Sixteen years later, why we’re not winning.


Sixteen years ago today a war was brought to our city streets by an enemy we already knew but misunderstood. The 9/11 attack may have been the ultimate “black swan” event: something that we should have known was coming and should have prepared for but didn’t.

There are many reasons for the failures to foresee and to prepare, some of which still apply to us today. They are reflected in our cultural attitudes, the way we have fought the war, and in the people we have chosen to be president since September 11. 2001.

They form the lessons we should have learned from this war and still haven’t.

Osama bin Laden declared war on America in his religious “fatwa” published by a London newspaper in 1996. It called upon every Muslim to kill Americans anywhere they are found and said that his followers had no intention except to enter paradise by killing us.

Our intelligence agencies knew not only of his intent but of his growing ability to carry out his goals. They knew of the training camps that the Taliban used to help train bin Laden’s men. So much was known and ignored. As the Twin Towers burned on 9/11, sources were pouring out information that bin Laden was behind the attacks. I wrote as much in a column that appeared in the Washington Times on September 12, 2001.

Our war against the Taliban began on October 7, 2001 and it continues to this day. Why?

Two presidents — Messrs. Bush and Trump — adopted strategies to try to defeat them and to support the Afghanistan government while our troops fight the Taliban. President Obama only compounded Mr. Bush’s mistake in nation-building, kicking the can down the road so that his successor would have to deal with Afghanistan and Obama wouldn’t be blamed for “losing”.

President George W. Bush had said he was opposed to nation-building during his 2000 campaign, but he immediately reverted to it in Afghanistan and continued it in Iraq. Why?

Mr. Bush, because he had become a neoconservative, believed that everyone, everywhere, had the most fundamental desire to be free in the same way Americans are. He was fundamentally wrong. The Muslim culture, ingrained in believers for about fourteen hundred years, doesn’t allow the freedoms we enjoy in any way, far less as we enjoy them.