The anniversary of 9/11 has become an annual opportunity for soul-searching, for Americans to take stock of where they stand not only in the ongoing conflict with violent jihadism but more broadly as a nation. One thing stood out this year: Americans are more pessimistic about the struggle against al-Qaida and its offshoots than at any time since Sept. 11, 2001.
In a sense, this is understandable. The United States is still mired in Afghanistan and Iraq with no sign of victory. Jihadism persists in many parts of the Islamic world and is even spreading to new regions. It continues to attract recruits. In fact, al-Qaida may be stronger now than ever. Domestically, the United States is bitterly divided by hyperpartisanship, political tribalism and an escalating culture war. Since 9/11, the United States has spent an estimated $2.8 trillion on counterterrorism, adding to the massive federal budget deficit. And there is no end in sight.
All this has led some Americans to conclude that al-Qaida is winning, or already has won. Reality, though, is more nuanced and complex. A case can be made that while the United States made major mistakes in its conflict with violent jihadism, it mostly has been successful.