SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 will go down as one of the darkest and most bizarre moments in the history of the United States. A total of 2, 996 lives were lost in the attacks on the World Trade Centre located in Manhattan, New York. Among those who perished were 25 Guyanese.
The attacks were believed to be the work of Islamist terrorists, al-Qaeda, masterminded by Osama bin Laden. That action triggered a series of attacks against those believed to be involved. The Taliban, in control of Afghanistan at the time, were accused of harbouring Osama bin Laden and his group of “terrorists”.
One direct consequence of the September 11 attacks was the decision taken by the George Bush administration to invade the country and effect a regime change. What followed was nearly 20 years of military occupation, during which over 2,325 American military lives were lost. It is unclear as to exactly how many civilian lives were lost, but the damage done in terms of human and infrastructural resources was substantial.
After 20 years of military occupation and billions of dollars in financial and other forms of support, the Taliban is back in power. The United States has withdrawn from the country and has now formally ended all engagements at the political, diplomatic and military levels. What this means for the people of Afghanistan remains to be seen, but there are concerns about a return to extremist forms of rule, especially in terms of women and girls.
The jury is still out as to whether the so-called ‘war on terrorism’ has achieved its intended objectives. Opinion in the United States and elsewhere is divided as to whether or not the world today is a safer place. There are some who are of the view that the terrorist network, globally, has been significantly de-mobilised, and that the world is now a much better place. Others are of the view that there is not much to show for the billions of dollars spent, and that the money could have been better spent on programmes to benefit the poor and the marginalised. That debate will no doubt continue for some time.
The war on terrorism, it must be noted, was not confined to Afghanistan, but touched several other parts of the world which included Iraq, Libya and some parts of Africa. It precipitated the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, which saw in its wake regime changes in several Arab states, including Tunisia, Libya and Iraq.
Within recent years, there has been a shift in United States foreign policy orientation to reflect greater ideological tolerance, human rights, environmental concerns, free trade and democratic consolidation. The support received by the United States in terms of the preservation and consolidation of democracy in the recent General and Regional elections in Guyana is indicative of that shift in policy orientation.
Twenty years after that fateful day, the United States’ administration continues to honour and pay tribute to all the brave men and women who defied the odds and went to the rescue of those trapped in the September 11 inferno. The memory of those who perished has been inscribed in stone, and will forever remain in the collective memory of the American people.
The alleged mastermind behind the attacks, Osama bin Laden, had been captured and killed by the US Navy, but the memory of that attack will continue to linger for decades to come.
Meanwhile, relations between Guyana and the United States have never been as good. In his message of congratulation to the Guyanese people on the 51st Republic Anniversary, President Joe Biden spoke of the strong ties the two countries enjoyed. “Guyana,” he said, “is a strong democracy, and I look forward to strengthening our bilateral relationship, based on shared principles of good governance, prosperity and security.”
On his part, Guyana’s President, Dr. Irfaan Ali described the relationship between the two countries as strong and valuable. At a function held to celebrate the 245th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, President Ali said that the two countries share “a strong, healthy, respectful, and valuable relationship”.
The foundation is laid for closer and more productive relations between Guyana and the United States, especially in the economic sphere. The discovery of oil in large commercial quantities, and the convergence of thinking in critical areas such as democracy, good governance, free trade and climate change have set the stage for a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship between the two nations.