Although it’s been nearly a decade since 9/11, the United States has yet to suffer another terrorist attack on anything like the scale it did on that day. Why? No doubt, there are many reasons, our massive new homeland security apparatus prominent among them. Yet the deterrent effect of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have also played a major role in our relative freedom from terrorist attacks. That is in no way to deny the many troubles and set-backs that have plagued our efforts in both countries. Even so, it’s important to acknowledge that our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq have sent out a clear message that major terrorist attacks on the United States will have serious consequences.
For a long time it was fashionable to claim that Afghanistan and Iraq actually made us less secure, by recruiting angry fighters to the terrorist cause. But have a look at this account of Osama bin Ladan’s struggles with fellow al-Qaeda members in today’s Washington Post, and this one as well. Bin Laden was constantly pushing for more 9/11-style “big body count” attacks on the United States. Only a strike on that scale, he believed, would suffice to drive America entirely out of the Middle East — bin Laden’s great goal since long before 9/11. Yet many of bin Laden’s followers resisted these bold plans, fearing that large-scale attacks “would provoke an American response.”
Bin Laden dreamed that “big body count” terrorism would drive us out of the Middle East, yet his followers feared it would only pull us in more deeply instead. Here bin Laden was repeating his mistake, since he had wrongly calculated that 9/11 itself would drive the United States out of the Middle East and was unpleasantly surprised when he got both the Taliban and himself kicked out of Afghanistan instead. Bin Laden was doubling down on a failed strategy. His followers knew better, however, with the hampered and hunted status of their own leader serving as the best guide to what happens to people after major attacks on American civilians.
For all the problems of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, then, it’s important to acknowledge that these wars have helped to keep us safe. If not for our aggressive decision to take the battle to the enemy, we might have suffered more than one major terrorist attack on American soil over the last ten years. For this, George W. Bush and our brave military fighters deserve our thanks.