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War and Terror: American Politics Shifting for 2002

“Clash of Civilizations” or “End of History”?

By Floyd Ciruli
November 2001

As the new millennium dawned, Americans were soaring on record-breaking economic prosperity with no apparent end in sight. The “Y2K” bug was a short-lived, even entertaining blip in the sense of security enjoyed as the industrial century yielded to the information technology century. Nearly a year later, the chaotic presidential election count and nascent economic downturn got the public’s attention, and hinted that neither democracy, nor American prosperity were invulnerable. Still, a seemingly secure America continued to roll.

Then came the events of September 11, 2001, which shook the foundation of America’s security and instantly altered the political and economic landscapes. Suddenly, the nation faced a new vulnerability to outside forces that threatened America's government, economy, safety and way of life.

The events have frozen domestic politics and dramatically shifted public priorities. They have led to record deceleration of an already weak economy, and an increase in the importance of government. The changes have been sweeping:

It’s national security, stupid
After a decade of attention to domestic issues, the new public priorities for federal action are national defense and homeland security. Not only is defense winning major funding, but new organizational strategies and warfare concepts long in the discussion phase are finally being introduced. The “asymmetry” of terror (i.e., the stealth and random nature of terrorist acts have an advantage over traditional military strategy) is shifting America’s defense establishment from the debate over how many conventional war fronts can be engaged at once to strategies and tools to defeat global terrorism.

The boom is over
The full capacity economy, with its inflated stock prices and record-low unemployment, is over. The high tech bust and manufacturing slowdown have accelerated into a recession that most observers believe will last at least six months and some predict could last 18 months or longer. Terror struck at the global economy’s dependence on integrated electronics, overnight mail and air travel. Businesses are rethinking all aspects of their strategies, from data redundancy to on-time inventories.

Government is back
Since the Reagan revolution and end of the Cold War, government, especially the federal government, has been viewed as irrelevant at best, and a drag on the market and inimical to individual initiative at worst. For that reason, government failed to share in the prosperity of the last decade. But today, public trust in government is up – the highest since Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War – and citizens are looking to government to provide security and revive the economy.

Presidency redux
The nation has rallied around its president. In the post-Cold War era of the global economy, the office had been marginalized. But post-September 11, President Bush benefits from renewed national security and economic concerns which have led to a new unity. He has performed well with his team of seasoned pros who look and act like an effective war cabinet.

Goodbye surplus
Debate over the lockbox and spending the surplus has ended. The surplus is being vanquished by the slowdown and absorbed by the war, domestic reconstruction and security expenditures. Deficit spending is back. And the social safety net will be severely tested in the upcoming months.

Incumbency up/partisanship down
Democrat and Republican elected officials moved quickly to close ranks and mute partisanship. This strengthened incumbents for next year’s election and delayed campaigns that had, in many cases, already started. Although some partisan fights have flared up, public expectations are high and Washington should be wary of gridlock.

Feeling it at Home
The ripple effects of September 11 are having similar impacts on state and local politics. In Colorado, the state budget surplus is rapidly disappearing due to declining tax revenue and constitutionally mandated tax refunds. Priorities are also changing. The spirited two-year debate over growth management in Colorado is all but over. The modest growth legislation passed in the special session, combined with the rapidly tanking economy, have shifted public and political focus to cutting budgets and saving jobs.

Gov. Bill Owens, like President Bush is benefitting from the rally, and has seen his approval jump ten points since July. The increase comes as he begins to cope with security issues and starts Colorado’s own office of homeland security. Although the Nov. 6 local elections did not show a clear trend, voters generally avoided large financial commitments amid the heightened economic insecurity, and campaigns generally lost out to "war and terror" in the battle for news coverage.

Finally, the clearest indicator that September 11 is effecting Colorado politics is the fact that the highly visible and contentious U.S. Senate campaign has nearly disappeared. While it is too early to say that the Republican incumbent’s seat is safer than it was September 10, the challenger’s campaign has lowered its profile and partisan edge.

A Serious Threat
The September 11 attacks on America were the most devastating in a long series of terrorist-related strikes and threats. A brief chronology of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist activities during the last decade illustrates the breadth of the efforts – including attacks against multiple targets, military and civilian, against international icons, such as the United Nations and the Pope, and on several continents. Many of these attacks could have killed thousands.

In retrospect it is clear the terrorist acts were growing in severity and sophistication, making a catastrophic event highly probable. Consider the toll:

  • 1993 - Mogadishu - Osama bin Laden-trained guerillas attack U.S. helicopter and kill 18 servicemen.
  • 1993 - World Trade Center bombing kills 7, injures 1,000, causes evacuation of 50,000. Also, plot uncovered to blow up New York United Nations building, New York Federal Court House and Holland and Lincoln tunnels.
  • 1994/1995 - Phillippines - plot to assassinate the Pope, blow up 11 jumbo jets and crash one into CIA’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters.
  • 1996 - Saudi Arabia - truck bomb kills 19 American servicemen.
  • 1998 - bin Laden issues fatwa (religious decree) calling for attack on civilians: “To kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who is able, in any country it is possible...”
  • 1998 - U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam bombed–224 deaths, 12 Americans.
  • 1999 - Ahmed Ressam captured on US/Canadian border, planned to attack millennium celebrations and Los Angeles airport.
  • 2000 - Yemen - USS Cole bombed, 17 U.S. sailors killed.

The terrorists’ rationale for attacking civilians strikes at the core of Western values and interests, including a commitment to the survival of a democratic, secure Israel; isolation of nations with the capacity and inclination to use weapons of mass destruction; maintenance of dependable and moderately priced petroleum; and continued expansion of a global marketplace. There is little chance that negotiation or policy adjustments would make any difference. America and its global allies are likely to experience more terror.

American intelligence agencies have been aware of bin Laden and his network for most of the decade and, increasingly, since the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. And they have spent considerable time and money to ramp up efforts to deal with terrorism. The CIA has had a bin Laden unit since 1996. The FBI placed him on its top ten wanted list in 1997. There have been arrests, trials and convictions, and countless terrorist attacks have been averted. But as September 11 dramatized, the threat has not been eliminated.

Recent military strategies to deal with terrorists have gone beyond defensive postures. There were efforts, albeit failed, to capture or kill bin Laden. In 1999, Sudan offered to arrest bin Laden. But failure to gain Saudi agreement to accept him and the lack of an indictable case for U.S. courts led the Sudanese to expel him to Afghanistan in May 1996, where he went on to plan the attack on America’s African embassies and the USS Cole. In 1998, America launched a missile attack on bin Laden’s encampment in Afghanistan, but intelligence reports claimed to have missed him by only hours. Most recently, the military coup in Pakistan, which brought General Musharref to power in 1999, also ended a CIA plan to use Pakistani intelligence agents to capture bin Laden in Afghanistan.

The American public is being warned that the new war could take years. In fact, we have been at war with terrorism and especially the al Qaeda network for a substantial part of the 1990s. It simply did not rise to the level of national consciousness.

A Prelude to Culture Wars?
Unfortunately, U.S. efforts to fight terrorism have not diminished the supply of terrorists or the ferocity of attacks. In fact, even the death or capture of bin Laden might not seriously diminish the terrorist threat because the conflict the West faces is likely much greater than a few isolated extremists.

The attack, its perpetrators and their motivation have cast light on an ongoing major policy debate over the nature of the West’s challenge after the fall of Soviet communism. Are bin Laden and al Qaeda merely historical anomalies, feudal throw-backs that the march of globalism and modernity will soon overcome, or are they preludes to a new and lasting conflict over competing religions and cultures?

While there are multiple views on this question, discussion centers on two distinct concepts that, for simplicity, can be called “End of History” and “Clash of Civilization.” The titles are based on seminal articles (later expanded into books). Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History” (National Interest 1989), argues that with Soviet communism no longer competing as an organizing principle in the world, liberal democracy and market capitalism seem to be the only viable alternative for people and nations. Future struggles will be localized battles by retrograde forces holding out against modernity. The spread of global markets and elected governments in the 1990s appeared to confirm his paradigm.

An alternative view was articulated by Samuel P. Huntington in his 1993 Foreign Affairs article “The Clash of Civilizations.” He was far more pessimistic regarding major conflict, and predicted a half dozen cultures will compete for influence and resources in the 21st Century, and in some cases, violently. Huntington believes that religion and indigenous cultures are much more likely to define the conflict of the coming decades than political ideology or nationalism. Religious fundamentalism in his view will be a major motivating and organizing principle in many of the world’s cultures.

Characteristics of Major Stakeholders
Within the Two Conceptual Frameworks
End of History
Western Civilization
Clash of Civilization
Islamic Fundamentalism
Modernity Feudalism
Change Certainty
Secularism and corporate transnationalism Religion and cultural fundamentalism
Secular government (democracy) Theocratic government (monarchy/theocracy/autocracy)
Market rules/ liberal capitalism Religious rules/command economy with socialist slogans
Globalism Little or no interaction with outside world

Huntington’s viewpoint appears to dominate today; his major themes are illustrated by the conflict with Islamic fundamentalists. The implications of Huntington’s thesis is that a long competition with periodic conflict between the West and Islam can be expected. Non-western powers, such as Russia, China and India, may become involved to the extent that Islam threatens territorial integrity or stability. The irony is that bin Laden’s debilitating attack on America may have united the great powers in opposition to him far more than it united the Islamic world in support of him.

A corollary to Huntington’s view is that conflict between the West and other civilizations, and among other civilizations (Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African) is also likely.

Islam’s Contribution
In addition to disagreement over the next century’s social and political fault lines and who has the advantage, there is vigorous debate over Islam’s contribution to the terrorist mindset and to the broader political environment that can rationalize and even exalt in its acts. Although scholars and intellectuals agree that terrorists are a small minority within the Muslim Arab populations, there is also broad agreement that terrorists are striking a powerful chord of resentment and even rage against the West.

While some of the anger is rooted in issues referenced by bin Laden (Palestinian statehood, Iraqi embargo and troops in Saudi Arabia), it mostly appears to result from deeper, more complex causes, both modern and ancient. Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis attributes the most recent manifestation primarily to the attraction of Western liberal capitalism to Arab masses and its challenge to conservative Islamic beliefs and social structures.

The outcome of these debates will shape Western foreign policy and defense strategies for years to come. The first war of the 21st Century has awakened Americans to the danger it faces both on the worldwide battlefield from the terrorist network and on the home front, even as it still struggles to define the danger and determine the best response. The longevity of the changes brought on by September 11 is unclear. What is clear is that the new century requires new strategies and a new dedication on the part of Americans to address their vulnerabilities in a global society.

Internet News Sources
Accessing the Internet is the best method for the fast-paced and extensive dialogue on America’s war on terrorism and the clash of cultures and civilizations. A few of the most interesting articles and sources on the debate and new political environment follow:

Francis Fukuyama
“History Is Still Going Our Way.” Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2001. Quick summary of Fukuyama’s main concepts and differences with Huntington. Both Fukuyama and Huntington took their seminal articles and made them into books. The “End of History” first appeared in 1989 in the National Interest. The book, The End of History and the Last Man was first published in 1991. The Wall Street Journal’s online opinion page is a daily must read, www.opinionjournal.com. Fukuyama has a web site at www.mason.gmu.edu/~ffukuyama.

Samuel P. Huntington
“The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs Magazine, summer 1993, online at www.foreignaffairs.org. Reads like it was just written. Huntington’s book was written in 1996. Foreign Affairs has an extensive archive of articles on Islam, the Middle East and terrorism.

Andrew Sullivan
“This Is a Religious War.” The New York Times, October 7, 2001. A British journalist who is a watchdog for mistaken conventional wisdom makes the case for Islamic origins for the conflict. The www.nytimes.com, www.washingtonpost.com and www.washingtontimes.com are the best daily scans for war news and current policy debates. Sullivan has his own web site at

Bernard Lewis
“The Roots of Muslim Rage.” One of the world’s most respected Islamic experts. The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990. Atlantic Monthly’s web site is a rich resource of background and think pieces about the culture clash, www.atlanticmonthly.com.

D.T. Max
The 2,988 Words That Changed a Presidency: An Etymology, The New York Times, October 7, 2001. An inside look from a New York Times Magazine regular contributor on how one speech and its creation helped rearrange an administration, empower a president and uplift a people. Considerable coverage of the new Bush presidency, the war cabinet and American’s changed from a variety of perspectives can be read at web sites such as the www.newrepublic.com, www.weeklystandard.com, www.solon.com and www.slate.com.

Pew Research Center for the People and The Press
Pew Charitable Trusts conducts regular polling on current issues. At www.people-press.org all their material is archived. America’s post 9/11 views have changed. But it is not clear if the changes are permanent or only temporary. Also, www.gallup.com, and media polls are online at the paper or networks’ web site.

Web Sites Digesting the News
Along with the usual media web sites, there are a number of sites that are digesting and analyzing the war news and the main debates. The few that follow have numerous links to other sites with hot stories, dumb ideas and original materials.

Real Clear Politics - www.realclearpolitics.com: Daily digest of war news and commentary with direct links to newspapers and magazines.

Mickey Kaus - www.kausfiles.com: Good read on current debate. Great linkage list with comments, e.g. Drudge Report, 80% correct-close enough. Mickey Kaus wrote the “End of Equality.”

Virginia Postrel - www.vpostrel.com: Virginia Postrel is the author of the “The Future and Its Enemies” and a writer and editor for Reason magazine. Highlights media mania and also has interesting links.

Hugh Hewitt - www.hughhewitt.com: Conservative talk show host with interesting digest of day’s news and editorials. Offers many tirades on media flare-ups and liberal politicians.

Permission to quote or reprint is granted provided the source, Ciruli Associates, is credited Ciruli Associates • 1129-1/2 Pennsylvania St. • Denver, CO 80203 • PH (303) 399-3173 • FAX (303) 399-3147

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