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U.S. Foreign Policy Never Recovered From the War on Terror; Only a Reckoning With the Disastrous Legacy of 9/11 Can Heal the United States

Author: Matthew Duss

Affiliation: Foreign Policy Advisor to US Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont, Independent)

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs 

Date/Place: October 22, 2020/USA

Type of Literature: Analysis 

Number of Pages: 8


Keywords: Antiterrorism Policies, Post 9/11, US, Reckoning 


The United States needs to revise and assess the consequences of its Post 9/11 approaches both domestically and abroad so that it can move forward as a country. Two decades of US military interventions abroad, or “war on terror”, waged under the pretexts of hunting monsters has backfired with unintended outcomes including midwifing new terrorist groups. For example, ISIS was born in the prisons of US occupied Iraq. There has been destabilization and proliferation of sectarianism across the Middle East. Anchored in the fear of immigrants coming from conflict zones, there has been a rise of racist authoritarian and white supremacist politics in Europe and the United States. The United States can change this course by honestly accounting for the scale of the disaster that it has inflicted on the world and on itself particularly during the reign of three of its presidents. To that end, the new administration along with the 9/11 Commission or the 2006 Iraq Study Group should conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the consequences of US anti-terrorism policy since 9/11 including detention, surveillance, torture, the use of manned and unmanned airstrikes, extrajudicial killings, and partnerships with repressive regimes. The assessment should include the views outside the common national security circles, such as grassroots and non-governmental organizations, civilians in countries where the US has waged war, and minority communities in the US that have experienced the severe effects of the country’s anti-terrorism policies. Based on the findings, the new administration should create fertile grounds for victims of the “war on terror” both in the US and abroad to seek and receive compensation, and prosecution of those who engaged in criminal violations of human rights and other abuses during the campaign. An honest reckoning of the post-9/11 approaches and military interventions would not lead to US disengagements of the outside world but rather deepens its global engagements. Overall, the two decades of US anti-terrorism policies prove that security and stability cannot be achieved by oppression and imperfect partnership with authoritarians. The best means Americans can do for democracy, human freedom, and dignity is to respect and protect these values at home and use the US’s leverage to support responsible and legitimate governments abroad. Only an honest reckoning of the “war on terror” and its consequences will make the United States effective in changing the course to save the values it stands for.


By: Jemal Muhamed, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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