What Have We Learned?
The life of a nation ten years later.


1. We thought 9/11 signaled a clash of civilizations, and though at times we appeared to be ham-handedly doing all we could to create one, it hasn’t materialized.

Al-Qaeda hoped 9/11 would be the opening salvo in this clash: After U.S. aggression, Islam would radicalize under Osama bin Laden, and a caliphate would span from Spain to the Pacific. Sure, dreaming of a new caliphate was a delusional stretch, but well before 9/11, the West propped up many autocrats in the Arab world partly out of fear that the OBLs of the world could rush in during any change of power.

And after a decade with two U.S. wars in Muslim countries, in many of the very same nations OBL targeted to launch his caliphate, we see a rush of . . . democracy (or a close cousin).

2. We designed our policies around the convenient idea of one single foreign behemoth called “al-Qaeda.” The reality is worse: Al-Qaeda evolved into an “idea of mass destruction,” a franchisor of terrorism. We learned (very slowly) that while a foreign-borne threat aiming to hit us at home was possible, a more likely danger was from home-grown extremists already in our backyard: Of the over 30 foiled attacks against the U.S. since 9/11, over 75 percent were “homegrown.”

Local police, with their neighborhood-by-neighborhood situational awareness, must be empowered as “first preventers” who can thwart local terror — and not simply be asked to  pick up the pieces after it is too late.

3. The U.S. was ill-prepared for the war of ideas, and it showed. One example: Coercive interrogations, black renditions, and other controversial policies that were previously in the covert world should’ve remained state secrets — or (less likely) they shouldn’t have been done at all. The administration’s insistence on parading these policies publicly brought unnecessary international grief onto the U.S. Coupled with the embarrassment of Abu Ghraib, the public championing of these policies (more than the policies themselves) did an immense disservice to the global view of the U.S. as a force for good.

4. But we weren’t the only ones, OBL made a strategic miscalculation in the war of ideas by directing more violence against Muslims. Many Muslims didn’t start to hate al-Qaeda on 9/11, or when the U.S. entered Afghanistan or Iraq; they started to hate al-Qaeda after al-Qaeda started killing their friends. The 2005 hotel bombings in Amman (whoops, a wedding) were a turning point. Not only can’t you win a war of ideas with weapons; you can’t afford to fight one.

5. As compared to previous terrorist attacks, 9/11 and its bloody wave of follow-ons were much more deadly. There is some (only preliminary) indication that a global and shared sense of revulsion may have changed the perceived utility of terrorism by splinter groups. Did 9/11, ironically, reduce the usefulness of terrorism as a future tool of protest?

— R.P. Eddy is the CEO of Ergo, and a former director at the National Security Council.

Ten years after September 11, the Islamic Republic of Iran constitutes the most serious threat to American national security, and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the world’s most deadly terrorist organization.

Under the leadership of the IRGC, the Iranian regime has waged a low-intensity war on the United States for over 30 years, developing a clandestine nuclear-weapons program, producing increasingly advanced ballistic missiles, and sponsoring acts of terrorism abroad. Through its terrorist proxies, Iran has killed Americans — from the 1983 Marine-barracks bombing in Beirut to the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing to quite possibly September 11, through the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s terrorist mastermind and Iran’s liaison with al-Qaeda in the 1990s.

Iran continues to support allied regimes and terrorist surrogates ranging from Bashar al-Assad’s Shiite Alawite government in Syria to Hezbollah to the Palestinian Sunni groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as Shiite militias in Iraq — and lately even their one-time enemies the Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan.

Unlike al-Qaeda, the Revolutionary Guards have the full support of an oil-rich nation, can travel abroad on diplomatic passports, and can hide their operatives in Iranian embassies all over the world, as they did in the attacks on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and the Jewish cultural center there in 1994.

More than 30 years after Iran declared war on the United States — and on this tenth anniversary of 9/11 — Washington must recognize the centrality of the Iranian threat to its interests in the Middle East and beyond, and provide a comprehensive approach to counter it.

— Mark Dubowitz is executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he heads projects on Iran and Syria sanctions and the use of technology to encourage democratic change.