Doom and Gloom: Interpreting the American Public Mood on the 9/11 Decade

War and fear of terrorism has weighed heavily on the American public mood in the decade since 9/11, with a majority of Americans expressing the view that the country’s influence around the world has declined and that the United States has overinvested in its reaction to the attacks of Sept. 11. According to a poll I co-directed with Steven Kull, the public wants to see full U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (even if the Iraqi government asks for American troops to stay) and it wants a reduction in the presence in Afghanistan.

In some ways, this is a stunning shift. The 1990s saw unprecedented American power and influence, a period when the United States basked in the glow of having won the Cold War and successfully confronted the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by building an extraordinary and unprecedented international coalition. Add economic expansion and prosperity, and it is hard to find a decade when America reigned more supreme.

But 9/11, as we all recall, put paid to that: shattering a sense of confidence and imbuing the public with an instant sense vulnerability and helplessness. Within days of that day, I was summoned for consultation with a congressional leader in his office to hear him declare what many had feared: “this can defeat us.”

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