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It's Still Baseball And Apple Pie

Authors: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, and Ivo H. Daalder
September 10, 2002
Australian Financial Review


Against expectations in the US, September 11 has reinforced the status quo, write Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay.

September 11 prompted much speculation about how profoundly the United States would be changed by the terrorist attacks. A year later, it is remarkable how little things have changed. Whether it is foreign policy, public attitudes or domestic politics, American life is largely back to normal.

Many US allies, and more than a few Americans, believed the terrorist attacks would cure the Bush administration of its taste for unilateralism. They expected to see a different foreign policy one grounded in greater appreciation of allies and multilateralism.

That expectation initially seemed justified. The US did not lash out blindly at Al Qaeda. It sought NATO and UN support. It forged unprecedented international law-enforcement and intelligence co-operation.

But more recently, with efforts to derail the international criminal court, talk of toppling Saddam Hussein with or without allies, and President Bush's no-show in Johannesburg, the administration's unilateralist impulses returned in full force.

What happened to America's more enlightened foreign policy?

Truth be told, there never was one. September 11 did not, contrary to what many thought, shake President Bush's core foreign policy beliefs. Quite the contrary. It confirmed them. He and his senior advisers had repeatedly warned against the terrorist danger and the threat of weapons of mass destruction. So while the terrorists' methods surprised them, the fact that they tried did not.

With their world view confirmed, it was not surprising the administration stuck to the foreign policy it had pursued before September 11. It is a foreign policy of hard-core realism, one that believes the powerful get their way if they are willing to exercise their power.

That view will drive the administration's decision making on Iraq. If it retreats from a go-it-alone march on Baghdad, it will be because it decides that the price tag is too high, not because it suddenly discovers the virtues of multilateralism.

What about the American people? They have done just what President Bush asked them to do get on with their lives. Most Americans tell pollsters that September 11 did not fundamentally change their daily lives and that they don't fear for their personal safety.

Their behaviour reflects those views. The shopping malls remain crowded and the hot topic of the summer was whether overpaid baseball players would go on strike.

The public's return to business as usual reflects the reality that, horrifying as they were, the terrorist attacks did not directly affect most Americans. In that respect, they differed profoundly from another attack they are often likened to that on Pearl Harbour.

Americans in 1941 might not have watched the Japanese attack unfold live on their television screens but their lives changed overnight. Hundreds of thousands of men suddenly found themselves in uniform. Women left the home to work in factories.

None of that happened after September 11, and not because Americans today have less character than the World War II generation. They simply didn't need to change their behaviour. America's immense military power and the unconventional nature of the Al Qaeda threat made national mobilisation and sacrifice unnecessary.

There has also been a return to everyday politics. The bipartisan unity that gripped Washington after the attacks has collapsed. Congress no longer bows automatically to the White House on foreign policy witness the growing complaints about President Bush's Iraq policy. And with both Democrats and Republicans vying for control of Congress in the November elections, talk of terrorism has been eclipsed by arguments over how to improve education and provide prescription drug benefits to senior citizens.

Some no doubt will lament that the terrorist attacks did not produce fundamental changes in the US. Yet the very fact that life has returned to normal is evidence that the terrorists failed in their bid to cow Americans.

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