Ten things more important than 9/11

What could possibly be a bigger event than 9/11? About 10 things, Foreign Policy magazine writer David Rothkopf says.

Rothkopf contends it was incorrect to compare the day to Pearl Harbor, “the beginning of a global war against enemies bent on, and at least theoretically capable of, destroying the American way of life (unlike al Qaeda, a ragtag band of extremists with limited punch). We spoke of cultural wars and a divided world. We reorganized our entire security establishment to go after a few thousand bad guys. We went mad. ”

Here is his list of more important events:

10. How we responded to 9/11

“We did more damage to ourselves than did the two-bit criminals who baited us.”

9) The Arab Spring

“They are a sign of deep change that has toppled more governments in the region than either al Qaeda or the United States could.”

8) The rebalancing of Asia

“It’s the big leagues of foreign policy compared with the Middle East, which is attention-grabbing but over the long term strictly second division.”

7) The stagnation of the U.S. and other developed-world economies

“Entering an age of limitations is forcing big powers to work together differently and has put the kibosh on the momentary and misguided unilateralism of the Bush era in the United States.”

6) The invention of social media

“What’s more important? Knocking down the World Trade Center and killing several thousand innocents or linking half a billion people together as never before (as Facebook did)?”

5) Cell phones and handhelds

“Everyone is connected. Everyone is a witness. Everyone is part of a global news network, an instant coalition, a mob, an electorate.”

4) The crash of 2008

“The resulting tens of trillions of dollars in losses sent hundreds of millions of people deeper into poverty, crushed retirement accounts, impacted the well-being of billions of people, and called into question the viability of countries and companies in ways that cannot yet be calculated. It also had political and policy implications — from reconsidering national priorities to changing global views toward “American capitalism” — that will dwarf those associated with 9/11.”

3) The Eurozone crisis and the crash of ’11-’12

If it sends the world’s economies into another tailspin, “it will have an even more devastating impact on already weakened economies worldwide; and if it undoes the European experiment, which has helped ensure decades of peace on a continent previously riven by conflict, well, then it will again on totally different grounds easily trump 9/11.”

2) The failure to address global warming

“While the scientific community united in its agreement that the crisis would be existential for many forms of life and coastal communities where billions of people live, while the entire planet was threatened as never before, the leaders of the world were otherwise engaged. If global temperatures rise another degree or three this century, 9/11 will be seen as a comparative footnote to an event that could remake the nature of life on Earth and lead to a toll many, many times greater than either 9/11 or the wars it triggered.”

1) The rise of China, India, Brazil etc.

“The past decade has seen them emerge to the point that they are now the engines of growth that will determine whether a market crash of 2011 occurs, whether the United States and Europe can borrow to fund their ailing economies, whether the world will reach an agreement to manage greenhouse gas emissions, whether we will truly contain the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and what the real future of international institutions and agreements will look like. The BRICs rose while the United States was distracted by bin Laden’s sideshow; now, America’s future will depend on how quickly Americans can refocus on what’s really important.”

Rothkopf says this doesn’t mean 9/11 was unimportant, but he says it’s important for us to understand not only what it was, but what it was not.

(h/t: Two Way)

  • Jim Shapiro

    Great piece. But I would argue that the way we responded to 9/11 is more significant than the writer states.

    Rather than treating the attack as a crime committed by a handful of fanatics, we have spent trillions on the folly of endless wars that have cost us more in human life and misery than than the original attack ever did,

    and we misdirected the financial and human resources that instead could have been used for education and developing alternative energy sources.

    One can only imagine where we would be now if we had acted smart instead of tough.

  • matt

    Agree, with the list above (except #2 – we can’t call it a failure because it is still in process and I firmly believe that remediating CO2 will prove much easier than emission reductions of the scale needed). On the intimate scale it was a horrible event and we rightly grieve the loss of life and its effects. On the global historic scale, it was a well orchestrated crime, but not a world changer. There was no movement in the balance of power, little guys still got crushed by the big guys (paid for by the sweat of little guys).

    I would say Obama’s election should have made the list and probably been towards the top (maybe instead of #2).

  • andy

    @ Jim.


  • Disco


    I don’t see how Obama’s election could possibly fit into the list. He has very, very little to reverse the disastrous course of 2001-2009. Consequently, he’s made little impact. It may have been a symbolic victory (as 9/11 was for Al Qaeda), but won’t change much in the long term.

    What belongs on the list (at least in terms of this country) is the 2004 election. That, I truly believe, was the most important election in our history. The failure to remove Bush from office will have far-reaching, disastrous consequences, stemming largely from his supreme court appointees. Roberts and Alito have shown a total disregard for the people and total and complete loyalty for corporations. The 2010 election was a tragic example of Bush’s supreme court.

  • matt


    That is the beauty of lists, we get to disagree.

  • Jamie

    I agree with Disco. And it’s not just the Supreme Court that is a dire problem for the country, it’s also the corruption and incompetence of the Bush administration that is still costing us today.