The Ripples of 9/11
There is little remaining controversy over the measures necessary to thwart terrorism.


Victor Davis Hanson

There are other reasons why we have not yet seen another 9/11 — the now unpopular Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. At terrible cost in blood and treasure, the United States military routed and killed thousands of terrorists in Afghanistan, removed the most prominent supporter of terrorists in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein, and then crushed al-Qaeda between 2006 and 2008 in Anbar Province in Iraq. And while we did not leave a small residual force in Iraq (which might, for example, have allowed Iraq to stop Iran’s use of its air space to supply Bashar Assad in Syria) and have tipped off the Taliban of the approximate dates when we will leave Afghanistan, nonetheless both countries have been far less hospitable to terrorists over the last decade than they would otherwise have been. For all the anti-Americanism of the Middle East, note that during the raging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, each year Osama bin Laden’s popularity fell. Had we not gone into Afghanistan — or Iraq — it is hard to know in what particular theater we would have been able to find, target, and kill thousands of terrorists. And despite the popular outcry against the war in the dark years in Iraq between 2005 and 2007, the widely caricatured “fly-paper” exegesis was largely accurate: Islamists flocked to Iraq, and very few left it alive.

We do not know the ultimate course of the Arab Spring upheavals. Nor can we ascertain the degree to which the removal of Saddam Hussein, and his replacement by a constitutional government, proved a catalyst to the current unrest. But the net result for now is that the world is witnessing how the Arab Street acts when it is free of foreign meddling and free of dictatorships propped up by Western governments. In other words, what we now see in Syria, Egypt, and Libya is not conducive to Islamist propaganda against the West, but often instead serves as a warning to the world of how Islamic fundamentalists distort democratic movements and can end up, in Iranian fashion, as oppressive successors to the dictators they overthrew. Western support for authoritarians did not per se create the bin Ladens of the Middle East, as the popular narrative went. Instead, Islamists were just as eager to subvert democratic movements as they were to oppose dictatorships supported by the U.S.

In short, after 9/11, al-Qaeda saw its popularity plummet. Most of its key operatives are either dead or in hiding. Bin Laden’s death proved anti-climactic. There is little controversy any more over the measures necessary to thwart terrorism aimed at the United States. The old formula of Arab authoritarian governments shaking down the U.S. for cash as supposedly the only viable alternative to the Islamists is over. The Middle East has no one to blame but itself should it reject consensual government in favor of theocracy. And the net result is that the Islamic fundamentalists have not, and probably cannot, hit the West with another strike similar to 9/11. So far, eleven years later, we are still winning and our enemies still losing.

— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.