The decade saw the further articulation of the neoconservative vision of America’s destiny to lead the world through the active and forceful promotion of democracy. At the same time, there was a weakening of American hegemony as the war on terror generated enemies abroad, sceptics at home, and growing doubters among traditional allies. After spending something like three trillion dollars, and failing to win the peace following two wars, the United States looks a diminished world power as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is upon us.
There have been several surprises, too, regarding the fortunes of al Qaeda since 9/11. They failed to carry out another spectacular attack, one exceeding 9/11 in lethality — something many expected and feared as images of the Twin Towers buckling and collapsing were replayed time and again in the days and weeks following the attack.
Al Qaeda also failed to enhance its legitimacy in the Muslim world, and indeed it went into marked decline in the second half of the decade, paralleling the decline in US hegemonial authority, but more so. This was manifest in its increasing dependence on local micro-terrorist activity, where it is hoped that small amounts of resource (in money and lives) will bring high returns in terror.
In the ten years of almost constant fighting and continuous terror since 2001, the imagery of the bolt from the blue that September morning remains as powerful as ever. It is kept alive by current news stories, by personal hurt, by the media, by politicians, and by religion. When the reckoning is done, it is our view that, in the democratic world, these will be seen as ten largely wasted years.
The audit of the decade, presented in Terror in our Time, reveals a sense of disappointment and frustration with respect to what world leaders and individual societies have made of the years since 9/11. Alternative responses were available. Terrible mistakes could have been avoided. We could have done so much better. We might next time if we reflect wisely on 9/11 10.