The Ripples of 9/11: A decade of surprises in the war on terror

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Dispatches recommended from Victor Davis Hanson:

It has been a decade since 3,000 Americans were murdered on September 11, 2001. Much of what followed in the subsequent ten years was unexpected, while what was expected did not happen.

On October 7, just 26 days after the attacks, the United States went after both al-Qaida and its Taliban sponsors when it invaded Afghanistan, removing the Islamists from that nation’s major cities in little more than two months. By early 2002, the “graveyard of empires” had a UN-approved constitutional government—despite earlier warnings of Western failure and a Soviet- or British-like disaster. We forget now the national euphoria over Donald Rumsfeld’s “light footprint” and a new way of war characterized by a few Special Forces troops with laptops who guided volleys of GPS munitions from jets circling above.

The subsequent decision to invade Iraq in March 2003 ended entirely the fragile national consensus about retaliation that had followed 9/11. When the Bush administration hyped WMD as the real casus belli—and subsequently found none in Iraq—most forgot that Congress had, in bipartisan fashion, voted for war on over 20 other counts as well, all legitimate and unquestioned. But the postwar insurgency took over 4,000 American lives and tore Iraq apart, and the war would be written off as misguided, unnecessary, and “lost.” Suddenly too few troops was the charge. Traditional army divisions once again replaced Special Forces as the conventional wisdom.

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