As the cataclysmic events of September 11 have receded farther into the past, U.S. policymakers and the public should have been able to think more clearly about the causes of those events. But that has not happened.
Just after the attacks, the initial wave of nationalistic feeling was understandable (similar sentiments held the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941). And the Bush administration's military action against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan was equally understandable and justified, if not completely successful. After civilians were slaughtered so heinously on U.S. soil, the American people — recognizing the right to self–defense — would have been willing to incur a significant number of military casualties in Afghanistan to round up and kill or capture al Qaeda fighters. Yet on two separate occasions, despite its bellicose rhetoric, the Bush administration — fearing casualties, much as the Clinton administration had — allowed al Qaeda fighters to get away by timidly relying on Northern Alliance and Pakistani allies to pursue them rather than putting enough U.S. boots on the ground. What was needed then and what will be needed in the future is a robust, narrowly focused military response against terrorist groups that focus their attacks on U.S. targets. Unfortunately, a wider, less effective U.S. policy of military and covert action is being pursued by the Bush administration and supported by the American people. In fact, that indiscriminate U.S. military interventionism is a major cause of terrorism against the United States in the first place. For example, unnecessary U.S. military interventions in Georgia, the Philippines and Iraq will most likely cause more additional terrorist attacks on U.S. targets than they will prevent.