The United States and the world have changed significantly in the dozen years since terrorists hijacked jetliners and launched the biggest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Here are 10 of those changes.
1. America has become less dependent on foreign fuel
Decades of Mideast dependence prompted alliances with regional monarchies that 9/11 organizer Osama bin Laden opposed. But that dependence is beginning to ebb. Domestic production, led by technological changes in extraction, is at its highest in decades. That growth seems poised to continue whether or not Washington approves the controversial Keystone XL pipeline carrying Canadian oil from tar sands.
2. Bin Laden is gone
It took more than nine years, but the United States found and killed the al-Qaida leader who bankrolled the 9/11 attacks. While terrorism threats remain, they do not have at their root a person such as bin Laden who personified the anti-U.S. movement.
3. The intelligence state has mushroomed
We have more government intrusion in our lives post-911, from TSA airport checkpoints to NSA phone surveillance. Intelligence budgets have skyrocketed, to the $52.6 billion plan proposed for 2013. U.S. drone attacks have outraged many worldwide, as have detention practices from Afghanistan and Iraq to Guantanamo. The defenders of these practices say extraordinary measures have been necessary to keep a targeted United States safe.
4. Anti-authoritarian ferment in the Middle East
Tunisia, Libya and Egypt all toppled longtime military-backed leaders, and Egypt saw a military coup against the successor government. Rebels and protesters have risen up in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain as well, with mixed results.
5. What Google has wrought
Hand in hand with that tumult has been the exploding use of Twitter, G-chat, Facebook and similar services in tightly controlled societies worldwide, all giving voice to people who are denied printing presses and broadcast licenses. Thousands have followed protests in Iran and Egypt — and videos from Syria — through social networks. The pattern has repeated itself across the globe, from China to Brazil.
6. Rise (and fall) in U.S. fervor for military action
After the 2001 attacks, the Bush administration moved quickly into Afghanistan in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the fight against the Taliban. Claiming a link to weapons of mass destruction, it committed the Pentagon to Iraq. The two long wars have sapped America’s appetite for military action, reflected in polls showing nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose even limited military efforts in Syria.
7. The demise of a Holocaust denier in Iran
For years, a face of anti-Americanism was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president from 2005 to 2013. Iran has supported Syria’s Assad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah — and its own nuclear ambitions in the face of Washington’s objections. Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric against Israel knew few bounds. That’s why it was so startling earlier this month when, on Rosh Hashanah, Iran’s new president and foreign minister took to Twitter to wish Jews a happy new year. When challenged about the government’s Holocaust-denying past, the foreign minister tweeted that the guy who used to deny it is gone. Whether his comments reveal a deeper shift remains to be seen.
8. Emergence of a multicultural U.S. mainstream
In 2012, whites made up the lowest percentage of the U.S. population in American history. Census data showed more whites died than were born, a slump more than a decade before the predicted decline of America’s white population. The fastest growing group is multiracial Americans. The demographic shifts have buoyed Obama and Democrats, who have outsized support among women and gays and lesbians as well.
9. “We’re broke”
The last U.S. budget surplus was in fiscal year 2001. The national debt now is more than $16.7 trillion — or about $53,000 per person. Rising health and defense spending played a big role, as did a cut in the personal income tax near the start of the Bush administration. Persistent unemployment and the first waves of Baby Boomer retirements have also contributed to unease about the economy.
10. Ground Zero no more
Eight years in the making, the 104-story Freedom Tower is poised to open early in 2014 at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. Later this year, the 72-story 4 World Trade Center will open on the southeast corner of the site. An underground museum will open in the spring, and two more office buildings and a transportation hub will follow. In June 2012, Obama signed a construction beam that was hoisted to the top of Freedom Tower. On it he wrote: “We remember / we rebuild / we come back stronger!”
David Beard writes for The Washington Post.