The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Five years on: What have we learned?

It has been five years since 19 Islamic terrorists fundamentally changed our understanding of the world and our place in it. Since then we have undertaken two wars, crushed some of our enemies, spawned new ones, alienated allies and generally polarized the world.

The past five years have seen a radical shift in the geopolitical landscape of the world that has not been seen since the fall of the Soviet Union, and is arguably more important and fundamental. The fall of the Evil Empire brought an end to a structured and somewhat predictable enemy; Sept. 11 marked the beginning of an almost existential threat so ideologically poisonous, unpredictable, and different that combating it has been a process of trial and error.

The errors have been of unprecedented magnitude and we have failed to learn from many of the trials. The world, but especially America, should take into consideration two areas: the specific errors, such as the aftermath of the initial war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the wider implications and underpinnings of the new structure of the world situation.

High on the list of particulars, the United States has learned that toppling a tyrannical regime is not equivalent to winning the war or, more infamously, accomplishing the mission. How to solve this is being learned the hard way day by bloody day. Poor planning, almost criminal execution and delusional optimism have been the hallmarks of this administration’s hard-power foreign policy.

Donald Rumsfeld typifies this stubborn approach towards the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. Though some improvements are being made, albeit very slowly, proper planning and execution, including more boots on the ground and strict oversight and training, as well as a realistic dialogue and admission of mistakes would have prevented much of the criticism that is leveled at America.

America has suffered more than just a blow to its pride, however. As important as learning tactical lessons from hard-power mistakes, this administration needs to realize and admit that its actions have created a rallying call and spawning point for more jihadists worldwide. The United States was justified in militarily responding to such tyrannies as the Taliban and, arguably, Saddam Hussein; any sort of military response would have, admittedly, given the jihadists something to rally around. However, the actions that have been taken have not just rallied terrorists but have inspired the creation of more of them.

America has been espousing the highest ideals and pursuing the spread of democracy across the world, but instances such as Abu Ghraib put the lie to all of the efforts to fight extremism. It is still baffling that in a war for hearts and minds those who stand for freedom, democracy, and tolerance are losing to radicals who represent repression, fear and unremitting violence.

Even worse is the global situation brought about since that fateful day. Of course, some of it is not the direct fault of America; even the world’s superpower does not have that kind of global influence. It does all, however, link back in one way or another to the actions taken by the United States. Some situations are improving, thankfully, and some lessons have been taken to heart, while others continue to be ignored. The United States gave the brush-off to the United Nations over Iraq and suffered the diplomatic consequences. Condemnation of unilateralism came from nearly every quarter, especially from our European NATO allies and even from countries such as China and Russia.

The rebuke was taken to heart; the United States now walks diplomatic lockstep with partners in talks with Iran, North Korea and other international pariahs. Still, the so-called “Bush Doctrine” of pre-emptive strikes remains a key and controversial component of U.S. foreign policy. There are problems on the horizon, too. The dominance and prominence of Iran threatens regional stability; its reckless nuclear policies and unabashed state sponsorship of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, combined with its new-found oil wealth and ego boost from the war in Lebanon, make it the most pressing international hot spot and one that should be addressed immediately.

Fundamental problems remain unresolved. The most paramount of these is the issue of Israel and Palestine. The perceived subjugation of the Palestinian people and aggression of Israel continue to be the loudest clarion call for world jihad. It is right that the United States continue to support Israel, within reason, but because of this link we will continue to be a target of terrorists. If the issue of a Palestinian state is resolved, jihadists will lose their most persuasive and enduring recruiting tool.

Ultimately the only way to secure peace is to end the cycle of tit-for-tat violence and subjugation. It has been proven empirically that the best way to do this is open compromise and free-market economic development. Until then, ignorance will breed ignorance and unemployed, hopeless and disaffected youths will turn to radical ideologies to find a role in society. There is a reason why terrorism and tyranny occur in the poorest areas around the globe.

Now is the time for a national and international reflection and debate; otherwise, we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past.


About the writer:

John is a first-year accounting, international studies and Chinese triple major. He can be reached at [email protected].

More to Discover