One unfortunate current in the commemorations of the tenth year after 9/11 has been a widely promoted narrative that we lashed out, overreacted, and — through Afghanistan, Iraq, and the war on terror — not only lost our post-9/11 unity and “civility,” but supposedly alienated most of the world while playing into the hands of al-Qaeda.
So we forget both that we now have the luxury of such second-guessing only because some thirty major terrorist plots aimed at strategic U.S. targets were subsequently foiled through our new anti-terrorism protocols, and that the most prominent critique of the Bush administration’s national-security effort — mostly strongly voiced during Barack Obama’s long 2007–08 presidential campaign — quickly transmogrified into an official embrace of the Bush-Cheney policies during the Obama presidency between 2009 and 2011. Apparently the responsibilities of the presidency are not those of writing a blog.
In truth, the first ten years of the war on terror in eerie fashion resemble the first decade of the Cold War, with all the familiar actors making a return. Then too the Henry Wallace/Adlai Stevenson liberal wing of the Democratic party insisted that we had overreacted to the fear of Communism, clumsily demonized our long-suffering WWII ally Russia, missed out in reaching out to a naturally receptive, but unfortunately alienated Mao’s new China, and in general had thrown away the good feeling and national unity following the end of World War II by committing Americans to a costly, endless, mindless and amorphous war against global Communism while fostering a witch hunt at home. To suggest that Chinese and Russian Communism had slaughtered millions of their own, and might easily do so again beyond their borders, was as blasphemous then as is now the warning about the innate evil of radical Islamism and the dangers of a 21st-century existential enemy that does not require conventional bombers, guided missiles, tanks, and huge armies to kill tens of thousands.
How familiar all that sounds in the current context of decrying our war on radical Islamic terrorism, and how instructive in our present difficulties to marshal the will and sustained sense of purpose are those early Cold War years. And, as in the case of the final implosion of the Soviet-led Communist world, so too the effort to neutralize radical Islamists will take a long time and be constantly caricatured—until the personas of a ranting bin Laden and Dr. Zawahiri are rendered as ridiculous to history as are today the old Communist apparatchiks of yesteryear.