and President William Clinton assumed there was a peace dividend at the end of the Cold War and deployed American troops to a bunch of shitty places (I spent 18 months of my life in one of these muddy shitholes) for no other reason than it “felt” like it was the right thing to do. American foreign policy and strategy is rarely neat and coherent. Historically, it has been disparate and uncoordinated. Blind men boxing in the dark is an accurate of American foreign policy history.
Strategist, in public, won’t admit this. In private, numerous strategist pine for the good ol’ Cold War days. George Kennan, while at the National War College, wrote (as Mr. X) and designed the most coherent U.S. foreign policy that lasted almost 50 years; Mr. X developed the U.S. containment policy of the USSR. This policy guided U.S. actions from 1947 to 1991. This is the only time the U.S. has had a strategy. You have to give W some slack, like most American Presidents, he was making the shit up as he went.
For the past ten years, I have written the following phrase more times than I can count: “September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.” This phrase has been a staple in my professional writing career as a national and homeland security analyst. That phrase is a lemon I have squeezed until juice has run down my forearms and soaked my Timex Ironman watch. I am not sure how much longer I can squeeze it. I do have a prediction though; at the end of the 21st Century, 9-11 will be nothing more than a footnote.
Philip Bobbitt states that al-Qaeda is just the first of many terrorist organizations that will make the 21st Century a slow bleed of conflict. Many strategists at the beginning of the 20th Century claimed that Asia was going to be the focus of U.S. foreign policy; they were wrong. Europe dominated U.S. foreign policy. Now strategists are singing the importance of Asia again. Sorry Asia and China but I think your ship has sailed. Globalization has rendered specific regions as meaningless; the world is the focus. How in the hell does a country have a coherent foreign policy for the whole world?
In the Sunday, September 4, 2011, edition of the Washington Post there was an article about the “5 Myths About 9/11.” I won’t waste your time and comment on these myths, but I will point out that there is a whole bunch of us that make a living out of typing “9/11.” We have typed it so many times that it may have lost some of its power and symbology.
I am numb to 9/11. My emotional attachment to this date has morphed into a clinical detachment. Terrorism developed from an independence movement, into an ideological Cold War struggle, into a religious zealotry. 9/11 is a term on equal footing with the Battle for Algiers, the Red Army Factions, and Lockerbie. Events become words which eventually fade into a backdrops of our worldview without having a real distinction.
I’m not negating the importance of 9/11; I am recognizing the effect the date has had on me professionally and personally. I am playing in a charity golf tournament on September 11, 2011. When I return to work on September 12th I will probably type “the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.” I will do this because I think about 9/11 every day and I haven’t a clue on what strategy to adopt. I’m just gonna continue to muddle through just like most American Presidents do.