Legacy of 9/11: US sees more political division after unity that followed Sept. 11 attacks
SALT LAKE CITY — It may be hard to fathom a time when politics weren’t so polarized and the middle ground didn’t seem like a no man’s land. But for a moment 20 years ago, the United States was a united nation.
Members of Congress stood shoulder to shoulder on the steps of the Capitol, the same steps stormed by rioters in early 2021, and spontaneously burst into song.
Democrats and Republicans sang the national anthem together.
That day, Sept. 11, 2001, inspired a then-teenage Peter Roady to seek a career in national security.
“It was a profoundly focusing event,” said Roady. “I remember trying to read everything that I could find on the internet about terrorism, about international relations.”
He served at the Department of Defense, where he focused on issues involving South Asia and cybersecurity.
Now, he’s a history professor at the University of Utah.
He said that moment of unity was a window of opportunity for the country.
President George W. Bush, who had taken office after a highly contested and controversial election, saw his approval rating skyrocket to more than 90%.
“President Bush could have basically asked the American people to do anything at that point,” said Roady. “He had a huge amount of domestic political capital.”
There was opportunity domestically and internationally, said Roady.
“A surprisingly long list of countries sent us messages of sympathy and condolence after Sept. 11, including Iran,” he said.
“This was a chance for the United States, potentially, to sort of reassert itself as a leader in the international system, a constructive force in world affairs, perhaps to mend long-festering relationships with countries like Iran, and to really transform American foreign policy.”
Roady said the U.S. did not take full advantage of that goodwill.
“And I think that is actually an added tragedy of Sept. 11,” he said.
Although he’s not optimistic about prospects for domestic unity, Roady said, “There’s (now) an opportunity for the United States to recalibrate its position in international affairs, and I think we were seeing this administration is trying to do that, trying to reassert global leadership.”
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