On September 11, 2001, the U.S. experienced a deadly terrorist attack which left scores of people dead and many more injured. Four airplanes which had been hijacked by terrorists from the notorious radical Islamic group al Qaeda were used as weapons against several high value targets in the country. They crashed two of the planes in the World Trade Center in New York. Another plane was crashed into the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia but it did not cause serious damage. However, the last plane crashed in Pennsylvania before it could reach its intended target which was believed to be the White House. This event redefined America’s domestic and foreign policies and it strengthened the resolve by President George W. Bush’s administration to do more to combat radical Islamic terrorism. This essay discusses how the event occurred, the response by the government and specific actions that need to be taken to prevent a similar event occurring in future.
How the Event Occurred
The September 11 terrorist attacks occurred due to lax immigration and air safety laws which allowed nineteen hijackers that executed it to live freely in the country. Even though the country intelligence agencies were warned by their foreign counterparts about the possibility of an attack months before, they chose to downplay the severity of the situation. The first airplane, American Airlines Boeing 767, crashed into the World Trade Center’s northern tower at about 8. 50 a. m. The second airplane, another Boeing 767, crashed into the center’s southern tower twenty minutes later. Both airplanes were early morning flights that originated from Boston and were heading to Los Angeles. The third airplane, a Boeing 757, belonging to American Airlines, targeted the Pentagon’s western wall. It had originated from Washington D. C and was also headed to Los Angeles (Dwyer and Flynn 47). It crashed into the building at around 9. 40 in the morning. Lastly, the United Airlines airplane, a Boeing 757, was flying from Newark to San Francisco and crashed a few miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The terrorist attack caused a lot of damage to the World Trade Center twin and other buildings nearby. The two planes approached the building from opposite sides causing a lot of panic and agony to people who were stuck inside and others who were still commuting to their workstations. The first plane struck the northern tower of the building causing a lot of shock and confusion in the whole city. Many people who were watching the news live on television were shocked and moments later, the second plane struck the southern tower of the same building (Dwyer and Flynn 50). The New York Fire and Police Departments did all they could to evacuate people from the building and adjacent areas. In and around lower Manhattan where the twin towers were situated, people found it difficult to come to terms with what had just happened.
The two towers’ structural solidity was heavily affected by the impact of the two crashes. Structural columns which supported the massive weight of the two towers became weaker after being hit by the two fast moving airplanes. The southern tower of was the first to collapse and people who were in the uppermost floors were not able to come down because exit staircases had been destroyed. At about 10. 00 am, the whole building collapsed due to the massive structural strain it was experiencing. Meanwhile, the Northern Tower began showing signs of weakness twenty minutes after the collapse of the Southern Tower (Parenti 56). In a period of ten minutes, the tower collapsed killing a lot of people who were not able to escape. Debris that fell off the two towers caused destruction to other buildings beneath them.
The collapse of the two towers exposed the nation’s inability to deal with serious disasters. Moreover, some design features of the World Trade Center made it difficult for people to escape, thereby exposing them to a lot of harm. Rescue teams were not able to perform their operations properly due to communication problems, lack of a central command and heavy human traffic around the site. In addition, some fire fighters, paramedics and police officers had never handled a large disaster operation and they were overwhelmed by the challenges they faced (Parenti 61). It is worth noting that many firefighters, police men and paramedics lost their lives as they were trying to evacuate people from the site. The toxic dust which emanated from the collapsed buildings exposed people that were within the vicinity to a wide range of contaminants. Afterwards, a large mop up exercise which took more than three months was conducted to remove massive amounts of debris that had accumulated at the site.
The U.S. government’s immediate response was in form of an address by Former President, George W. Bush. In his speech, he stated that the attack was planned and orchestrated by al Qaeda terrorists who were living in the country before the attack. He accused Osama bin Laden and other top leaders of the terrorist organization of spreading radical Islamic ideology which justifies the killing of innocent civilians. Security agents began to uncover the nationality of terrorists who were involved in the attacks and they found out that nineteen terrorists were involved in the attacks (Rose 112).
On September 20, 2001, President Bush held a session with lawmakers in U.S. congress to come up with a collective strategy to deal with al Qaeda. After the session, the government declared that it would go after top al Qaeda leaders, chief among them Osama bin Laden who was believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. Consequently, the Taliban administration in Afghanistan was asked to hand him over but it was unwilling to do so.
Since the Taliban administration refused to hand over Bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda leaders, the U.S. government decided to invade the country. Together with its allies such as Britain, Australia, Canada and Saudi Arabia, the government began planning for a war against the Taliban and al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan. The U.S. government accused the Taliban of aiding terrorist activities in their country because it allowed the al Qaeda to establish training bases for radical militants. Therefore, its involvement in terrorist activities caused the U.S. government to describe the Taliban as one of its worst foreign enemies (Rose 118).
Several weeks after the attack, the U.S. government together with its allies invaded Afghanistan and managed to capture key territories that were under the Taliban’s control. However, the military campaign was unable to get top al Qaeda leaders, key among them, Osama bin Laden. Nevertheless, this action allowed the U.S. government to use its military and diplomatic power to show that it was not going to condone any terrorist attacks against its nationals.
The negative effects of September 11 encouraged the government to increase its defense budget. A new department of Homeland Security was established by the government and it was given the mandate to coordinate security operations to protect the country from future terrorist attacks. President Bush and other senior government officials prioritized national security and this led to an overhaul of security policies in different public and private institutions.
For instance, stringent security measures became part of standard operating procedures of various airports and airlines were also required to comply with new security laws. It also led to proactive measures which compelled various government agencies to do thorough background searches of people seeking to enter the U.S. to establish if they had been involved in terrorist activities in the past (Hoge and Rose 55). Stronger money laundering laws enabled the U.S. government together with other nations to place restrictions on terrorist organizations which had to go through proxies to get funds. All these initiatives helped to control the spread of tourism in the world.
President Bush and his administration began to pursue an aggressive foreign policy that maintained a bold stand against terrorism. As a result, Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was accused of hiding weapons of mass destruction which it intended to use for terrorism. Senior military and political leaders began planning for war against Hussein’s regime even though the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan was still going on. In 2003, the Bush administration went against the United Nations Security Council resolution which declared that military action against Hussein’s regime was unjustified (Hoge and Rose 51). President Bush’s justification to attack Iraq was that the country had hidden large quantities of weapons of mass destruction which it intended to give to terrorist groups. However, even after the defeat and capture of Hussein, American military forces were not able to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Therefore, the main justification for the war was not valid and this had a negative impact on America’s global reputation.
Government Actions to Mitigate a Similar Event in Future
The U.S. government needs to reassess its foreign policy by collaborating with other nations to safeguard world peace. It needs to share crucial intelligence and information with other nations to deal effectively with terrorist organizations (Haass 68). Some security experts have insisted that the government’s intelligence services did not heed warnings from other countries such as Philippines, France, Israel and Germany months before 9/11, which indicated that there was a potential terrorist threat. Even though the government’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies have established important partnerships with their foreign counterparts, they need to do more to boost national security in the country. In addition, the government needs to come up with new policies which address the root causes of terrorism and how they can be dealt with to safeguard the wellbeing of its citizens. Consequently, this will enable the country to deal more effectively with terrorist threats.
The U.S. government needs to accommodate divergent opinions from other states to improve its relationships with other countries. This approach will help the government to salvage its international reputation from further damage. The decision by former President George Bush to invade Iraq even after the UN Security Council called for meaningful dialogue with Saddam Hussein isolated the country from its key allies. Consequently, the unilateral stand adopted by the government through military action against Iraq dented its credibility in international politics because many countries were opposed to the war (Haass 71).
The aftermath of the war in Iraq caused many troops as well as Iraqi civilians to lose their lives and this shows that the invasion was not justified. Therefore, the war on terror has not reduced global terrorism activities in different countries. The government needs to realize that it is not always wise for a strong nation to impose its will on other nations without using appropriate diplomatic tactics.
The U.S. government needs to engage positively with states that have large Islamic populations. This will encourage positive social, political, economic and cultural exchanges between the U.S. and such states. Therefore, this will encourage people in these regions to change their attitudes towards Americans and their liberal ideals. More importantly, the government should work closely with organizations that encourage Muslims to be more tolerant and accommodative of other religions. As a result, this approach will make it difficult for al Qaeda and its affiliates to use radical Islamic ideology to influence young people in the region negatively (Roach 93). This will allow the American government to win the hearts and minds of people living in the region. Consequently, this approach will allow the American government to address social and cultural factors that enable terrorism to spread.
It is also important for the U.S. government to commit more resources towards educating all citizens about the dangers of terrorism. All citizens need to learn how to protect themselves from terrorism attacks in different places. In addition, frequent safety drills should be conducted in schools and other public institutions to ensure all citizens understand basic safety precautions they need to observe whenever they face any danger. The government should also implement effective policies that enable disaster management and rescue teams to improve the manner in which they perform their functions. This will ensure that paramedics, police officers and fire fighters acquire important skills to help them deal effectively with different types of disasters. Moreover, all state agencies should be mandated to share information and technical expertise to ensure any potential terrorist threat is eliminated before it occurs. This approach will help to protect the country from future terrorist threats (Roach 104).
Terrorism activities are linked with other transnational crimes such as money laundering, drug trafficking and illegal arms trade. The government needs to establish effective ways of analyzing criminal trends to reduce terrorism threats in the country. Conclusion The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks caused a lot of pain and suffering in the U.S. As a result, the government began military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq to deal with terrorist operatives. However, more than ten years later, there is an increase in the number of terrorist organizations which are affiliated to al Qaeda. Therefore, the US government needs to use alternative tactics to deal with radical Islamic terrorism more effectively. In addition, policy makers need to adopt proactive measures that address various challenges that caused the terrorist action to take place to prevent a similar event from occurring again in future.
Dwyer, Jim and Kevin Flynn. 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. New York, NY: Times Books, 2004. Print.
Haass, Richard N. Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2013. Print.
Hoge, James F. and Gideon Rose. Understanding the War on Terror. New York: Foreign Affairs, 2005. Print.
Parenti, Michael. The Terrorism Trap: September 11 and Beyond. New York: City Lights Bookstore, 2002. Print.
Roach, Kent. The 9/11 Effect: Comparative Counter-Terrorism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.
Rose, Gideon. The U.S. vs. al Qaeda: A History of the War on Terror. New York: Foreign Affairs, 2011. Print.