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The Road to 9/11

Topic: The Road to 9/11

James Goldgeier:  Well I'd start with really the uncertainty created by 11/9 and the ensuing collapse of communism because you had this fixed super-power rivalry that had gone on for four decades, the Cold War was dominant in the way we thought about international affairs and then, poof, it's over. And, how do you now think about the world that you live in? And what's the role for the United States in that world? Now, all of a sudden, after the Cold War is over, and with the Soviet collapse at the end of 1991, United States is standing as the lone superpower and grappling in a period in which there's no obvious enemy, and the United States has so much power, sort of what to do. And that is really the story we try to tell in this book is, how people who are, you know, sort of in the world of ideas tried to grapple and also people in the world of politics on both the left and the right tried to grapple with a very uncertain world. It was very disorienting for the Republicans because, although it was seen by them as their moment of triumph, they felt that especially the presidency of Ronald Regan had helped usher in the end of the Cold War, they now had to deal with a world in which anti-communism wasn't a primary motivation. There had been a lot of divides previously in the Republican party, but during the Cold War, all those sort of evaporated, especially in the last couple decades of the Cold War, because all of the Republicans were able to rally around the idea that the Soviet Union had to be combated. And so once communism was gone, anti-communism was gone. What happens is the Republicans really split into a number of different groups. There is the traditional, pragmatic realists; George H. W. Bush, the president; Brent Scowcroft, his National Security Advisor; James Baker, his Secretary of State. These are people who believed in American leadership, through international institutions such as the United Nations, which was important to George H. W. Bush, he had been Ambassador to the United Nations in the 1970s and was very fond of the organization, hoped to be able to make it work after the Cold War was over. And that group, you know, focused on sort of core American national security interests, great powers, not looking for a new mission for the United States. You had Isolationists, that was a strain that had been in the Republican Party prior to the Cold War; it was back again after the Cold War was over. Pat Buchanan ran against George H. W. Bush in 1992 for the Republican nomination and got almost 40 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, against the sitting president, it was incredible, and running on slogan, "Come Home America," that George McGovern had used 20 years earlier, on the Democratic side to much derision by the Republicans. And in fact, when we spoke to Pat Buchanan for the book, he said that George McGovern had sent him a note saying, "I'm glad to see you could make use of my slogan." And Pat Buchanan said, "Well, you know, we couldn't come home in 1972, but we have to come home now in 1992." This notion that the United States had spent so much money, you know, protecting other countries in Europe, Japan and so on. And that with the Cold War over, the United States should come home and focus on its domestic economy and domestic issues. So that was a very strong strain. You have emerging, then, what we in call in the book, the Contract Republicans. The Republicans who sweep into Congress in 1994 on the contract with America. Very little foreign policy there. Sort of share a lot in common with the Isolationists. There are a lot of Republicans coming in who proudly declare that they have never owned a passport, that they didn't travel, you know, why would you need to go anywhere else. To the extent that they did look at foreign policy, they focused on missile defense, the rise of China and bashing the United Nations. And it was also a lot of Clinton bashing. And then there was this fourth group that was very small in the 1990s, the neo-conservatives, who really with the end of the Cold War a lot of the neo-conservatives said, "Well, we don't need to have the old exceptional mission for the United States. We won the Cold War. We can just become what Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick called, you know, a normal country in a normal time, that we could just-- the United States could just become normal again. There were a few neo-conservatives who kept alive the dream of a U.S. mission to help build and promote democracy in other parts of the world. But, in the 1990s, they were very marginal to the Republican Party and, in fact, many of their writings were geared toward trying to make the Republican Party more interested in the ideas that they were promulgating.

Recorded on: 07/08/2008

 

James Goldgeier describes how when the Cold War ended, America was left without an obvious enemy.

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A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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