The terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon triggered the most rapid and dramatic change in the history of U.S.foreign policy. On September 10, 2001, there was not the slightest hint that the United States was about to embark on an all–out campaign against "global terrorism." Indeed, apart from an explicit disdain for certain multilateral agreements and a fixation on missile defense, the foreign policy priorities of George W. Bush and his administration were not radically different from those of their predecessors. Bush had already endorsed continued NATO expansion, reluctantly agreed to keep U.S. troops in the Balkans, reaffirmed the existing policy of wary engagement with Russia and China, and called for further efforts to liberalize global markets. The administration's early attention focused primarily on domestic issues, and newinternational initiatives were notably absent.
This business–as–usual approach to foreign policy vanished on September 11. Instead of education reform and tax cuts, the war on terrorism dominated the administration's agenda. The United States quickly traced the attacks to al–Qaeda — the network of Islamic extremists led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden — whose leaders had been operating from Afghanistan since 1996. When the Taliban government in Afghanistan rejected a U.S. ultimatum to turn over bin Laden, the United States began military efforts to eradicate al–Qaeda and overthrow the Taliban itself. The United States also began a sustained diplomatic campaign to enlist foreign help in rooting out any remaining terrorist organizations "with global reach." U.S.officials emphasized that this campaign would be prolonged and warned that military action against suspected terrorist networks might continue after the initial assault on al–Qaeda and its Taliban hosts.
This article analyzes how the campaign against global terrorism alters the broad agenda of U.S.foreign policy. I focus primarily on the diplomatic aspects of this campaign and do not address military strategy, homeland defense, or the need for improved intelligence in much detail. These issues are obviously important but lie outside the bounds this essay.
I proceed in three stages. The first section considers what the events of September 11 tell us about the U.S. position in the world and identifies four lessons that should inform U.S. policy in the future. The second section explores how the campaign on terrorism should alter the foreign policy agenda in the near–to–medium term: What new policies should the United States pursue, and what prior goals should be downgraded or abandoned? The third section addresses the long–term implications, focusing on whether the United States will be willing to accept the increased costs of its current policy of global engagement. I argue that this decision will depend in part on the success of the current campaign, but also on whether the United States can make its dominant global position more palatable to other countries.
Published in International Security 26, no. 3 (Winter 2001/02): 56-78.