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A U.S. Army doorgunner aboard a Chinook helicopter looks down onto the Afghan landscape. A U.S. Army doorgunner aboard a Chinook helicopter looks down onto the Afghan landscape enroute to the inauguration ceremony for a Coalition-led Provincial Reconstruction Team outpost in Asadabad, Feb. 19, 2004 (AP photo by Bob Strong).

The U.S. Obsession With Failed States After 9/11 Was a Costly Distraction

Monday, Sept. 13, 2021

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is an opportune moment to reflect on the lessons the United States drew from those horrible events. One of the most problematic was the belief that the main threats to U.S. and international security emanated not from powerful states, as in the past, but from weak and failing ones. This questionable conviction led to a sweeping reorientation of U.S. foreign and national security policy that distracted the country from more important sources of danger and reinforced a militarized approach to the very real development and humanitarian needs of the world’s fragile states. 

In late summer 2001, the United States was at the zenith of its unipolar moment, with no peer competitor. The ability of al-Qaida to organize and carry out a devastating surprise attack on the U.S. homeland from Afghanistan, one of the most impoverished and least developed countries on Earth, delivered a shock to the national psyche comparable to and arguably greater than Pearl Harbor. Within U.S. policy circles, a new consensus quickly emerged, which then-President George W. Bush articulated in his first National Security Strategy published in June 2002: “America is now threatened less by conquering states than by failing ones.” The implication of 9/11, the author Thomas P. M. Barnett wrote in his bestselling 2005 book, “The Pentagon’s New Map,” was clear: “Disconnectedness defines danger.”  ...

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