An Interplay of Traditions: The ‘Return of Uncertainty’ and its Taming in Post-9/11 US Security Thinking

Selchow, Sabine (2014) ‘An Interplay of Traditions: The ‘Return of Uncertainty’ and its Taming in Post-9/11 US Security Thinking’, in Bevir, Mark, Oliver Daddow, and Ian Hall (eds.) Interpreting Global Security, Routledge, 2014.

There is a comprehensive set of analyses and commentaries that deal with the impact of the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001 (9/11) on world politics in general and US foreign and security politics in particular. Acknowledging that politics are shaped by (collectively shared) perceptions of the world, many of these studies deal with the question if 9/11 had an impact on the world-view of the US in general and their interpretation of the global security environment in particular. They usually highlight one of two interpretations as dominating the US security discourse. On the one side, commentators point to the revival of Cold War-thinking, which is characterised by the underlying idea of a bipolar world implicated in a ‘war’ of ‘good’ against ‘evil’. On the other side, commentators stress that the US interpretation of the post-9/11 global security environment was shaped by the idea that it is full of elusive dangers and enemies, full of ‘risks’ rather than ‘threats’. This paper argues that there is more to the US interpretation of the post-9/11 world than these two broad narratives. Grounded in an analysis of the Public Papers of President George W. Bush, this paper shows that there is an interpretation of the post-9/11 global security environment held within the Bush Administration that has been overlooked to date, but that is highly significant. This interpretation is manifest in the explicit expression that the US had entered a ‘new’ world after 9/11. In other words, it is manifest in the express and explicit rhetoric of the ‘new’ that entered the security context after 9/11. What makes this hithertonow overlooked interpretation of the post-9/11 global security environment particularly interesting and analytically valuable is that, on the one side, it indicates nothing less than a turning away from a modern frame for understanding empirical reality towards an understanding of the world as ‘reflexive’, while, on the other side, symbolically ‘taming’ the imperative to fundamentally rethink the parameters of contemporary modern (security) policy-making that this new tradition implies.

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