Historic Documents of 2001


Edited by: CQ Press

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    Throughout history major transformations in world affairs generally have resulted from wars, economic crises, or major political events, such as elections and revolutions. In 2001 nineteen men armed with boxcutters and motivated by a zealous hatred of the United States managed to precipitate what appeared to be the greatest upheaval in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade earlier. The nineteen men were terrorists allegedly sponsored by the al Qaeda network based in Afghanistan and headed by wealthy Saudi Arabian exile Osama bin Laden. On a beautiful late summer day, September 11, they hijacked four airliners on the East Coast and deliberately flew two of them into the twin World Trade Center towers in New York City and a third into the Pentagon just outside Washington; the fourth plane crash-landed in rural Pennsylvania, its intended target unknown. The World Trade Center towers—a symbol of American economic might—collapsed from the impact, idling approximately 3,000 people. Nearly 200 people died at the Pentagon, the headquarters of American military power. Even greater damage was done to the cherished belief held by many Americans that they were safe from the cares of the rest of the world, protected by the vast oceans and the nation's $300 billion defense budget. Suddenly, Americans were frightened, as the terrorists had meant them to be.

    The consequences of September 11 were far reaching. Afraid to travel, many Americans shunned the airplanes that had become a major convenience of the modem area, sending the travel industry into a depression. Stock markets tumbled, as did consumer confidence; unemployment rose and the overall economy, already struggling from recessionary pressures, fell further. The initial shock of September 11 had barely begun to dull when, in late September and early October, envelopes containing deadly anthrax spores arrived at news media offices and on Capitol Hill. For a while, it appeared that terrorists might be using biological weapons, as well as hijacked airplanes, to try to bring the world's economic and military superpower to its knees.

    President George W. Bush, who had taken office eight months earlier following a disputed election and had been struggling to gain a foothold for his presidency, quickly seized the initiative. In a fiery speech to Congress and the nation on September 20 Bush declared that the United States was at war with "evil" forces who sought to destroy democracy and the values of "progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom." The president called for a global coalition to defeat all terrorist networks "of global reach," starting with the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan and the Taliban government that had sheltered it. In numerous other speeches later in the year, Bush placed a stark choice before the rest of the world: "Either you are for us or you are against us," he said. Despite the intensity of this rhetoric, Bush was careful to say that the United States was not at war with Islam, but with bin Laden and other extremists who used their own interpretations of Islam to justify a hatred of Western values.

    Given the choice Bush offered, most of the world chose to side with the United States. The vast majority of world leaders condemned the September 11 attacks; among them were some countries that long had been hostile toward Washington, including Iran, Libya, and Syria. Dozens of countries also offered some form of direct support for Bush's campaign against global terrorism: freezing the bank accounts of terrorist groups, arresting suspected members of terrorist cells, or agreeing to help the United States root out the terrorists in Afghanistan. Some of these allies were among Washington's closest friends, notably Great Britain and other members of the NATO alliance, which for the first time in its fifty-two-year history invoked a treaty clause declaring that an attack on one alliance member obligated other nations to come to its defense.

    Perhaps even more important, for the long term, were the decisions by several nonallies to offer concrete support to the United States. Chief among these was Russian president Vladimir Putin, who on September 24 said he would allow the use of Russian air space for U.S. "humanitarian" flights into Afghanistan and would agree to the U.S. use of military bases in the Central Asian republics that had once been part of the Soviet Union. Putin's support eased a simmering dispute between the United States and Russia over arms control issues and, more significantly, seemed to move Russia closer to the West than ever before. By the end of the year Russia and the U.S.-led NATO alliance were declaring the start of a "new relationship." China also announced its cooperation and sent intelligence agents to Washington with information about bin Laden's al Qaeda network. That move by Beijing eased a relationship that had been battered earlier in the year by a dispute over a U.S. spy plane that crash-landed in Chinese territory. These suddenly pro-U.S. positions by Russia and China were not entirely altruistic. Both had long battled what they described as Islamist terrorism within their own borders, and the U.S.-declared war against global terrorism offered them a degree of international cover for repressive actions that had enraged human rights advocates.

    Of all the world's leaders, perhaps none was put in a more difficult position by the events of September 11 than Pakistan's military president, General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan had helped the fanatic Islamist faction known as the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan in 1995 and had been its protector ever since. In a speech to his nation on September 19, Musharraf acknowledged that Pakistan faced a "very critical situation," by which he meant a choice between siding with its Western ally, the United States, or its Islamist client in Afghanistan, the Taliban, which had wide support within Pakistan. To Western eyes, the choice might not have seemed a difficult one. But Musharraf's dilemma mirrored that of many leaders in Muslim countries, who had allowed fundamentalist Islamist factions to flourish as a relief valve for disenfranchised, impoverished masses with no other source of hope. Musharraf made it clear that he was choosing the United States over the Taliban. His choice prompted street demonstrations and brought denunciations from some Islamist leaders, but the protests quickly faded and posed no immediate threat to Pakistani stability. Even so, Musharraf faced yet more difficulty in December when Pakistan-supported guerrillas fighting India's control of Kashmir attacked the Indian parliament building in New Delhi, killing four security officers and a gardener. The two countries, both equipped with nuclear weapons, rushed thousands of troops to the border and, at the end of the year, were threatening war against each other. President Bush called on both sides to "stand down" from their confrontation.

    The threat of war on the Indian subcontinent emerged as the United States was attempting to wrap up the antiterrorism war that Bush had promised in Afghanistan. That war had opened on October 7, when U.S. planes and a British submarine unleashed bombs and missiles against military targets in Afghanistan. The fighting in Afghanistan quickly became a one-sided affair, as the world's greatest military power used the full scale of its high-technology weaponry to pound Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, who were armed with little more than assault rifles and who traveled by foot, on horseback, and aboard Toyota pickup trucks. Having terrorized their country and thereby lost public support, the Taliban had few allies other than bin Laden's al Qaeda fighters, most of whom were Arabs or Pakistanis. By the end of November the Taliban had been driven from their home base of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. An undetermined number of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were killed, while thousands laid down their weapons and faded into the population or kept their weapons and headed to the mountains. At year's end the U.S. military and its allies in Afghanistan were bombing mountain caves in eastern Afghanistan, hoping to flush out the remnants of bin Laden's al Qaeda network, including bin Laden himself, who had disappeared.

    To take the place of the defeated Taliban, the United Nations convened an assembly of leaders of Afghanistan's various factions. On December 6 the leaders signed an agreement establishing an interim government headed by a respected tribal leader, Hamid Karzai. Karzai took office December 22 and faced the monumental task of running a country that had been at war for two decades, was still deeply divided along tribal and ethnic lines, and had virtually no domestic resources for economic recovery. The United Nations planned a reconstruction program with an estimated ten-year cost of more than $10 billion; the U.S. war against the Taliban and al Qaeda had cost slightly more than $6 billion in just the first three months.

    The September 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent war offered Bush an opportunity to demonstrate qualities of leadership that he had shown only infrequently during the early stages of his presidency. Until September 11 the president could boast of only one unqualified victory on domestic policy: congressional approval of most of a $1.6 trillion tax cut that had been the centerpiece of his 2000 election campaign. Many of Bush's other priorities had stalled in Congress, especially after the defection of Vermont senator James Jeffords from the Republican Party gave Democrats the leadership the Senate. During the late summer Bush was facing the prospect of contentious political battles over spending priorities.

    The political dynamic in Washington changed dramatically after September 11, when the president declared that he had found a "mission" in defeating terrorism and rallied the country to his side. Congress overwhelmingly approved a resolution giving the president nearly open-ended authority to conduct an antiterrorism war. With little dissent, Congress also passed a bill, called the USA Patriot Act, that gave law enforcement agencies wide latitude to use wiretaps and other previously controversial investigative methods against suspected terrorists in the United States. The FBI arrested more than 1,200 foreign-born men and held hundreds of them indefinitely for violating immigration regulations and other crimes. Only one detainee was charged with participating in the September 11 terrorist plot: Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, who had told a flight instructor in Minnesota that he wanted to learn how to fly large jets but not how to land them.

    Attempting to reassure Americans that the home front would be protected against terrorists, Bush on September 20 appointed former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge to head a White House Office of Homeland Security. Ridge had barely started work when he faced what initially appeared to be a major terrorist threat in the form of anthrax-laden envelopes delivered to several East Coast media offices and to the offices of two Democratic senators. Letters in some of the envelopes made explicit references to the September 11 attacks, raising fears that terrorists were attacking the United States on a broad front. Public anxieties were heightened when government agencies and medical authorities gave confusing, and sometimes contradictory, advice about anthrax and how to combat it. Eventually, five people died and eighteen people became ill from exposure to anthrax; they were the first U.S. victims ever of what the government called bioterrorism. By the end of the year no further anthrax attacks were known to have occurred, and law enforcement agencies had concluded that the letters probably were the work of one or more disgruntled Americans, not of a foreign terrorist organization.

    Although other events of the year seemed pale in comparison, they nonetheless were likely to have long-lasting if perhaps less terrifying consequences. Just as the economy appeared to be climbing out of recession, Enron, the innovative energy company that had quickly grown to be the seventh largest corporation in the United States, suddenly went bankrupt in December, stranding its shareholders and wiping out the pensions of many of its 21,000 employees. As the year ended it was becoming glaringly apparent that the company had been too innovative in its attempts to escape the realities of the marketplace.

    As predicted the Bush administration began to undo several of the programs and policies that Its Democratic predecessor had promoted. Bush's first action as president was to sign an executive order barring federal funds to any international family planning organization that provided or promoted abortion. The action reinstated a policy enacted during the administration of Republican Ronald Reagan but reversed by Bill Clinton in one of his first acts as president. In a slap at his Democratic presidential opponent, Al Gore, Bush also pulled the United States out of international negotiations to implement the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty mandating steps to reduce the causes of global warming. Gore had been active in promoting the treaty, which was opposed by most major U.S. industries. The administration also appeared to be poised to seriously weaken, if not overturn outright, many of Clinton's environmental protection measures and federal gun control laws. On several other issues, however, Bush disappointed his supporters and carried forward with Clinton administration policies that he had been urged to abandon. Among these were retaining tough new standards for arsenic levels in drinking water and a decision to allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

    Both federal and international health organizations continued to issue warnings about the dangers of smoking. In the United States the surgeon general issued the first-ever federal call to action to reduce obesity, which was the second leading cause, next to smoking, of preventable death and disease in the United States. Meanwhile, the AIDS pandemic continued to expand into new corners of the world even as world leaders began to show a new commitment to trying to stop its spread. Already these three conditions had idled millions more people both in the United States and elsewhere than armed terrorists anywhere in the world.

    These are only some of the topics of national and international interest chosen by the editors for Historic Documents of 2001. This edition marks the thirtieth volume of a Congressional Quarterly project that began with Historic Documents of 1972. The purpose of the series is to give students, librarians, journalists, scholars, and others convenient access to documents on a wide range of topics that set forth some of the most important issues of the year. In our judgment, the official statements, news conferences, speeches, special studies, and court decisions presented here will be of lasting interest.

    Each document is preceded by an introduction that provides context and background material and, when relevant, an account of continuing developments during the year. We believe these introductions will become increasingly useful as memories of current events fade.

    John Felton and Martha Gottron

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