September 11 attacks: America has turned the page on the “war on terror”



With its monumental facade and statue of Mercury towering over 42nd Street, Grand Central Station is one of New York City’s geographic landmarks. During journeys from the Big Apple to Long Island or to neighboring Connecticut, 750,000 people – normally – pass through its spectacular hall every day, the ceiling of which represents the celestial vault.

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Several metro lines also crisscross its bowels, making Grand Central a nerve center. It’s not just a crossing point. It is also a destination for shopping – a fresh produce market is housed in a gallery – or for tasting seafood in a restaurant renowned for its elegance.

A reduced presence of the police compared to the post-September 11 years

Like the entire city, Grand Central has seen better days. Teleworking boom and tourism crash are forcing, it is idling in the summer of 2021, while covid-19 is playing overtime. For terrorists, the iconic New York station remains a prime target.

But if a few police officers in uniform are present, permanently, in the station, they are not zealous. Nothing to do with the post-September 11 years, when “the war on terror”, launched by George W. Bush, was the national obsession. The mantra ” if you see something say something », Punctuated the daily life of New Yorkers in the Bush and Obama years. Today, we can hardly hear the message again.

At that time, there was sound, but also color: during the ten years following September 11, 2001, Americans were attentive to the alert system developed by the Minister of Homeland Security, a ministry himself. even created after the attacks to better coordinate the fight against terrorism. As at the beach, colors should invite Americans to be vigilant. There were five of them – green, blue, yellow, orange, red. The country was in fact operating within a narrow margin, between yellow – “high risk” – and red – “severe risk”, and these variations were heavily commented on in the media. That was precisely their goal: to alert public opinion.

Other concerns in mind for Americans

But since 2011, the colored barometer of concern has disappeared, replaced by an issue of periodic bulletins, available on the Internet but immediately condemned to oblivion. The last, published in mid-August and evoking a ” various threat environment »As the 20e anniversary of September 11 aroused little excitement. In the shadows, the authorities are certainly vigilant. But public opinion has moved on.

The fight against terrorism in the Middle East is no longer the national obsession it was after September 11, 2001, explains Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of the school of public and international affairs at the University of Virginia Tech. Americans have other issues in mind. And then, after all, two decades have passed in too many tragedies on national soil ”.

If jihadist terrorism has not disappeared, it has only hit the country occasionally. Isolated individuals took action, especially during the Boston Marathon in 2013. These deaths remain scandalous but are incomparable to the shock of the World Trade Center or to the bloody attacks which shook Europe, and in particular France, these last years.

Lessons from the bloody failure of September 11, 2001

For Mary Fetchet, who lost her son in the 2001 attacks, important lessons were learned from the terrible failure of 2001. She herself got involved, at the head of the association she created, Voices of September 11th, for America to face reality. “ One way to heal was to mobilize myself to get things done, she explains. In particular, I campaigned, with other families of victims, for the establishment of a parliamentary commission on the attacks. It was very important to me, to avoid further tragedies like this “.

In its report, this commission, to which Mary Fetchet testified, made many proposals, which led to important structural decisions, such as the creation of the Ministry of Internal Security. ” There was also the realization that there was an urgent need to better coordinate the efforts of allied countries in the area of ​​intelligence. », Congratulates Mary Fetchet.

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But is it enough? ” America tends to think it is in control, much like after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, tempers Ruth Messinger, a former figure in New York politics. Since 2001, air transport security has been provided much better, that’s for sure. For the rest…

Ruth Messinger could have had to manage September 11, 2001: she was the one Democrat voters had appointed, during their primary, to challenge Rudolph Giuliani, the outgoing Republican mayor, in the 1997 municipal election. She finally bowed, but after the attacks she offered her services to a nearby hospital.

I thought there would be a lot of injuries, she says. I had it all wrong. There were mostly deaths. I and the other volunteers were sent to ring the doorbell to retrieve clothes for the rescuers, who were returning from the fire in their outfits which had become toxic. “.

The new threat: domestic terrorism

In recent years, a whole different type of terrorism has actually emerged in the United States: terrorism draped in the stars and stripes. Even before the January 6 riots in Washington, this threat, which became more visible under the presidency of Barack Obama – shooting in a black church in Charleston, in 2015 – was asserted under Donald Trump. ” This is the novelty of recent years, continues Mehrzad Boroujerdi. American terrorism has become a particularly significant threat. Maybe even the most serious “.

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In the last decade, America has also seen the emergence of, if not a new enemy, at least a new competitor: China. Beijing is America’s new obsession. This is also one of the stated reasons for the American withdrawal from Afghan soil. Joe Biden was already campaigning, when he was vice president (2009-2017), for a limited role for US forces in Kabul – yes to counterterrorism, no to building a new Afghan nation. He wants to concentrate, as he repeated after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, “ on the threats of today, in 2021, not on the threats of yesterday “.

In his eyes, it is time to use America’s resources as best as possible to counter the rise of China and its progress, including even into the backyard of Washington, in Latin America, where Beijing is advancing its economic pawns. and diplomatic. For the new occupant of the Oval Office, America, having learned the lessons of twenty years ago, has the means to prevent a new attack on its soil without sending its army to the end of the world. The future will prove him right. Or wrong.

→ ANALYSIS. Joe Biden “recalibrates” his relations with Saudi Arabia

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The main attacks since September 11, 2001

December 22, 2001. failure of an attempted attack (shoe bomb) during a Paris-Miami flight.

November 5, 2009. Attack on a military base in Fort Hood (Texas), killing 13 people.

April 15, 2013. Two bombs explode at the finish of the Boston Marathon. Three dead and more than 260 injured.

June 17, 2015. A shooting in a black church in Charleston kills 9 people.

2 December 2015. Shooting in California in San Bernardino, carried out in the name of Daesh (14 dead).

October 31, 2017. A vehicle rushes into a crowd in Manhattan, killing 8 people.

October 27, 2018. Far-right attack in a synagogue in Pittsburgh (11 dead).

August 3, 2019. Attack targeting Hispanics in a shopping center in El Paso (23 victims).

December 6, 2019. Shooting at Naval Base Pensacola, Florida, claimed by
Al-Qaida (3 people killed).

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