What if 9/11 happened during the Reagan administration?

So, inspired by a recent thread outlining what if the plane hit its fourth target....

What would happen if 9/11 happened in 1981 during the Reagan administration? I will note I am a layman on this topic, so if there is anything wrong please correct me.

How would the Reagan administration respond to such an issue? Would they blame the Soviets for such an event?

Would this push Reagan down in popularity that he wouldn't get a second term? How crazy would the US economy spiral out of control? Might such an event be a net positive for the Soviet Union or no?

Would xenophobia of middle easterns explode even worse than what OTL 9/11 was?

In case you're wondering, I don't care what Middle Eastern group that does this matter. I know Al-Qaeda has been around for a year by this point, but probably are not strong enough or have the funds to launch it. Might Black September be able to do it or no?

Would it possible to launch an attack like this in 1981?
If 9/11 happened here, it might bring upon the end of the world. The Americans blame soviets, Soviet blame Afghanistan, Afghanistan War becomes bigger mess and terrorsim becomes even worse. Reagan might do a bush and win re election with rally round the flag and what not. The economy may not recover as quick as it did due to a likely war. If people think the ‘80’s were scary times in OTL with the threat of nuclear warfare, this ‘80’s would be a lot worse. The OTL ‘80’s would like tame by comparison.


President Reagan bombed Libya in response to the 1986 bombing of a Disco in Berlin so he would surely have struck back at whatever country that attempted a larger attack or that housed the elements who did so. There were a few bombings or hijackings during the Reagan Presidency which would suffice such as the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, the hijacking of Pan Am flight 73 in Pakistan in 1986 by the Abu Nidal Organization, or the hijacking of a Continental Airlines flight in the Washington DC area in 1987. Aviation security was virtually non-existent then so if a group tried what the 9/11 hijackers did IOTL in 2001, they would have surely succeeded.

The Avenger

For one, this might make the Reagan Administration much more hesitant to support Islamic "freedom fighters" in their fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.


At the time the US was backing Osama Bin Laden against the Soviets, so it makes no sense that he would attack the US. A more interesting scenario would be to have the 9/11 attack be against the Soviet Union. How about a jetliner crashing into the Kremlin?

If you want the attack to be on the US, the most likely group would be Hezbollah, which carried out the 1983 Beirut bombings. In which case, the US probably invades Lebanon and Iran, which was funding them.
Even though you mentioned 1981 specifically, it's interesting to think about how his response might shift as his term went on. I don’t know how much faith I have while Regan was Chief of Staff, but the advice he’d be getting from the Troika, like he would in 1981, or Baker at the end of his term, would be much, much better than Regan's counsel. I suspect in the latter two situations he’d rely heavily on formal US intelligence. As for the USSR, at the beginning of his term he’d probably be more willing to do a “we’re going after whoever did this, your sphere of influence be damned” type communication than at the end of his term when things thawed with Gorbachev. I still think we’d retaliate, there’d just be much more heads up to the Soviets that we were getting ready to attack another nation.

If it's 1981, I doubt the US would suspect any type of direct USSR involvement, just because there'd be no intelligence showing it would satisfy much of their geopolitical goals. The US economy would be hurt, but not drastically, it would change zero about the situation in Europe, and would cause an immediate rally around the flag domestically, while galvanizing the friendship between NATO nations. All of the intelligence would show that [insert Al Qaeda-like org that predates OTL Al Qaeda, but shares its ideology] detests the USSR, so it would be an odd actor for them to suddenly be back door supplying against the US.

It's also pre-Gulf War success, and only a half decade removed from Vietnam, so the appetite for nation building isn't very high at the moment, which makes any invasion and certainly a 20 year occupation somewhere in the middle east less likely.
Last edited: