September 11, 2001. It is – like the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack 60 years earlier – a date which will live in infamy.
A truly shocking blow against a nation that entered the new millennium believing itself mostly free from the threat of imminent attack, the Al Qaeda terror strike that morning left the Washington’s Pentagon mangled, New York’s World Trade Center towers destroyed, and the American people deeply, deeply shaken.
The horrific and sudden violence of that morning struck many as a sudden thunderbolt from out of the blue. And it was.
But it might also be seen as just the most dramatic, and heinous, plot point in a very long, complicated, and vexing story: the history of America’s role in the Middle East.
The attack was planned by Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian millionaire whose terror organization, Al Qaeda, was based in Afghanistan after previously setting up shop in Yemen and the Sudan. The men who hijacked the planes were mostly Saudi and Yemeni. In seeking to justify Al Qaeda’s terrorism, Bin Laden blamed past American actions in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, and Lebanon. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the United States launched a War on Terror which quickly led to full-blown wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and (arguably) a decade later to another war in Libya. When Osama Bin Laden was finally found and killed by U.S. Special Forces, it happened in Pakistan. America’s uneasy alliances with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf oil emirates became more important than ever, and then more complicated as a wave of Arab pro-democracy protests swept in 2011 from Tunisia and Egypt to Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and the Palestinian occupied territories of Israel.
In short, September 11 was both a “small story” about one small terrorist organization pulling off the most horrifically effective terror strike in American history, and one part of a “big story” that spans many decades and links the American superpower to most of the countries of the Middle East.
"I watch CNN but I’m not sure I can tell youThe difference in Iraq and Iran"– Alan Jackson, 2001
"You’ll be sorry that you messed with the US of A‘Cuz we’ll put a boot in your ass. It’s the American way"– Toby Keith, 2001
Since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent about a trillion dollars fighting terror1. But has the money been spent wisely? Are we winning? Do you know enough about the Middle East to judge?
What is the difference between Iraq and Iran?
Are they allies?
Which gave the world the Ayatollah Khomeini and which gave us Saddam Hussein?
What are the differences between Sunnis and Shiites? Are either our allies? Our enemies? Something in between?
Why is the United States hated in the Middle East?
Does it have anything to do with Israel?
Does it have anything to do with oil?
Could the United States just walk away from the region? And would we be safer if we did?
A trillion dollars works out to about $3000 for every American man, woman, and child. In other words, you’ve spent a lot of money fighting terror… has it been worth it?