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opinion

America squanders the world's goodwill

GRAYDON CARTER is the editor of Vanity Fair magazine and the producer of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning documentary 9/11 , which will be rebroadcast on CBS Sunday night.

On a morning in which the sky was the colour of the vault of heaven and the temperature in the mid-70s, I was sitting on the stoop of my house in Greenwich Village reading the papers when a neighbour ran up to me and said that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. We ran to the corner of Seventh Avenue, where we had an unobstructed view down to the towers. One was burning, with a massive black hole in it. A few minutes later, a commercial jet came into view, banked and knifed into the other one.

From those early moments on, New York became a city of great gestures. I don't mean the preening, parading, Rudy Giuliani sort. I mean quiet, selfless ones, by thousands of regular people who just wanted to help. Like the men and women – firefighters, cops, welders and assorted specialists – who came from all parts of the continent to aid in the search for survivors in the twisted mass of scorched steel. I was down at the area they call ground zero days after the attacks, and it was like the staging area of the D-Day invasion. Uniforms and faces of every colour. Vehicles of every type and make and origin.

The city became a vast mourning ground and its citizens comforted one another for months on end. But the effects of 9/11 – the good ones – wore off quickly. Some idiot even suggested that the event might mark the end of irony. Washington used the atrocities as an excuse for a massive power grab – hence the myriad conspiracy theories about whether it had something to do with the attacks. The nation went off a million ways, and all in the wrong direction.

What was most unexpected was how swiftly the Bush administration succeeded in destroying the tremendous outpouring of goodwill that the attacks engendered toward the U.S. from all over the globe. A decade later, our nation is severely crippled, not by threats of terrorism, but from the profligacy of our banks and the ineffectiveness of our lawmakers. Homeland Security dictates we take our shoes off at the airport, providing the illusion that we are taking every precaution, when ultimately it was Lehman Brothers we really needed protection from.

The real surprise: What didn't happen

MARGARET MacMILLAN is a Canadian historian and the warden of St. Antony's College at Oxford. Her book Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World won the 2003 Governor-General's Award for non-fiction.

Osama bin Laden and his killers believed that the destruction of the World Trade Center was the start of the final victorious jihad against Christianity and the West. How very wrong they were. Yes, the United States was shaken by the first serious attack on American soil and, yes, the Bush administration talked of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and for a time many believed the talk.

Ten years later, though, where is al-Qaeda? Most of its leaders, including Mr. bin Laden, are dead. Its organization is in ruins; its remaining members are hunted from one temporary hiding place to another; and for all its boasting, it has not brought down any of the governments on which it declared war. It has continued to commit atrocities, to be sure, and inspired copy cats from Indonesia to Canada but it has not, as it promised, brought a universal Muslim rule any closer. Indeed it has served to drive Muslims away through its indiscriminate killing, often of co-religionists.

Mr. bin Laden, in the years before his death, was scarcely a heroic figure. A pathetic and seedy character who carefully dyed his beard to look younger, he seems to have spent his latter days obsessively watching videos of himself. There was virtually no spontaneous outbreak of mourning in the Muslim world when he died. He had become an embarrassing irrelevance.

And where is militant Islam? Throughout the Arab world, dictators such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia claimed that they were the only sure bulwark against the fanatics. Yet in the Arab Spring, where was the fundamentalist Islam? Nowhere. The crowds in the street were not talking about jihad, the revival of the Golden Age of Islam, or the imposition of sharia law. They were calling for an end to corruption, for free speech, for democracy and for civil rights. Religious organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt hastened to stress how moderate they were and how they recognized the distinct spheres of religion and politics.

Anyone who saw the Twin Towers crumbling on Sept. 11, 2001, will never forget that moment. We should not let that horror distract us from what did not happen afterward.

How security panic set back NAFTA's cause

STEPHEN CLARKSON is a professor of political economy at the University of Toronto. The third volume of his trilogy on North America – Dependent America? How Canada and Mexico Construct U.S. Power – will be published this month.

One of 9/11's many consequences has been its destructive impact on North America as a socio-economic region.

Washington's abrupt shift to a fearful, border-thickening paradigm 10 years ago shattered the continental integration project launched in 1994 by the North American free trade agreement.

NAFTA did initially spark significant growth. The continent had grown to 35 per cent of the global economy in 2002 from 30 per cent in 1994, but multiplying border-security barriers has turned North America from a burgeoning economic region into a compartmentalized security zone in which each country is worse off.

Co-operative approaches to common continental problems have come to grief, with U.S. President Barack Obama axing the trilateral Security and Prosperity Partnership. Even the three leaders' annual summit has been mothballed.

One result of these changes is the fall in the continent's share of the global economy to about 27 per cent from its high of 35 per cent.

Mexico City made a major gamble 20 years ago when it reversed its Latin American orientation in favour of economic integration with the United States. It has lost its wager and wallows in permanent crisis.

Responding to the Obama administration's protectionism, Ottawa is belatedly trying to diversify its economic relations with more eager partners, starting with the European Union and extending to India and China.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security shows no inclination to demilitarize its land borders, notwithstanding Washington negotiating separately with Ottawa and Mexico City in pursuit of that will-o'-the-wisp, a continental security perimeter.

In sum, the fallout from 9/11 has reversed the course of North American integration, leaving Canada worse off than before.

Opportunistic Iran's new advantage

JANICE GROSS STEIN is the director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

Who would have imagined on that terrible day in September that, a decade later, Iran would be the emerging strategic superpower in the Persian Gulf and that sectarian tensions among Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region would be inflamed?

The attack that morning led directly to the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, removing one of Iran's principal strategic worries. Almost from the beginning of Taliban rule, relations between the Shia leadership in Tehran and the Sunni leadership in Kabul were fraught with tension.

More surprising was the U.S. attack against Iraq, which removed Iran's historic enemy, the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein. At a stroke, Iran's most dangerous adversary, fiercely antagonistic to the clerics in Tehran, was gone, to be replaced by a Shia-led coalition. The removal of Saddam Hussein was a stunning gift to Tehran.

A few short years after Sept. 11, Iran no longer had to worry about its neighbour to the east or to the west. It was now free to extend its support to Shia communities across the Middle East in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Bahrain, stoking a long-standing tension in the region.

The politics of the Middle East now swing on an axis newly prominent, the sharply increased tension between Sunnis and Shiites. In the revolutions that, a decade after Sept. 11, are sweeping the Arab world, this rising sectarian tension bubbles just beneath the surface. Authoritarian governments throughout the region exploit this tension, invoking the menace of sectarian warfare. In a vivid example of the law of unintended consequences, the militant Sunnis who attacked that September morning began a chain of events that empowered their historic adversary, Iran.

Today, the sectarian tension that resulted casts a dark shadow on the hopes of those who want a more democratic and pluralistic Middle East.

Security trumps all else

BILL GRAHAM became Canada's minister of foreign affairs just months after Sept. 11, 2001. He went on to serve as defence minister and leader of the opposition.

Canadians who saw the 9/11 attacks would have naturally expected the increased U.S. preoccupation with security. They could not foresee the scope and intensity of the reaction, or the impact of these actions on others, including themselves. Cumulatively, American and other actions have changed both global politics and the lives of individuals. I learned this as Canada's defence minister, when I was stopped from flying from Toronto to Ottawa for a cabinet meeting, because a "Bill Graham" appeared somewhere on a U.S. no-fly list.

The consequences are many, but some stand out. The United States has fought two costly wars. The one in Afghanistan was longer and more costly than planned, while the one in Iraq is arguably a costly strategic failure.

America's fiscal weakness can be attributed largely to the costs of 10 years on a "war footing," with vast defence and homeland security costs, along with health-care and other costs for more than two million veterans. All Western democracies have incurred similar, if smaller, costs, affecting their own economies. The Afghanistan war was the longest combat mission in Canada's history, and our defence and security budgets have grown.

Security has trumped other American values, with the world's most open society now perceptibly less so. The detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, "rendition" of foreign nationals and other measures questionable under international law have muted America's global advocacy of civil liberties.

Security-driven transaction costs imposed on the free movement of goods, people and services have affected all economies, none more than Canada's, reducing the benefits of the Canadian-U.S. free trade agreement (and then the North American free trade agreement) to the point where the most committed continentalists now embrace Pierre Trudeau's once-derided troisième option.

As we remember the terrible events of 9/11, our memory must not cloud our judgment of how to deal with its consequences.