St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Is America safer after its 20-year war on terrorism in Afghanistan has resulted in the Taliban’s victory? The answer, like the war itself, is muddled. The lack of resolution should cause considerable discomfort to Americans who lived through the trauma of 9/11 and cheered the U.S. military’s quick routing of al-Qaida and its Taliban hosts in 2001. After the World Trade Center’s collapse, Americans had every right to believe President George W. Bush’s declaration from atop the wreckage that the United States would make the terrorists pay.
Instead, radical Islamist terrorism has metastasized beyond all recognition. Extremist groups seem to be trying to one-up each other, as if they’re in competition to see who can be more devout, more oppressive or even more horrific in their zeal to impose their will on others. Hezbollah in Lebanon tried to exceed the outrages of their Palestinian mentors by using kidnappings and, in 1983, the suicide bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marines barracks in Beirut. Al-Qaida and Taliban members found ways to exceed the outrages of Hezbollah. Islamic State founders have tried to go even further while exploiting power vacuums in Iraq and Syria to create a radical Islamic caliphate.
As Americans now know from watching the Taliban’s resurgence, sending a terrorist group into remission isn’t the same as annihilating it. Even though the Taliban is now in control in Afghanistan, it lacks aerial surveillance and eavesdropping capabilities, meaning its leaders probably have no idea what new atrocities might be hatching in the remote areas where other radical groups, such as Islamic State-Khorasan, are encamped. Al-Qaida remains active as well. And all are vying internationally for new recruits.
The United States has learned the hard way since 9/11 to dramatically tighten its defenses and deploy more nimbly on foreign turf to hunt down enemy fighters. In sharp contrast to the current debate over the freedoms of Americans opposed to masks and vaccines, Americans have gladly ceded all kinds of freedoms to advance the anti-terrorism cause. There’s rarely a peep of protest over partially disrobing at airports or submitting to searches at government buildings, concerts and sporting events.
As a result, Americans are far safer — and smarter — than they were in 2001. But they also are more Islamophobic than before, with hate crimes against people perceived to be Muslims having risen significantly since 2001.
Hate and discrimination serve as potent recruiting tools for radical groups abroad. So do the spectacles of America’s rushed retreats from Afghanistan and Syria, along with the abandonment of those who worked with U.S. forces.
So the answer is yes, conditions are safer today at home. But the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath have given rise to a bigger, bolder, more radical Islamist threat abroad. The world out there today is a far more dangerous place.
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