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10 Winners And 10 Losers Of 9/11

While it's clearly an oversimplification, we couldn't allow this anniversary to pass without offering our own list of "winners & losers" in the decade since 9/11 and the accompanying "war on terror."


The U.S. Navy's "USS Carl Vinson" aircraft carrier is seen anchored off Manila Bay.

1. The U.S. Military-Industrial Complex

The years since 9/11 have witnessed the biggest expansion of the U.S. national-security state since the Cold War. Over the course of the decade, Washington has spent well over $7 trillion on the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The U.S. intelligence budget alone, for example, has doubled over the past 10 years.) The creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the establishment of a new Director of National Intelligence amounted to the largest reorganization of the federal government since World War II.

Many of the details remain obscure, however, thanks to a corresponding widening of the culture of official secrecy. In its expose "Top Secret America," "The Washington Post" revealed that 854,000 people now hold top-secret security clearances, and that 33 building complexes had been built for top-secret intelligence work in Washington and the surrounding area since 9/11. "Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings -- about 17 million square feet of space."

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad stands before portraits of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei.

2. Iran

During their fight to establish control over Afghanistan in the 1990s, the overwhelmingly Sunni Taliban massacred Afghan Shi'a and killed 10 Iranian diplomats stationed in the north of the country. So Tehran was only too happy to see the Americans wipe out the Taliban government in autumn 2001. Iran's leaders were even happier when the new government of President Hamid Karzai turned out to include leading members of the Northern Alliance (including many Persian-speaking Tajiks who had benefited from Iranian support during their long years of resisting the Taliban). In 2003, when U.S. troops invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, the Iranian government had reason to rejoice again. Hussein, the man who unleashed the eight-year Iran-Iraq War in 1981, was Iran's bitterest enemy, and his Ba'athist government was replaced by leading members of Iraq's majority Shi'ite community. Many of them had lived in Iran or otherwise enjoyed Iranian sponsorship for decades before the U.S. invasion.

All this has considerably boosted Iran's regional influence even as the country continues to develop its nuclear program.

Blackwater security guards protect Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, in Baghdad in 2003.

3. Private security contractors

Before 9/11 there were just a few private security companies in the world, usually operating well outside the limelight. But over the past decade the business has exploded into a multibillion-dollar industry. That growth has spurred concerns about the wisdom of empowering private companies to carry out many of the functions once performed by the official military. During the war in Iraq the name of the company Blackwater became such a synonym for gun-toting irresponsibility that it was forced to rebrand itself. (Now it calls itself, rather mysteriously, "Xe.") Next year, the U.S. State Department is actually set to double the number of private security contractors working for it in Iraq (from 2,700 to 5,500).

Of course, 9/11 has been a boon to the broader private security industry as well. Everyone from the manufacturers of airport scanners to those little bottles for getting your shampoo past security have seen a windfall as well.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting of his United Russia party.

4. Vladimir Putin

Ex-KGB man Vladimir Putin rose to the presidency on the back of his prosecution of Russia's second war against Islamist rebels in the breakaway North Caucasus republic of Chechnya. Before 9/11, many Western governments criticized Russia for its attack on the separatists, which included indiscriminate use of bombing and artillery and the "disappearing" of large numbers of young Chechen men. Ties between some of the separatists and Al-Qaeda received considerably less attention. But in the wake of the attacks in New York and Washington, only the latter point seemed to matter any more. The Kremlin and the White House agreed to share intelligence and cooperate in Afghanistan, and U.S. criticism of Russia's human rights record suddenly quieted dramatically.

Other dictators in the post-Soviet Union -- especially in Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors -- were also happy to play up the terrorist threat in return for U.S. support. All too often the need to keep supply lines to the war effort in Afghanistan trumped human rights concerns.

Richard Dawkins (center) poses for a picture in London.

5. Atheists

During the Cold War, the West's communist opponents prided themselves on their atheism, which made professing the creed of nonbelief somewhat complicated. Not so in the 21st century. The spectacle of religiously motivated aggression presented by the September 11 attacks has provided a powerful argument to those who dismiss faith as mere superstition. Philosopher Daniel Dennett, physicist Stephen Hawking, and journalist Christopher Hitchens have all figured prominently in the attack on organized religion. Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins sold 2 million copies of his 2006 book "The God Delusion" -- an achievement that would have been hard to imagine before the start of the "war on terror."

Atheists still face something of an uphill climb, though: Islam remains the world's fastest-growing religion, and an overwhelming majority of Americans continue to profess belief in God.

A U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar, Afghanistan.

6. Military robotics

By the end of the last century, the U.S. aerospace industry had developed remote-controlled unmanned aircraft that used advanced communications and information technology to spy on hard-to-reach targets in far-away places. Then someone got the idea of putting missiles on the drones. Ten years later, the military robotics industry is poised to change the very nature of warfare. The U.S. Air Force now trains more operators for "remotely piloted vehicles" than it does pilots. The success of U.S. drone warfare is driving a global boom in military robotics that is transforming the nature of war itself.

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan chairs the annual meeting of the Supreme Military Council in Ankara.

7. Turkey

Even though Turkey has had a few scattered problem with Islamists of its own, the decade since 9/11 has been mostly the story of a steady uphill climb. The government of moderate Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who came to power in 2003, has overseen a period of strong economic growth that it has used to bolster its credentials as the one country in the greater Middle East that has managed to embrace progress even as it stresses its Islamic roots. Erdogan has managed to maintain Turkey's NATO membership even while the Turks have defied the United States on some issues (such as denying access to U.S. troops on their way to invade Iraq in 2003). Turkey has also boosted ties with countries like Iran and Syria at the same time as it has pursued improved relations with the European Union and Russia. The post-9/11 dysfunction of places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has helped Turkey to burnish its credentials as the Islamic world's beacon of reasonableness.

U.S. President Barack Obama (right) is joined by former President George W. Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House.

8. The Executive Branch

In the weeks following September 11, Congress passed two laws that gave the White House far-reaching powers for prosecuting the war against Al-Qaeda. The first, the Authorization for Use of Military Force, granted the president the authority "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against the terrorists -- essentially carte blanche for the president to do whatever he deemed worth doing. The second, the USA Patriot Act, gave the federal government broad scope for conducting surveillance against its own citizens with the aim of preventing future attacks.

Over the past 10 years the Supreme Court and Congress have curtailed much of the power that the executive branch accrued during the opening phases of the "war on terror" -- but not all of it. Though the Obama administration has put an end to some of its predecessor's policies, including the approval of some forms of torture in interrogations, President Barack Obama has also extended some parts of the Patriot Act. He is holding to a broad interpretation of the state-secrets privilege and he has continued the CIA's drone campaign against targets in Pakistan with minimal public accountability. But then, don't wars always end up giving more power to presidents?

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds up his Sydney Peace Prize after receiving the award at the Frontline Club in London in May.

9. WikiLeaks

The antisecrecy website's greatest scoops -- hundreds of thousands of declassified cables on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- would have had far less oomph with no "war on terror" to illuminate. WikiLeaks impresario Julian Assange likes to compare himself with Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, whom he credits with singlehandedly ending the Vietnam War. (Didn't the Viet Cong have something to do with it? Never mind.) Let's face it, revelations about trade negotiations just aren't as sexy.

An Afghan snow leopard (Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS)

10. The Afghan snow leopard

Thirty years of war have not helped Afghanistan's environment, which is also bedeviled by drought, deforestation and the plundering of resources. But one ray of light shone through this summer when the country's national environmental protection agency approved protection for 33 endangered species in the country, including the Afghan snow leopard (panthera uncia). There's little the government can do to enforce its laws, but every little bit helps; the Taliban would have never gone to the trouble. The recent creation of a national park in Bamiyan Province also raises hopes that Afghanistan's nature can finally catch a break.


Families of 9/11 victims mourn as they stand next to a reflecting pool at the World Trade Center site in New York marking the sixth anniversary of the attacks in 2007.

1. The families of the 9/11 victims

2,996 people lost their lives in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and in the aircraft that crashed into them. 1,300 orphans were created that day. In the 10 years since, the New York City coroners' office has identified the remains of 1,629 of the New York victims -- just under 60 percent of the total. The rest remain unofficially accounted for. The terrorist attacks of September 2001 tore a hole in the lives of thousands of people that can never be filled.

Small wonder that 500 relatives of the 9/11 victims are suing the bin Laden family company and Saudi princes for $1 trillion. The aim: to prevent future financing of similar attacks.

Ayman al-Zawahiri gives a eulogy for fellow Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a video released on jihadist forums in June.

2. Al-Qaeda

Yes, Al-Qaeda succeeded in striking a huge blow at the United States and its economy. Yet the organizers of the attack clearly did not foresee what they were unleashing. In his statements during the 1990s, Osama bin Laden referenced the 1983 suicide bombing in Lebanon that spurred Ronald Reagan to remove U.S. Marines from that country as well as the 1993 Mogadishu battle that led the U.S. to abandon its Somalian peacekeeping operation. Bin Laden believed that the Americans were too cowardly to retaliate on a grand scale. As a result, the full-blown U.S. assault on Afghanistan in the weeks after 9/11 clearly caught him off-guard, and the main Al Qaeda organization never really managed to recover its balance. Osama bin Laden is dead. The planner of the 9/11 attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is in U.S. captivity. Countless other Al-Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured, reducing the organization to a shadow of its former self. Unfortunately, the ideas that fueled it live on.

A policeman assists an injured man at the site of a double suicide bombing in Quetta, Pakistan.

3. Pakistan

The political and religious tensions fueled by the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. response to them have affected no country more dramatically than Pakistan. Over the past 10 years more than 30,000 Pakistanis have died as the result of terrorist attacks -- including Benazir Bhutto, the country's former prime minister, and a number of other leading cultural and political figures. U.S. attacks on jihadi safe havens in the Pakistani tribal areas have fueled an anti-Western backlash among many people in the country and exacerbated an already severe jihadi threat. The spiral of radicalization threatens the very integrity of the country.

The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are likely more concerned about development than politics. But they have seen little benefit from the billions of dollars the United States has transferred to Islamabad in the years since 9/11, most of which has gone straight to the military.

A woman sits in Section 60, burial sites for soldiers killed in Iraq, of Arlington National Cemetery.

4. Military families

Just over 6,000 U.S. service members have lost their lives in the U.S. "war on terror," and another 43,000 have suffered injuries. The second number might not seem so daunting until you realize that a large percentage of those wounds involve severe brain trauma and the loss of one or more limbs as the result of hugely destructive roadside bombs favored by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. The flood of casualties has overtaxed the health system for veterans.

The brunt of the vast overseas military commitments assumed by the United States since 9/11 has been born disproportionately by the relatively small number of Americans who serve in the armed forces and their families. Many regular soldiers and Marines have spent multiple tours of duty overseas -- creating enormous burdens for their families at home. Civilian America, by contrast, has made few comparable sacrifices for the war effort.

The Ground Zero Tribute in Light beams are visible from Brooklyn during a test ahead of the anniversary in 2010.

5. New York City

2,753 of the nearly 3,000 people lost on 9/11 died in the World Trade Center. Among them were 343 firefighters and 60 police officers. People from some 70 countries were among the dead, reflecting New York City's vaunted multicultural character. Another 422,000 New Yorkers have displayed symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder since the attacks. And thousands of first responders -- firefighters, medical emergency personnel, and others who participated in the rescue effort at Ground Zero -- appear to be suffering from lung disease and cancer as a result of inhaling toxic fumes and dust from the collapsed towers. Hundreds of them have died since the attacks, though it is hard to be sure just how many of those deaths can be attributed directly to the aftereffects of 9/11.

The city has suffered economically, too. It was compelled to accept billions of dollars in emergency aid from the federal government in the two years after the attacks. It is estimated that New York City has lost a net total of 100,000 jobs in the decade since 9/11. And that's not even to mention the invisible hole in a majestic skyline.

A woman holds a sign at the "Today, I Am A Muslim, Too" rally in New York City.

6. Moderate Muslims

Rank-and-file Muslims in the United States and Great Britain had to cope with a flurry of hate crimes and angry incriminations in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks. Though many Muslim organizations publicly distanced themselves from Al-Qaeda and its actions, Western public opinion tended to focus instead on indications of strong anti-Western sentiment in many Islamic countries -- especially in reaction to America's military and political interventions in the Middle East and South Asia.

In fact, though, there is plenty of evidence that Muslims' revulsion toward Al-Qaeda and its allies has steadily grown over the years -- not least because it is mainly Muslims who have died in the countless suicide bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Indeed, Al-Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, once famously chided Iraqi Al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for unnecessarily stoking sectarian warfare.) Nowadays jihadi websites tend to spend lots of time complaining about their inability to find recruits.

The polarizing effect of 9/11 and America's response to it long overshadowed the moderate aspirations of many Muslims until the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran and the more recent Arab Spring, which have shown that many young Muslims around the world reject violence and terrorism and aspire instead to peaceful political change.

An official checks the identification of passengers prior to entering a security checkpoint at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington.

7. Airline passengers

Before 9/11 only 10 percent of bags checked on flights in the United States were screened for weapons or explosives. Five weeks after the attacks, President George W. Bush signed a law mandating that all bags be screened. U.S. airline passengers, previously accustomed to only cursory checks, now had to get used to arriving at airports hours in advance, removing shoes, belts, and water bottles before submitting themselves to elaborate checks. As the U.S. authorities demanded comparable scrutiny on flights coming into the country, these innovations have rippled out through the international aviation system.

On the planes themselves, a new era of vigilance and paranoia kicked in -- sometimes justifiably, as shown in the case of the "underwear bomber" thwarted by passengers in December 2009. Back on the ground, though, the effects are debatable. Recent tests of airport security systems by enterprising journalists have shown that determined smugglers can still get plenty of dubious articles through the checks.

A money dealer counts U.S. dollar notes at a money market in Islamabad.

8. Hawalas

The informal and anonymous networks used for financial transactions in much of the Middle East and South Asia never came in for much scrutiny in the old days. But the revelation that Al-Qaeda sometimes used hawalas to transfer the funds for their operations triggered a backlash. In Afghanistan, U.S. task forces have cracked down on leading hawalas to curtail financial flows of drug lords and insurgents. The U.S. Treasury Department has pressured Dubai and other Persian Gulf banking centers to implement tough money-laundering laws. And U.S. intelligence agencies have used electronic-surveillance techniques to ensure that the money changing hands through hawalas is clean. Hawalas may never be the same.

Antiwar demonstrators gather in Washington, D.C., in March 2010 to decry the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

9. Pacifists

Pacifists are still around, but arguing the case has certainly become harder in an age when terrorist groups explicitly embrace suicide-bombing attacks on defenseless civilians. ("Where Have All the Pacifists Gone?" ran the plaintive title of one 2003 essay.) In the United States, a wave of patriotic sentiment in the wake of the attacks inspired thousands of college-age Americans to sign up for military service rather than antiwar demonstrations.

The peaceniks who remain earn respect precisely for their noble persistence in the face of overwhelming odds. The name of one group formed by family members who lost loved ones in the 2001 attacks says it all: "September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows."

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz (right) and Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah (left) speak during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in May.

10. Saudi Arabia

Osama bin Laden made sure that most of the hijackers on the 9/11 planes were Saudi citizens -- knowing that the resulting revelation would complicate the kingdom's relationship with the United States. It worked, at least in part. While Washington and Riyadh have more or less managed to carry on as before, U.S. public opinion toward Sauid Arabia has taken a nosedive. 9/11 threw a harsh spotlight on Saudi financial support for many extremist groups around the world as well as the Neanderthal doctrines of the Wahhabi Islam practiced inside the kingdom. No one in the outside world cared much about Saudi women being denied the right to drive until after 9/11.

And even as the longing for reform seems to have gained strength in the wake of the Arab Spring, Al-Qaeda-style radicals who decry the royal family's decadent habits are still finding plenty of traction. The monarchy's future does not look promising.

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