Fifteen years after the carnage of 9/11, American foreign policy is still mired in its fossilized dogmas and dangerous delusions. The consequences are obvious. Iran, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism and long an avowed enemy of the United States, has filled the vacuum of our ignominious retreat from the Middle East, even as the mullahs move ever closer to possessing nuclear weapons. Russia, Iran’s improbable ally, bombs civilians in Syria, kills the Syrian fighters we have trained, bullies its neighbor Ukraine, consolidates its take-over of the Crimea, and relentlessly pursues its interests with disregard for international law and contempt for our feeble protests. Iraq, for which thousands of Americans bled and died, is now a puppet state of Iran. Afghanistan is poised to be overrun by the Taliban in a few years, and ISIS, al Qaeda 2.0, continues to inspire franchises throughout the world and to murder European and American citizens.
So much for the belief, frequently heard in the months after the attacks of 9/11, that “this changes everything.” The smoking ruins and 3000 dead surely had awoken us from our delusions that the “end of history” and a “new world order” had followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, “a world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak,” as George H.W. Bush said in 1990. The following decade seemed to confirm this optimism. Didn’t we quickly slap down the brutal Saddam Hussein and stop his aggression against his neighbors? Didn’t we punish the Serbs for their revanchist depredations in the Balkans? With American military power providing the muscle, the institutions of international cooperation like NATO, the International Court of Justice, and the U.N. Security Council would patrol and protect the network of new democracies that were set to evolve into versions of Western nations and enjoy such boons as individual rights, political freedom, leisure and prosperity, tolerance for minorities, equality for women, and a benign secularism.
The gruesome mayhem of 9/11 should have alerted us to the fact many Muslims didn’t get the memo about history’s demise. Indeed, long before that tragic day in September, we had been serially warned that history still had some unpleasant surprises. Theorists of neo-jihadism like Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb for decades had laid out the case for war against the infidel West and its aggression against Islam. “It is the nature of Islam,” al-Banna wrote, “to dominate not to be dominated, to impose its laws on all nations and extend its power to the entire planet.” So too the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Ayatollah Khomeini: “Those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world,” which is why “Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers.” The kidnapping of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Tehran by a group called “Muslim Students Following the Line of the Imam [Khomeini]” sent us a message that we were engaged in the religious war the jihadists warned would come. But few of those responsible for our security and interests had ears to hear or eyes to see.
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