Ten changes since 9/11

The world is a different place than it was a dozen years ago

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The United States and the world have changed significantly in the dozen years since terrorists launched the biggest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Here are 10 of those changes.

• 1. America has become less dependent on foreign fuel: Decades of Mideast dependence prompted alliances with regional monarchies that 9/11 organizer Osama bin Laden opposed. But that dependence is beginning to ebb. Domestic production, led by technological changes in extraction, is at its highest in decades. That growth seems poised to continue.

• 2. Bin Laden is gone: It took more than nine years, but the United States found and killed the al-Qaida leader who inspired the 9/11 attacks. While terrorism threats remain, they do not have at their root a person such as bin Laden who personified the anti-U.S. movement.

• 3. The intelligence state has mushroomed: We have more government intrusion in our lives, from TSA airport checkpoints to NSA phone surveillance. Intelligence budgets have skyrocketed, to $52.6 billion in 2013. U.S. drone attacks have outraged many worldwide, as have detention practices from Afghanistan and Iraq to Guantanamo. Defenders of these practices say extraordinary measures are necessary to keep the United States safe.

• 4. Anti-authoritarian ferment in the Middle East: Tunisia, Libya and Egypt all toppled longtime military-backed leaders, and Egypt saw a military coup against the successor government. Rebels and protesters have risen up across the region, with mixed results.

• 5. What Google has wrought: Hand in hand with that tumult has been the exploding use of Twitter, G-chat, Facebook and similar services in tightly controlled societies, giving voice to people who are denied printing presses and broadcast licenses. Thousands have followed protests in Iran and Egypt -- and videos from Syria -- through social networks. The pattern has repeated itself across the globe, from China to Brazil.

• 6. Rise (and fall) in U.S. fervor for military action: After the 2001 attacks, the Bush administration moved quickly into Afghanistan to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban. Less than two years later, it invaded Iraq, claiming that it had weapons of mass destruction. The two long wars have sapped America's appetite for military action, reflected in polls showing nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose even limited military action in Syria.

• 7. Power shift in Iran: For years, a face of anti-Americanism was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president from 2005 to 2013. And Mr. Ahmadinejad's rhetoric against Israel knew few bounds. That's why it was startling this month when, on Rosh Hashanah, Iran's new president and foreign minister took to Twitter to wish Jews a happy new year. When challenged about its Holocaust-denying past, the foreign minister tweeted that the guy who used to deny it is gone. Whether his comments reveal a deeper shift remains to be seen.

• 8. Emergence of a multicultural U.S. mainstream: In 2012, whites made up the lowest percentage of the U.S. population in American history. Census data showed more whites died than were born. The fastest growing group is multiracial Americans. The demographic shifts have buoyed Democrats, who have outsized support among racial minorities, as well as women and gays and lesbians.

• 9. "We're broke": The last U.S. budget surplus was in fiscal year 2001. The national debt now is more than $16.7 trillion -- about $53,000 per person. Rising health and defense spending played a role, as did cuts in income taxes during the Bush administration and the Great Recession. Persistent unemployment and the first waves of Baby Boomer retirements contribute to unease about the economy.

• 10. Ground Zero no more: The 104-story Freedom Tower is poised to open early in 2014 at the World Trade Center site in Manhattan. Later this year, the 72-story 4 World Trade Center will open. An underground museum will open in the spring, and two more office buildings and a transportation hub will follow. Last year, President Obama signed a beam that was hoisted to the top of Freedom Tower. On it he wrote: "We remember / we rebuild / we come back stronger!"


David Beard writes for The Washington Post.


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