Sept. 11: 'The Day Nothing Much Changed'

William J. Dobson, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, talks with Renee Montagne about his article "The Day Nothing Much Changed." Dobson says that the Sept. 11 attacks were not the turning point that many have said they were.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And for nearly five years the Bush administration has made the case that the September 11th attacks ushered in a new era in international affairs. This morning we have an alternative view from the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. William Dobson makes his case in an article called The Day Nothing Much Changed. He's in our Washington studio this morning.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. WILLIAM DOBSON (Managing Editor, Foreign Policy Magazine): Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: Now, you argue in that article that the United States and the rest of the world recovered quickly from the shock of the attacks and that the world remains much as it was before September 11th. How so?

Mr. DOBSON: Well, that's right. I mean if you go back to September 11th, you go back five years ago, we were told pretty much by everyone that everything had changed, and that is a natural and understandable response. In many ways, we collectively feared many things that were about to end. We thought that borders were going to be hardened, that globalization might grind to a halt, that global trade and immigration would suffer.

But the thing is is that when you actually look at broad measures of data, both political, economic and social, you find that what is most remarkable now is how little the world has changed. In fact, national economies, as we all know, bounce back very quickly.

It took 40 days for the Dow Jones Industrial Average to return to pre-9/11 levels. Immigration, certainly something we've heard a lot about in the recent years, that there's been a return to or creation of a fortress America mentality. But, again, it doesn't bear out in the numbers.

MONTAGNE: Well, right, okay. But, you know, at this moment thousands of U.S. troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Congress and Supreme Court are considering issues of civil liberties that hadn't come up in the last few years of the '90s. Getting on an airplane is a security gauntlet. It seems like a lot has changed.

Mr. DOBSON: That's a very good question and an important distinction to draw. Because if there was really a day that changed the world more than any other, it was 15 years ago, not five - New Year's Eve, 1991.

Most of the changes that you see happening in the world today are really much more directly rooted in the fact that the post-Cold War era began at that moment and it continues to this moment today. It was at that moment that the world went out of balance as the United States became a sole super power, a hyper-power, whatever you want to call it. And from that moment on - and really, truly, the tragedy of 9/11 itself is a manifestation of that unipolar disorder that was created in 1991.

MONTAGNE: Well, talking about that, you have proposed that the Soviet Union and economic globalization - or the demise of the Soviet Union - are more significant than the rise of terrorism, which some people see as a clash of civilizations. Talk to us about that.

Mr. DOBSON: Sure. Well, what's really important to understand is that how they're interconnected here. I mean the United States was a target on September 11th because it was perceived to be the global hegemon. It's because of the way the world changed 15 years ago.

Al-Qaida had tried to overthrow Arab regimes in the 1990s and had failed tremendously. There was an enormous debate within al-Qaida, and ultimately the decision was made by bin Laden that they needed to strike the United States -the far-away enemy as he referred to it. And the reason for that was again rooted in trying to get at the United States to change and get at the Arab regimes for the United States shoring it up.

So these changes were really rooted in trying to get at the Arab regimes themselves. And so, in many ways actually, September 11th was rooted in changes that occurred 10 years earlier in the international system.

MONTAGNE: Thank you for joining us.

Mr. DOBSON: Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: William Dobson is managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

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