Terrifying Thoughts: Power, Order, and Terror after 9/11

By Miller, Steven E. | Global Governance, April-June 2005 | Go to article overview

Terrifying Thoughts: Power, Order, and Terror after 9/11


Miller, Steven E., Global Governance


The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, had a profound effect on the Bush administration's foreign policy. This review essay examines a set of books and documents that illuminate the dominant U.S. threat perceptions in the post-September 11 environment and analyze both the strategies and the new directions that have emerged in U.S. policy in response to the new threat perceptions. Several of the books under review explore the deep socioeconomic and ideological origins of the wide support found in the U.S. public for the Bush administration's bold and often controversial policy choices. Taken together, these works convey the impression that Bush's strategic impulses will have considerable staying power in the U.S. body politic. KEYWORDS: Bush doctrine, terrorism/war on terrorism, grand strategy, terrorist threat, U.S. foreign policy.

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Richard A. Clarke, et al., Defeating the Jihadists: A Blueprint for Action (New York: Century Foundation Press, 2004), 172 pp.

David Frum and Richard Perle, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror (New York: Ballantine Books, 2004), 280 pp.

John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 150 pp.

Anatol Lieven, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 274 pp.

Walter Russell Mead, Power, Terror, Peace and War: America's Grand Strategy in a World at Risk, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 226 pp.

The National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (Washington, D.C.: White House, December 2002), 6 pp.

The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, D.C.: White House, September 2002), 31 pp.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 destroyed the Cold War international order. With unexpected suddenness, the central configuration of power that ordered world affairs vanished. To be sure, some artifacts of the old order persisted--notably the U.S. alliance system--but they existed now in a vastly different context and played different, less central roles. And although President George H. W. Bush almost immediately (but prematurely) proclaimed a new world order, in fact the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union were marked by a protracted struggle to reconceive the international order and to define a clear and meaningful role for the United States in that order. During the 1990s, the unstructured character of the international system gave rise to wide-ranging debate about what new order might be feasible and desirable. But there remained a sense that the international order was still inchoate, that a powerful ordering principle was still lacking, that a new structure for global affairs had yet to be revealed.

And then came the terrible attacks of September 11, 2001. Like a bolt of lightening across a darkened sky, September 11 provided a sudden illumination of the strategic landscape. In the harsh light of September 11, Washington viewed a different world, one more dangerous, more menacing, full of enemies and threats. Further, having been attacked, the United States believed itself to be at war. The Bush administration responded in dramatic fashion to the new world that had been revealed by September 11, striking off in bold, assertive, and often controversial directions, moving with relentless and even unstoppable determination to take whatever actions it deemed appropriate and necessary to confront the newly understood threats and to enhance U.S. security. With the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration found its mission, its central organizing principle--indeed, its conception of the new international order.

It is a fundamentally important reality that Washington's sense of the new order has little in common with and is uncongenial to those interested in building or strengthening a system of global governance. …

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