10 Ways The World Has Changed Since September 11, 2001



The United States and the world have changed significantly in the dozen years since terrorists launched the biggest attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor. The Washington Post’s David Beard looks at 10 of those changes.

  • U.S. has become less dependent on foreign fuel. Decades of dependence on Mideast oil prompted U.S. alliances with regional monarchies that 9/11 organizer Osama bin Laden opposed. But that dependence is shifting. Domestic production of natural gas as an alternative fuel, led by technological changes in extraction, is at its highest in decades.
  • The war on terror. It took more than nine years, but the United States on May 2, 2011, found and killed bin Laden. The threat of terrorism remains, as al-Qaeda-related groups surface in parts of the Middle East and Africa. Meanwhile, the use of unmanned aircraft for surveillance and missile attacks have outraged many worldwide, as have detention practices from Afghanistan and Iraq to Guantanamo. The defenders of these practices say extraordinary measures have been necessary to keep a targeted United States safe
  • The intelligence state has mushroomed. We have more government intrusion in our lives post-9/11, from more restrictive air travel regulations to increased phone and Internet activity surveillance. Intelligence budgets have skyrocketed, to the $52.6 billion in 2013.
  • Anti-authoritarian ferment in the Middle East. The people of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt all toppled longtime military-backed leaders. (Egypt, however, in July saw a military coup against the successor government.) Rebels and protesters have risen up in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain as well, with mixed results.
  • World Wide Web of change. Hand in hand with that tumult has been the exploding use of Twitter, G-chat, Facebook and similar social media in tightly controlled societies worldwide, all giving voice to people who are denied printing presses and broadcast licenses. Thousands have followed protests in Iran and Egypt — and videos from Syria — through social networks. The pattern has repeated itself across the globe, from China to Brazil, magnified by the explosion in smartphones.
  • Rise (and fall) of U.S. fervor for military action. After the 2001 attacks, the George W. Bush administration moved quickly into Afghanistan in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the fight against the Taliban. Claiming a link to weapons of mass destruction, it committed the Pentagon to Iraq. The two long wars have sapped America’s appetite for military action, reflected in polls showing nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose even limited military efforts in Syria.
  • The unseating of Iran’s Holocaust denier-in-chief. From 2005 until 2013, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an ardent opponent of Israel and its ally, the United States. Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric against Israel knew few bounds. That’s why it was so startling earlier this month when, on Rosh Hashanah, Iran’s new president and foreign minister took to Twitter to wish Jews a happy new year. When asked by a Tweeter when Iran would ditch its denial of the Holocaust, the foreign minister responded that that man, meaning Ahmadinejad, was gone.
  • Rise of multicultural America. In 2012, whites made up the lowest percentage of the U.S. population in American history. Census data showed more whites died than were born, a slump more than a decade before the predicted decline of America’s white population. The fastest growing group is multiracial Americans. The demographic shifts have buoyed Obama and Democrats, who have outsize support among women and gays and lesbians as well.
  • The deepening debt. Two overseas wars and the deepest recession since the Great Depression have taken a toll of the U.S. Treasury. The last U.S. budget surplus was in fiscal year 2001. The national debt now is more than $16.7 trillion — or about $53,000 per person. Rising health and defense spending played a big role, as did a cut in the personal income tax near the start of the George W. Bush administration and a reduction of tax revenue caused by the multi-year recession that started at the end of it.
  • Rising above Ground Zero. Eight years in the making, the 104-story Freedom Tower (pictured) is poised to open early in 2014 at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. Opening in November is the 72-story 4 World Trade Center, on the southeast corner of the site. An underground museum will open in the spring, and two more office buildings and a transportation hub are scheduled for the site.


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