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HomeGeopolitical CompassThe AmericasWinning Ugly: What the War on Terror Cost America

Winning Ugly: What the War on Terror Cost America

Author: Elliot Ackerman

Affiliation: Former U.S. Marine and intelligence officer

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: September-October 2021/USA 

Type of Literature: Article 

Word Count: 3977


Keywords: America, USA, ISIS



Author Elliot Ackerman, a former US marine and intelligence officer, discusses the cost the United States has paid to win the War on Terror. Quoting from George W. Bush’s September 2001 speech “We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place until there is no refuge or no rest” he analyses as at what cost the US has won the war. The author argues that after 20 years of the global War on Terror, the US has largely achieved its objectives as Bush outlined. Osama bin Laden is dead and his successor Aymen Al Zawahiri rarely communicates through propaganda releases. Al Qaeda is weak and its offshoot (ISIS) is dispersed. However, the war had a profound effect on American democracy with a ballooning national deficit and warnings of inflation. The deficit spending has anesthetized the American people to the fiscal cost of the War on Terror, and technological and social changes have numbed them to its human cost. The US has also paid the opportunity cost that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the depths of American political dysfunction and has hinted at the dangers of a civil-military divide. It also brought the United States’ complex relationship with China into stark relief because the US was busy in counterterrorism operations while Beijing was building a military to fight and defeat a peer-level competitor. The fatigue from the War on Terror may seem like a soft cost but it is a manifest strategic liability. The national narrative also matters because the stories people wanted to hear were the ones in which the Americans were the good guys, liberating the world from tyranny and oppression. The author concludes with lines from The Sound and the Fury “No battle is ever won. . . . They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools”. The purpose of the global War on Terror was to prevent significant acts of terrorism, particularly in the United States, then the war has succeeded, but it requires answers for the many battles the United States has fought since 9/11 and understanding the impact they have had on the American psyche.

By: Razia Wadood, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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