GED Social Studies Test: Shifts in U.S. Foreign Policy Since 9/11

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

9/11 was a significant event that you will need to know about for the GED Social Studies test. American foreign policy after WWII was largely dominated by the Truman Doctrine, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, which was focused on the containment of Soviet expansionism. President Reagan, a staunch conservative, even negotiated a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets. However, that doctrine died along with the Soviet Union.

New issues arose in the Middle East, especially involving Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the U.S.-backed Taliban who had defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan. A more conservative view of politics became dominant, one that argued the United States shouldn’t compromise with its enemies. The first example of that policy in action was the first Gulf War, (1990–1991) when the United States and many other nations including Great Britain and France invaded Iraq.

More significant changes came after September 11, 2001. Americans hadn’t experienced attacks on their homeland since Pearl Harbor. The events of 9/11 were a major shock. President George W. Bush outlined what would become known as the Bush Doctrine, the new approach to American foreign relations.

On September 18, 2001, Congress passed a joint resolution granting the president the right to use force against other nations and groups without a declaration of war:

… That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons… .

Then, on September 20, 2001, President G.W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress, explaining what he intended to do:

… This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime… .

In his State of the Union Address in January 2002, Bush went even further, introducing the idea of an Axis of Evil that the United States and the world had to confront:

  • North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens… .

  • Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror… .

  • Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror… .

  • States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

  • Well be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the worlds most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the worlds most destructive weapons.

In various speeches, Bush also called for preemptive action against nations or groups of perceived enemies or their supporters.

What does Bush mean by “I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer”?

  • (A) the use of preemptive strikes against perceived enemies

  • (B) immediate military preparation

  • (C) U.S. pressure on the United Nations and Western allies to attack nations sponsoring terrorism

  • (D) all of the above

The correct answer is Choice (A), the use of preemptive strikes against perceived enemies. Choices (B) and (C) may be partially true; the U.S. government was increasing military expenditure, and the UN was applying pressure to gather support to attack nations sponsoring terrorism. However, Choice (A) is the most complete answer.

The immediate result of the Bush Doctrine was the invasion of Afghanistan, ostensibly to capture Osama bin Laden and to topple the Taliban government, a supporter of terrorism around the world. U.S. forces, along with forces from Great Britain, Australia, and Canada established a new government in 2001, but the war continued as the Taliban resorted to guerilla warfare.

That was followed by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which successfully removed Saddam Hussein government. Unfortunately, neither invasion solved the problem of terrorism, nor brought stability to the Middle East. The rise of ISIS proves that.

A further result of the Bush Doctrine has been the president’s ability to order attacks on terrorist targets around the world. Drone attacks have been used to attack homes of terrorists, convoys of Taliban fighters, and other targets, even in sovereign countries not involved in any war with the United States.