Sep. 12, 2008
'9/11+7' roundtable reflects on implications of the attacks
The attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, were intended to force the United States to overplay its hand and ignite larger support for an Al Qaeda whose identity and center have been unclear, said panelist Cornell Professor Barry Strauss, at a roundtable discussion in Uris Hall called "9/11 + 7," on the seventh anniversary of the attacks.
According to Strauss, who teaches history and classics, America has defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq, after a long road to victory, but is currently struggling in Afghanistan. He suggested that by turning to military theorists like Carl von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, we might renew our conceptions of military history.
Peter Katzenstein, the Walter S. Carpenter Jr. Professor of International Studies at Cornell, focused on the meaning of 9/11 both at home and abroad.
"What we regard as a transformative event didn't transform the world," he said, citing a recent PIPA/World Public Opinion poll of 17 nations that showed no consensus about which group or nation was "behind" 9/11. International opinion on the perpetrators of 9/11 remains deeply divided.
Katzenstein also argued that Al Qaeda has transformed itself, in part because of the effectiveness of the counter-terrorist strategies of many governments, from a concrete organizational structure to an ideological frame. Without a clear sense of what victory over this frame would be for the United States, he said, it is hard to measure the success of the actions being taken abroad. At home, American policy has resorted to lawlessness in the name of national security, giving up on values that Americans have held for many decades if not centuries.
Katzenstein also ended by pointing to the relative luxury the United States has had in its ability to export its hopes and fears to the world at large. Because it is the most powerful state its policies are not driven primarily by security concerns but by its ideology. With this luxury, he argued, comes the "freedom" to make poor decisions.
Cornell government professor Matthew Evangelista, who teaches courses in international and comparative politics, discussed preventive and pre-emptive war, and the question of the lawfulness of both. He defined preventive war as an anticipatory use of force, as when the United States entered Latin America to overthrow left-wing or reformist regimes to prevent them from "going Communist."
In the years following Sept. 11, Evangelista said, some observers saw the invasion of Iraq as something different from, for example, the military coup d'état in Chile on Sept, 11, 1973, at the behest of then President Nixon. The kind of preventative action proposed -- and in some cases carried out -- in Iraq raises questions about threats that are not fully formed. Acting on partly formed threats is unlawful, said Evangelista.
The discussion, which was chaired by government professor Jonathan Kirshner, director of the Peace Studies Program, was part of the program's Brown Bag Luncheon Seminar series.
Jill McCoy '09 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.