The Legacy of 9/11

The Bush administration has convinced the current generation that 9/11 was the linchpin for all our geopolitical problems, according to James Goldgeier.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: What should young people understand about 9/11?

 

James Goldgeier:  Well, you know, I teach at a university and the students I teach, you know, were born around the time of the beginning of the book or, you know, just a tad earlier. And, you know, they are of a generation that has been convinced by the George W. Bush administration that everything changed on 9/11, and the world was completely-- we faced a completely new world. Well, what happened on 9/11 is, we woke up as a population, to things that were already entrained out there. And what people need to understand, who don't remember the '90s is that when we talk about problems like terrorism, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, you know, rise of China-- sort of all these issues that we face, climate change, the global economy, all these things were going on already, and we were trying to figure out how best to deal with them. And if we want to understand where we are today, if we want to understand the politics of the Democratic Party, for example, and the kinds of constraints within the Democratic Party, sort of, what Obama needs to do moving forward, we need to go back and look at what Bill Clinton was trying to do in the 1990s as he tried to move the Democratic Party toward the center to be very successful at the presidential level. After all, Bill Clinton, you know, elected in 1992 and 1996, you know, the first Democrat to win two elections since Franklin Roosevelt. You know, this was, you know, a huge thing for the Democratic Party, which had really been seen as a party that really wasn't even capable of winning the presidency until Clinton won in 1992. And so, understanding on the Democratic side, sort of what the Clinton years mean without sort of thinking about him as they were distorted during the primary campaign as Hillary Clinton was running. And then on the Republican side, understanding that while it seemed that the Republicans would be unified again after 9/11, the way they'd been during the Cold War, we've seen that evaporate. The Republicans are divided again among, you know, among the more traditional pragmatic realists, the neo-conservatives, there are still some isolationists there. You have some protectionism and some anti-immigration sentiment in part of the Republican party. And that those divisions have been there since the end of the Cold War, so understanding that John McCain is dealing with a party that's been divided now for almost 20 years, and if he wins, he'll continue to face those divisions. If he loses, those divisions will really explode.

Question: Did 9/11 change everything for the US?

James Goldgeier:  Well, you know, again, I mean, the administration used that notion, tried to make the case, "Look, whatever you thought about before, you know, the world has changed.  It's a totally new thing.  We know how to deal with it.  It's a war on terror and we're going to prosecute this and, you know, and this is going to be American foreign policy."  I mean, part of the, you know, what we faced in the last few years-- we've seen a rise in America's unpopularity around the world which, you know, really needs to be turned around by the next president.  Certainly America is facing huge economic problems in a way that, you know, it was not at the end of the 1990s.  America was very prosperous at the end of the Clinton years.  We have-- it is a world in which-- America is still the leader, still the most powerful country militarily.  It's still the leading country economically.  It's the leading country politically and diplomatically.  You don't solve world problems without the United States being-- those who tried to forge ahead on Kyoto to deal with climate change-- you can't solve
climate change without the United States in the lead.  But that leadership is harder because there are other entities out there.  The European Union is stronger, Russia is more assertive, China continues to grow, India's stronger, Brazil is stronger, I mean, it is a more challenging world in that sense than the 1990s.  But the United States is still the leading country, and can be seen as the leader, needs to restore a lot of respect for itself and how it behaves and how it, you know, I mean, issues like torture which both Senator Obama and Senator McCain, you know, have articulated policies different from the Bush administration, in order to try to get a handle on America's image in the world, which is very important to restore.  I think there's a lot of hunger out there for that restoration of America's image.

Recorded on: 07/08/2008