Twelve years ago today the world significantly changed. Today, many will remember the day the United States was attacked and there will be much commentary and discussion about the event and its repercussions. The truth is that there have been many years of analysis and armchair quarterbacking and therefore there is not very much I can add to the discussion. As someone who not only unexpectedly found himself on this side of the border on that day but many years of a routine were abruptly ended for me as well, I have a different perspective on what has transpired since then. Therefore I feel like I can contribute to the overall discussion by sharing some perspectives that seem to get hidden behind the global implications of the incident.
Many of you understand that the United States was attacked by a foreign threat that although known about, it wasn’t clearly understood. There are many theories as to how the attackers became hostile to US interests, some well analyzed and others completely in the realm of outlandish conspiracies. What I believe many US citizens, except for those involved in security and military affairs, do not understand about the attacks is that the US government’s treatment of foreign policy and national security is based on external defense rather than what most countries prepare for; regional defense from hostile forces bordering the nation. Due to many factors, among them geography and arguably being the largest economy in the world, the US has followed a doctrine of national security by keeping and fighting threats significantly away from its mainland.
Prior to 9/11, the United States had not suffered an actual attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor in World War II. The attack, although materially inconsequential in terms of outright hostile invasion of the country, was a sobering wakeup call to the realization that the US populace was vulnerable. The country and the government immediately reacted to this realization by immediately and drastically changing the nation’s overall public policy agenda. This reaction changed many aspects of domestic policy that are still unresolved.
The first casualty of the updated national policy agenda was an immediate and draconian sealing of the US borders exasperating an already broken immigration system. In fact, prior to the attacks there were serious discussions between George W. Bush and Vicente Fox about overhauling the US immigration system. At first the issue was, understandably, tabled until the crisis was over but then Bush abruptly pulled it after Fox’s government refused to cooperate with the United States at the United Nations for supporting an invasion of Iraq. Mexico was a crucial Security Council vote at the United Nations when the United States was seeking authority to use force. Mexico backed a two-prong approach where force was only authorized after Iraq failed to comply with UN inspections for weapons of mass destruction. Because Bush felt betrayed by his former “amigo” and because of the Twin Tower attacks pushed forth a new security reality for the US the question of immigration was suspended.
The Drug War in Mexico
Drug cartel activity in Mexico has existed since the inception of narcotic prohibition in the United States. Although marihuana has been part of the illicit drug trade into the US from Mexico for generations; for the most part, the Mexican drug traffickers were nothing more than “mules” transporting the Bolivian-Columbian-Peruvian concoctions into the hands of the US consumers. Things began to change in the early 1990s when the United States intensified its efforts in the interdiction of illegal narcotics and began targeting the Columbian cartels through political and military activities. This enabled the Mexican cartels to take over the trade as the pressure against the Columbians was intensified. The Mexican cartels went from being the mules to becoming the producers and the distributers of the narcotics.
When the US sealed the borders, after 9/11, the drug cartels found themselves with massive amounts of products and huge payrolls with narcotics that were unable to immediately reach the existing consumers. This forced the Mexican cartels into creating a new consumer base until new routes into the US were established. The Mexican cartels tasked their labor force into creating new consumers within Mexico, thus making Mexico not only home to narcotics cartels but also a growing consumer base. This led to the significant rise in cartel violence in Mexico and a realization by the Mexican government that if it did not act immediately it would soon be overwhelmed by the criminals.
Although the cartels were successful at reestablishing their routes into the US consumers as evidenced by the continued drug consumption, the Mexican consumers gave the cartels new sources of income. Eventually the repositioning of the drug market and the continued pressures upon the cartels from the Unites States and the Mexican governments led to the conflicts within Mexico by the cartels that grew into the ongoing Mexican Drug War.
Privacy and Security
As part of the reactive reactions to the attacks by many diverse sectors of the US leadership has led to the US looking internally into the erosion of US civil liberties and national privacy. The ongoing controversies in regards to Julian Assange, Guantanamo Bay, the NSA, Edward Snowden, the TSA and WikiLeaks are a direct result of the attacks. From these issues, other controversies such as online snooping by government officials of Internet traffic as well as ongoing public discussion about the limits or lack thereof of civil liberties within the US has begun to dominate the national consciousness.
There are multiple points of view in regards to these issues and the public agenda discussion is important to the national identity. However the discussion continues to develop, however the reality is that these discussions would not be in the public realm as they are now, were it not for the attacks upon the United States mainland.
Geopolitical issues such as Syria are forever part of the national public policy discussion agenda with countries and politics constantly changing and coming back. However the national agenda discussion is now driven by the horrific events of twelve years ago. Immigration reform is back on the national scene with the usual rhetoric driving it. The national drug strategy has so engulfed Mexico to the point that it is no longer just a US problem but rather it is a transnational problem that both countries are now forced to address it openly together.
The one thing that the national policy agenda will continue to be dominated by is the notion that civil liberties have been eroded. How this is eventually resolved is yet to be seen. On one hand the US community is demanding less government intrusion while at the same time still grappling with the reality that the US homeland is still vulnerable to foreign attack.