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The war on terror

What will America do next?

US troops prepare for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Scott Nelson/Getty Images

This weekend we’ll mourn the 2,997 victims of the 9/11 attacks in America 20 years ago, but we’ll also mark the grisly demise of liberal interventionism, “buried in the rubble of Iraq and Afghanistan”, says Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian. “Warmakers” in the US and other western powers argued that those foreign invasions weren’t just a justifiable act of self-defence against al-Qaeda, but would “save Afghans from misogynistic theocracy and Iraqis from tyranny”. That’s because, in the late 1990s, the West was faced with the sight of regimes “bent on murdering” their own peoples, and successfully waded into Kosovo and Sierra Leone. The disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan have put an end to such interventions. “Witness the Syrians or Rohingya Muslims, whose pleas to be rescued from slaughter went unanswered.” We live in a warier world now – “but no less brutal”.

Whatever else you think of it, America’s oft-derided war on terror “has been a success”, says David Aaronovitch in The Times. The US hasn’t suffered another attack on the scale of 9/11 and most terrorism in the West over the past decade has been carried out by lone wolves or small groups. “The knife and the lorry have become the tools of the bloody trade.” Yet thanks to Afghanistan, any attempt at “exporting democracy” will be reduced to “lobbing an ‘over the horizon’ munition at someone you hope is the enemy”. America’s first response to the bombing of Kabul airport last month was a drone strike that killed at least 10 civilians. Were another Rwandan genocide to loom in the coming years, “we would do as little as we did in the 1990s”.

Reports of the death of American interventionism are premature, says Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. Expect another show of force “in some remote trouble spot by mid-decade”. Every time the US screws up, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Syria, it briefly turns inward – then its “foreign policy blob” of elite diplomats, scholars and journalists regains a starry-eyed belief that the US is “the redemptive force in world affairs”. Neither is the blob partisan: it combines the “worst of the right (aggression) with the worst of the left (righteousness)”. Its inevitable diagnosis of the Afghanistan debacle is a “lack of American stamina”. When the next crisis looms, expect calls for “a muscular response” and “strategic patience” – “the foreign policy blob will win in the end.”

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