At the end of January 2002, I was in New York attending the World Economic Forum, commonly known as Davos, which was being held for the first time outside of the Swiss mountains because of the terrifying 9/11 attacks that had taken place a few months before the conference. The world had changed drastically during these months; the attacks by the West and the US had begun in Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was opened, a number of terrorist operations were being carried out all over the world, and the then US President George W. Bush made his comment that “you are either with us or against us,” and that he would hunt down terrorists wherever they are in what was known as the pre-emptive war. There were rumors on the grapevine that another invasion was about to take place soon, perhaps in Iraq.
On the sidelines of the conference, I met an old friend of mine, Dr. Ibrahim al Muhanna who I knew from the Brookings Institute in Washington DC in 1987, who was a distinguished expert and part of a Saudi group attending a conference on petrol and economic affairs. We were together, a group of Arabs at the conference, in what seemed like an impossible mission to defend our countries and Islam after the terrifying attacks of 9/11, the perpetrators of which were all Arabs and Muslims. When my friend suggested going to visit Ground Zero, I said yes straight away and when we arrived at the place where the two towers of the World Trade Center once stood, which I had visited often before the attacks, we found a long queue of people and we were unsure whether they had come for consolation or as tourists. Anyway, we stood in the long queue and after a long while we got to the security point where we were asked for our visitors’ passes that we were meant to buy from somewhere else. We were faced with a dilemma; do we leave the queue to buy a ticket and return to the back of the queue and miss another hour of the conference or do we forget about the whole thing and leave the visit for another time? My friend decided he had no choice but to be honest, and said to the female guard who was checking tickets, “My friend here is Egyptian and I am Saudi and we have come to pray for the victims of the attacks. We didn’t know anything about having to buy tickets here.” Al Muhanna was simply offering reconciliation from a person who had come from the same country as the ringleader of the attacks on the World Trade Center – Mohammed Ata – and another person from the same country as the 15 hijackers. Surprisingly, the guard let us pass and we stood on the rubble of the towers that were razed to the ground. There we read Surat al Fatiha and we reflected on what was going to happen in the world following the terrible attacks.
The world was turned upside down. The Cold War had come to an end during the previous decade and the Soviet Union, the Soviet bloc and its philosophy had fallen and globalization rose like the glaring sun with peace, technological development and economic growth. Despite that there were many concerns about “American unipolarity” in the world it was not a major concern for most countries, as it was a common belief that the US would dominate the world even before the end of the Cold War. In any case, the United Nations had escaped captivity in order to discuss the problems affecting mankind and the planet and held international conferences on the issues of the planet, population, women, human rights and other matters concerning the world’s inhabitants.
But the events of 9/11 came in order to impact the world like no other event; even NATO was forced out of its European dwellings to reach Central Asia whilst the United States began to shake up the world with threats, the military and plans for regime change. Over the next eight years the world would never be the same again and globalization began to have a security dimension imposing a kind of silent siege on the Islamic and Arab countries. Globalization became a reality in the terrifying contradiction between its ideas based on unity and its reality that states that unity is simply not attainable because of conflicts over identity, civilization and ideas.
But times have completely changed and this took place quickly and has never happened before, as the balance of power based on multipolarity needed around a century and a half from the 19th and 20th centuries to reach its conclusion and the Cold War based on bilateralism required less than half a century to reach its conclusion. But American unipolarity is yet to complete two decades. Perhaps the end of this most recent system was signified by the mid-term elections of US Congress when it became apparent that the theory and method followed by George W. Bush in running the world failed and must be reviewed and that the beginning of its revisions was the overthrow of a group of neo-conservatives in the US administration. But it is likely that historians will choose the election of Barack Obama to presidency to signify the end of the old regime, and the beginning of a new one. Perhaps we do not know all of its features yet but some of them are clear:
First – The open and peaceful approach of Obama’s administration in forming relations with friends and opponents at the same time. This is completely different to the dominating concept of George W. Bush’s tenure that was overshadowed by “you’re either with us or against us,” which was also a dominant feature in the framework of combating terrorism as it ignored all other perspectives to confront terrorism and drain it of its sources.
Second – Abandoning the principle of pre-emptive wars that was the main pillar of US foreign policy and national security in the period after 9/11 and this was reflected by the attack on Afghanistan (October 7, 2001) and the invasion of Iraq (20 March, 2003).
Third – The closure of Guantanamo Bay and Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States will not practice torture in contrast to the former Vice President Dick Cheney who said that this would make Americans less secure.
Fourth – The US abandoning [the concept of] unilateralism in dealing with international crises. [US Secretary of State] Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America…We must use what has been called smart power – the full range of tools at our disposal.”
Fifth – Following diplomatic methods and avoiding the use of military power as a tool to solve problems, and eagerness to reach compromises and solve disagreements and this is reflected in the increasing American interest in having special envoys for the American president in areas of conflict in the world.
Sixth – Tying US security to security of the world, as Obama showed that some causes are linked to one another based on the idea that American national security is not confined to its strength but rather American national security requires guaranteeing stability in the world and especially in the Middle East, and to ensure the flow of petrol from the region and deal with regional conflicts and the phenomena of extremism, poverty and unemployment.
Seventh – Closing the book on fanaticism against a certain civilization and its culture, i.e. the Arab and Islamic civilization, and not making statements about the clash of civilizations and clash of cultures, which have thrived since 9/11.
Eighth – The emergence of important meetings on the international level and the emergence of new powers that have come to compete with traditional powers. Major economic blocs such as the G20 are considered key players in the international economic decision-making process. In this context the G20 has become a global economic force to be reckoned with especially after the United States turned to coordination and cooperation with major economic countries to save the world from the economic crisis to the extent that it pushed some to emphasize that the G20 group of advanced and developing states has become an alternative to the G8 industrialized states for leading the world economy.
Ninth – Starting over again, as the global economic crisis led to raising many issues about the future of the global economy, especially with regards to the future of capitalism and the market economy and state intervention. This is what led to more voices calling for bringing back the protectionist, intervening state once again to fix the market.