September 10, 2021

20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance

By Richard Fontaine

Virtually everyone has a 9/11 story. On that seemingly average morning, I watched from my Pentagon City apartment as flames and smoke suddenly marred a clear blue sky. In graduate school at the time, I ran across the street to the medical facility where my wife worked. The beds there would soon be needed for a flood of injured, we were told, and I stood by to help out somehow. No one ever arrived. Most in the Pentagon, it turned out, were killed in the blast or escaped injury. Instead, as smoke billowed past the windows, we looked at television to watch the world change.

My story is hardly exceptional, and that’s the point: 9/11 touched not just the thousands who lost their lives and the families who grieve for them, but the many millions of other Americans who lived through it. The attacks generated, perhaps, the greatest national trauma since the Civil War: 19 hijackers threw America and its foreign policy off balance, a balance it has struggled to regain ever since.

That points the way to a post-post-9/11 foreign policy: Balancing America’s interests, values, presence, engagement, and efforts — on multiple issues in multiple places — should be the watchword of the new era.

Washington saw huge successes after 9/11, in preventing another mass-casualty attack on the homeland and reorganizing the government to deal with terrorist threats. It also engaged in terrible overreaches, ranging from detainee torture to the war in Iraq. It rightly elevated counterterrorism as the most acute threat to U.S. national security, and then wrongly made it the organizing principle of American foreign policy. Through it all, balance was the element so often missing.

Afghanistan illustrates the problem.

Read the full article from The Hill.