Six Years Since 9/11

Luis Rubio

Luis Rubio Presidente de Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo (CIDAC), A.C. [Center of Research for Development], Mexico City, Mexico

In the six years since 9/11, "security" has become the overriding concern of national governments and of a wide range of international actors and agreements. What do you see as the most important implications?
Security has rightly become an overriding concern, but it is not obvious to me, both as a frequent visitor as well as friend of the United States, that security measures have been implemented in the smartest or most effective way. Clearly, installations throughout the United States have become more secure, and bridges and ports have seen a major overhaul in security -- all of which may explain the lack of repeat terrorist attacks. However, the security measures at major entry points have also given the United States a bad face by creating a perception among many foreigners that the United States does not want visitors. Tourists and businesspeople alike have been burdened with unnecessary delays. Much could be accomplished by introducing profiling mechanisms and even a system whereby individuals could voluntarily choose to be previously screened and their background checked, thus freeing them from waiting on long lines and wasting their time.

As a real and symbolic event, 9/11 instilled a sense of risk and insecurity in the everyday lives of ordinary citizens. Has this changed at all in the six years since?
Social life was much changed immediately after 9/11, but it has gradually come back to normal. Having said that, my work entails attending many meetings, conventions and conferences, many of which used to take place in the United States. They have now moved elsewhere -- to Europe or Asia. It has become much easier for non-Americans to travel to third nations than to the United States for conventions and meetings. As a result, the U.S. has lost big potential business -- not to mention intellectual -- opportunities. The long-term political consequences of this will surely be extraordinary.

Can you comment on the ways the 9/11 events influenced debates on immigration in both United States and western European countries?
In the United States, 9/11 has become an excuse for having a very partisan debate on immigration. While there can be no doubt that law-abiding societies should not accept as flagrant a violation of the law as an illegal border crossing, the fact is that migratory flows are part of a deeply integrated labor market across the Americas. Europe differs from the United States in this regard, primarily because of the religious component associated with immigration, which does not exist in the U.S. Indeed, analytical evidence shows that immigration is a key component of the strength of the U.S. economy, thus that the link between immigration and terrorism is non-existent. It would be much better to establish legal paths to immigration that correspond with the labor needs of the U.S. economy than to continue pretending that the phenomenon does not exist or else is associated with terrorism.

As everyone knows, President Bush framed the 9/11 events as acts of war and responded with a "war on terror" -- and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as persistent rumors of a possible strike on Iran. Was another sort of response possible? How might the last six years have been different if from the beginning the attacks had been understood instead as criminal?
I don't believe that framing the 9/11 events as criminal would have been better in terms of terrorism, but it may have avoided many of the worst political and diplomatic side effects that the world has experienced during this period. In hindsight, it appears very clear that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were mishandled, poorly planned, and lacked the strategic component that might have made them successful. My own view then was that the United States needed a twofold strategy: both military action as well as a strong political response. In retrospect, it is clear that the military strategy was inadequate (though it need not have been), while the political strategy never came into fruition (if it existed at all). As a result, the U.S. is facing the worst possible outcome: a public relations disaster, new geopolitical strains around the world, and potentially many more terrorist operatives joining splinter terrorist organizations.

What books or studies have you read this summer or in the past six months that have affected your thinking on any of the above questions? In addition, are there any Web sites you would recommend?
Over the past few months I have read a few books and articles, some new, some slightly older, but all illuminating. Among the best were:

Also important in my thinking have been Amos Oz's How to Cure a Fanatic (Princeton, 2006) and Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War and the Year that Transformed the Middle East (Metropolitan Books, 2007). A great little book that teaches a lot is Bok!: The 9.11 Crisis in Political Cartoons by Chip Bok, the staff editorial cartoonist for the Akron Beacon Journal.

I sometimes visit Web sites that give me perspective -- some more substantive, others more polemic. Among these, the best are:

Published on: Monday, September 10, 2007