Soon after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, when it had become clear who was behind the atrocities, President George W Bush addressed Congress and declared: “On September 11, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country … Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
The template for American policy for the next two decades was set; a nation at war, a “war on terror” and one that would not end until unconditional surrender had been secured. America was, though it is sometimes forgotten, supported in this struggle by its Nato allies, by friendly nations around the world and its intervention in Afghanistan was endorsed by the United Nations.
Even so, it was the first, foundational mistake the west made in responding to the challenge of militant Islamists. It should not have been a “war” at all, but a careful, slow rounding up of those responsible. Osama bin Laden’s aim was always to provoke America into massive, indiscriminate retaliation and to foment the much-discussed “clash of civilisations”. America, in shock and hurt, duly obliged, lashing out with huge bombing raids and the destruction of much of whatever primitive infrastructure and stability Afghanistan possessed.
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