Seventeen years later
September 11, 2001 brought down more than the twin towers. It collapsed the old Arab order. "The traditional great powers—Egypt, Iraq, and Syria— [became] barely functional states." It also warped the 'Global World order'. If the Bush years were an attempt to restore the promise of the turn of the century through American power, Obama represented an abandonment of that effort. After 2008, despite the Surge, the West no longer seemed resolved to turn back the calendar. Instead it would try to adapt to the new circumstances. Jeffrey Goldberg summarized the shift in a 2016 issue of the Atlantic:
The president believes that Churchillian rhetoric and, more to the point, Churchillian habits of thought, helped bring his predecessor, George W. Bush, to ruinous war in Iraq. Obama entered the White House bent on getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan; he was not seeking new dragons to slay. And he was particularly mindful of promising victory in conflicts he believed to be unwinnable. “If you were to say, for instance, that we’re going to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and build a prosperous democracy instead, the president is aware that someone, seven years later, is going to hold you to that promise,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, and his foreign-policy amanuensis, told me not long ago.
Under Obama the strategy was for America to reconcile itself to a changing world. The rise of China, MENA upheaval, even Russia bellicosity were things that could be decried but ultimately accepted. The trouble was that "dragons" though ignored if unslain were apt to show up at the gates of the castle. They were not long in coming.
By 2015 huge refugee movements into Europe had become routine and even welcomed by progressive elements. At the same time mass surveillance, once the bête noire of the left , became essential not just to neutralize militant cells among migrants but also to suppress opposition to migrant entry under various 'hate speech' policies. This combination generated a suspicion of the cultural elites and with the policy of adaptation and eventually swung the pendulum toward the populist uprising.
The world is now in the post-Obama phase of the response to 9/11 with no clear outcome in sight. What is clear is that immigration controversies are fueling what Anne Applebaum calls a rejection of Democracy across the West or a cold civil war depending on your point of view. Worse, surveillance technology has made Big Silicon, once the liberal bastion of the 'digital frontier', into Big Brother, the enforcer of hate speech rules and arbiter of truth which has added an element of paranoia to the mix.
The video of Google employees vowing never to allow something like Hillary’s defeat to occur again illustrates shows the suddenness with which the civilization's tools can be turned against it. The ease with which instruments of surveillance and censorship can be directed at the Deplorables instead of al-Qaeda was recently brought home by a video showing a senior Google official vowing to "use the great strength and resources and reach we have to continue to advance really important values". The unspoken agreement on values at the Google all-hands meeting is a reminder of how easily groupthink can become what Scott Adams called the “casual evil” of self-righteousness.