The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analyses and informed comments on the most significant developments in the MENA region and beyond, bringing together unique opinions on the topic and reliable foresight on future scenarios. Today, we turn the spotlight on the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, one of the most significant terrorist acts in modern history and probably the single event that has had the most impact on the history of the 21st century, especially for the MENA region.
September 11, 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. A breakthrough moment in the history of the United States, this event has had tremendous consequences on the MENA region, too. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have represented two milestones in its history, influencing radically the perception that Washington’s allies and rivals had of the United States. The years immediately following 9/11 have seen the peak of the US involvement in the Middle East, both in military and political terms. However, Washington’s engagement with the region as envisaged by the Bush administration proved soon to be unsustainable. The 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and the recent pullout from Afghanistan are the legacies of the choices made in the aftermath of 9/11. This 20th anniversary prompts a reflection on the consequences of the US disengagement from the Middle East and, more in general, on the region’s current state. What is the legacy of twenty years of the Global War on Terror? What consequences will the US disengagement have on the area, and what possibilities does it offer to other international actors like China, Russia, and the EU? And how is it going to influence the relations between Washington and its regional allies?


Experts from the ISPI MED network react to the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and of the global War on Terror.

The perception of US withdrawal is the single most significant dynamic in the MENA
“Over the past twenty years, the US interests in the region have remained constant, as national interests tend to do. However, the context for securing those interests has changed tremendously, primarily due to mistaken American policies.


For about fifty years, the US had a remarkably consistent — and successful — approach to securing its regional interests by acting as a classic status quo power. Ideally, the US response to 9/11 might have reinforced this tradition and thus strengthened its ability to protect its interests. Regrettably, three consecutive American administrations decided otherwise, each in their ways, and instead, the US shifted from being the most important defender of the regional status quo to being the most crucial threat to it. And today, as the US policy pendulum continues to swing, the single most significant dynamic in the region, the one that is driving the most significant number of decisions by the widest number of actors, is the widespread perception of American withdrawal — a perception that the recent experience in Afghanistan only exacerbates. Unless this is reversed, the most likely outcome is that our interests in the region will be increasingly challenged, and our ability to protect those interests will be increasingly diminished.”


William F. Wechsler, Director, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and Middle East Programs, Atlantic Council

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