America’s war on terror was rousing success

September 10, 2011


The new conventional wisdom on 9/11: We have created a decade of fear. We overreacted to 9/11 — al-Qaida turned out to be a paper tiger; there never was a second attack — thereby bankrupting the country, destroying our morale and sending us into national decline.

The secretary of defense says that al-Qaida is on the verge of strategic defeat. True. But why? Al-Qaida did not spontaneously combust. Yet, in a decade Osama bin Laden went from the emir of radical Islam, jihadi hero after whom babies were named all over the Muslim world — to pathetic old recluse, almost incommunicado, watching shades of himself on a cheap TV in a bare room.

What turned the strong horse into the weak horse? Precisely the massive and unrelenting American war on terror, a systematic worldwide campaign carried out with increasing sophistication, efficiency and lethality — now so cheaply denigrated as an “overreaction.”

First came the Afghan campaign, once so universally supported that Democrats for years complained that President Bush was not investing enough blood and treasure there. Now, it is reduced to a talking point as one of the “two wars” that bankrupted us. Yet Afghanistan was utterly indispensable in defeating the jihadis then and now. We think of Pakistan as the terrorist sanctuary. We fail to see that Afghanistan is our sanctuary, the base from which we have freedom of action to strike Jihad Central in Pakistan and the border regions.

Iraq, too, was decisive, though not in the way we intended. We no more chose it to be the central campaign in the crushing of al-Qaida than Eisenhower chose the Battle of the Bulge as the locus for the final destruction of the German war machine.

Al-Qaida, uninvited, came out to fight us in Iraq, and it was not just defeated but humiliated. The local population — Arab, Muslim, Sunni, under the supposed heel of the invader — joined the infidel and rose up against the jihadi in its midst. It was a singular defeat from which al-Qaida never recovered.

The other great achievement of the decade was the defensive anti-terror apparatus hastily constructed from scratch after 9/11 by President Bush, and then continued by President Obama. Continued why? Because it worked. It kept us safe — the warrantless wiretaps, the Patriot Act, extraordinary rendition, preventive detention and, yes, Guantanamo.

Perhaps, says the new conventional wisdom, but these exertions have bankrupted the country and led to our current mood of despair and decline.

Rubbish. The total costs of “the two wars” is $1.3 trillion. That’s less than 1/11th of the national debt, less than one year of Obama deficit spending. During the golden Eisenhower 1950s of robust economic growth averaging 5 percent annually, defense spending was 11 percent of GDP and 60 percent of the federal budget. Today, defense spending is 5 percent of GDP and 20 percent of the budget. So much for imperial overstretch.

Yes, we are approaching bankruptcy. But this has as much to do with the war on terror as do sunspots. Looming insolvency comes not from our shrinking defense budget but from the explosion of entitlements. They devour nearly half the federal budget.

As for the Great Recession and financial collapse, you can attribute it to misguided federal policy pushing home ownership through risky subprime lending. To Fannie and Freddie. To greedy bankers, unscrupulous lenders, naive (and greedy) homebuyers. To computer-enabled derivatives so complicated and interwoven as to elude control. But to the war on terror? Nonsense.

Nine/Eleven was our Pearl Harbor. This time, however, the enemy had no home address. No Tokyo. Which is why today’s war could not be wrapped up in a mere four years. It was unconventional war by an unconventional enemy embedded within a worldwide religious community. Yet in a decade, we largely disarmed and defeated it, and developed — albeit through trial, error and tragic loss — the means to continue to pursue its remnants at rapidly decreasing cost. That is a historic achievement.

Our current difficulties and gloom are almost entirely economic in origin, the bitter fruit of misguided fiscal, regulatory and monetary policies that had nothing to do with 9/11. America’s current demoralization is not a result of the war on terror. On the contrary. The denigration of the war on terror is the result of our current demoralization, of retroactively reading today’s malaise into the real — and successful — history of our 9/11 response.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email is


JustNoticed 2 years, 7 months ago

Charles Krauthammer, courtier.


somedude20 2 years, 7 months ago

I will never forgive Colin Powell for knowingly selling a bill of goods that put our troops in harms way. He "sexed" up that bs intel about Iraq having WMDs' that has caused tens of thousands of American military members wounded or dead (not to mention all of the Iraqis that have been killed or injured). As an officer, he took an oath not to put our troops in harms way unless necessary, which Iraq was not!!! I can only hope that he will have nightmares that haunt him for the rest of his pathetic days on earth!! Powell, in my eyes, is more culpable than Bush or Cheney when it comes to Iraq since he is the only one to serve (don't even pull that crap about AWOL George) and he betrayed the trust that was given to him by the people


Paul R Getto 2 years, 7 months ago

WS: Good point. The 9/11 attacks gave the generals and the war toys industry what they had always wanted...endless war to test their tactics and weapons. If GW wanted to invade a country it should have been Iran, but they wouldn't be a pushover, so he pivoted to Iraq (maybe it was a typographical error?) Other than wasting brave and skilled men and women in these efforts, we are not accomplishing much. Obama needs to drop the Bush doctrine and think of a new, more rational approach.


weeslicket 2 years, 7 months ago

from the editorial: "We no more chose it (the war in in iraq) to be the central campaign in the crushing of al-Qaida than Eisenhower chose the Battle of the Bulge as the locus for the final destruction of the German war machine. "

just want to remind everyone of the terrible, incredible dishonesty contained within this statement. locus, indeed.


kugrad 2 years, 7 months ago

With all due respect to everyone involved, no war is a "rousing success." Also worth noting, the reason we have such a huge deficit is this same "rousing success"


jayhawklawrence 2 years, 7 months ago

The fact that our soldiers have performed so courageously says much more about the quality of our young people, their values and their hearts than any politician.


Richard Heckler 2 years, 7 months ago

Again Brownback,Cheney and Bush did a lousy job in protecting anyone from the 9/11/01 terrorists!!! Over 3000 people lost their lives in the USA due to the negligence of the Bush/Cheney national security team.


Richard Heckler 2 years, 7 months ago

Reagan/Bush supported the Taliban against the Russia invasion. When the USA invaded Taliban became the enemy. Isn't that something.

9/11/01 is a tool for politicians who want to keep the war machine going. It has nothing to do with democracy. It's all about the global economy producing global tax free profits for the few. This is not how peace and tranquility is established.

This celebrating 9/11/01 is kind of strange. Spending tons of tax dollars. Last night on Frontline revealed the USA has become nothing but a mammoth secret government operation. Discovering how many billions of tax dollars is being spent to supposedly keep america safe is also top secret information = no one is telling.

One other odd detail surfaced. The weapon makers of the USA suddenly became among the many many many many new intelligence gathering groups. 9/11/01 produced a vast array of civilian spy groups at big bucks. In essence all of this 9/11/01 has become a great source for profiteers aka tax dollar moochers.

A big question still remains unanswered? How in the world did 15 people manage to dupe Bush,Cheney,Rice,Rummy into ignoring them after the Clinton admin warned the Bush people. And after Bush had received a memo stating something big was on the table 30 days before 9/11/01.

These 9/11/01 culprits had to be very busy planning in depth strategy for each airport which had to involve serious hours. These folks were not strangers to the nations security giants. Since it seems a 24/7 cover-up has been on the tables.


jayhawklawrence 2 years, 7 months ago

Krauthammer has provided even more evidence of being a man out of touch with reality and certainly not a person I would want advising our county's leaders regarding foreign policy.


jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

In response to Bozo's comment, "The US had the sympathy of the entire world after 9/11, including the vast majority of the Muslim and Arab world". All the major media outlets showed mobs of people dancing in the streets in Arab cities. The crowds were cheering that the U.S. got it's nose bloodied. Maybe you were watching Al Jazeera, but all the U.S. media clearly showed what I saw. In that region there were two notable exceptions, Israel and Iran. Very interesting that in those two contrasting counties there were visible expressions of sympathy and outrage..


tomatogrower 2 years, 7 months ago

Hmm, killing a lot of American soldiers and innocent people in Iraq was a success? Iraq? Wasn't bin Laden from Saudi Arabia? Wasn't his group holed up with the Taliban in Afghanistan? Money spent in Iraq is ok, but not money spent in the United States? Conservatives are patriots? To what? Iraq?


Mike Ford 2 years, 7 months ago

This country trained and armed Osama Bin Laden during Charlie Wilson's war funding the Muhijadin against the Soviets. I was eleven when this was going down and the Olympics were boycotted. This country armed Saddam Hussein against the Ayatollah Khomeini from 1980 to 1988. This country punked the Middle East for oil like pretty much every World power since World War One. Imperialism doesn't care about faces or places cares about their resources being the United States to take. When a whole region has endured callous concern with no regard other than the taking of oil and the toppling of leaders in Iran they become cynical and have no sense of value for lives. After all, do any of the imperial powers have regards for Just give us your stuff and shut up and become civilized...that's what they've heard from this country. And people in this country show no historical perspective at times...oh well.


Abdu Omar 2 years, 7 months ago

"Yet, in a decade Osama bin Laden went from the emir of radical Islam, jihadi hero after whom babies were named all over the Muslim world..."

Having travelled most of the Middle East in the last10-15 years, I will tell you that very few, maybe less that .025% of the Arab population revere Bin Lauden in any way. Most Muslims hate the SOB. Why? Because he hijacked the great Religion of Islam to include killing of innocents and preemptive attacks, the sneaking and suspicious manner of warfare; all anti-Islamic in every sense of the word. Muslims hate Bin Lauden for making the religion a household dirty word and they hate him for making the world believe things about Islam that are not true. Of course he was helped by ignorant people and bigots.

As an American Patriot, a Veteran of Vietnam and a Muslim, I want to categorically state that Muslims do not name their children after him, pretend he was a hero in any way or want to be like him. He tricked and fooled young men into thinking the Quran tells them to kill when these young men are illiterate and unable to think critically. He fooled us all.


JohnBrown 2 years, 7 months ago

Good police work, coupled with a good spy network could have accomplished the same thing at much less cost in American blood and treasure.


AppologiesMyLiege 2 years, 7 months ago

The Bush Doctrine screwed up getting rid of Hussein. Hussein was the only guy keeping Iran from taking over the region. Now the other Hussein is allowing Mahmoud to infiltrate Iraq and dominate the middle east.


TheBellTolls 2 years, 7 months ago

We will have to wait and see what the fallout is from killing thousands of innocents abroad during the war on terror. No we didn't target civilians but that is little consolation to the father buring a two year-old child. If my children were killed, even by accident, and I had limited resources to fight back I would become a “terrorist”. The world is shrinking. It is harder and harder to drop bombs on the villagers of the world without reprisal.


Agnostick 2 years, 7 months ago

Yes, it was a success. Using a bundle of dynamite to blow up your house because you saw a black widow spider in the kitchen would also be "successful."


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

It wasn't a war ON terror, it was a war OF terror.

The US had the sympathy of the entire world after 9/11, including the vast majority of the Muslim and Arab world. BushCo squandered it by launching two unnecessary wars.

"Future historians will acknowledge that the major accomplishment of the George W. Bush "

Yep, plunging the country into a new Great Depression, and alienating the rest of the world with his penchant for mass murder.


Richard Heckler 2 years, 7 months ago

Brownback,Cheney and Bush did a lousy job in protecting anyone from the 9/11/01 terrorists!!! Over 3000 people lost their lives in the USA due to the negligence of Bush/Cheney.

Thousands of our soldiers are now dead because of the reckless war in the oil rich nations. Many more thousands of innocent native men,women and children are dead and still die everyday as a result of this reckless war. More killing is not making the USA safer. It is pissing off a lot of families who had no connection to the terrorists thus much bitterness toward the USA government.

Hell the CIA were tracking two in Yemen until the CIA lost track of them. So yes the USA government knew of this group.

What was Brownback and the repub admin doing to prevent 9/11/01?

Spending too much time at political fund raisers?

Why did they not put the FBI on these culprits knowing where they were living? Only a few blocks from Nat'l Security Admin Headquarters?

Why was no one fired for negligence?

The Clinton admin advised the Bush Admin of these people so how could the Bush Admin drop the ball?

How did these terrorists know they could pull off their plan on 9/11/01? This was a fairly sophisticated event which took time and effort so who kept the FBI off the the agenda?

Official knew these terrorists were learning to fly in the USA and were only learning take-off not landing.


cato_the_elder 2 years, 7 months ago

Future historians will acknowledge that the major accomplishment of the George W. Bush administration was keeping us safe from further terrorist attacks after the despicable attacks against us on September 11, 2001. Obama's advisers knew that the Bush-Cheney policies had worked, and persuaded Obama to keep them in place despite the churlish complaints from his far-left base and the incompetence of his attorney general.

All Americans should be proud of the accomplishments of our intelligence community, our military, and members of local law enforcement who have thwarted further attempts to kill our citizens and disrupt our way of life. We must never forget what was done to us ten years ago and how much worse it could have become had we not immediately put effective measures in place to prevent such atrocities ever being inflicted on us again.


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