A decade after 9/11, Bin Laden is finally dead, but what has the War on Terror (lately rebranded as “overseas contingency operations”) accomplished? The American Interest editor Adam Garfinkle writes:
If it turns out that Pakistan has been more part of the problem in tracking down bin Laden than part of the solution—if, in other words, this has been part of Pakistan’s double game all along—then it reflects backward on a comment I made just days after 9/11. I was very struck by President Bush’s call for “moral clarity” just after the attacks. And my reply to this at the time was that moral clarity is all very nice, but in this case it would be very hard to achieve. In President Bush’s “us versus them” world, the world in which one was either for us or against us—reminding us old enough of John Foster Dulles’ similar locution—he apparently had not reckoned with the fact that the sources of the 9/11 attack came most proximately from three countries that we counted as allies: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan. It was Saudi Arabia that brewed the radical stew in its Wahhabi schools, Egypt whose repression helped produce and then push out Ayman Zawahiri and his cohorts into bin Laden’s arms, and Pakistan that had helped create the Taliban regime in its effort to keep its hand firmly on the collar of Afghan politics. Moral clarity is hard to achieve when three of your closest regional allies are in fact responsible for the problem you are trying to solve in the first place.
What do things look like now, 10 years out? We’ll see about Pakistan. As for Egypt, it is now in flux, true, but its army is still capable of brutal repression against Islamist opposition should the need for brutality arise, and it could have the same exportive effect in the future that it has had in the past. As for Saudi Arabia, if you look at Saudi textbooks a dozen years ago and look at them today, you will see that very little if anything is changed. The Saudis are still stirring the stew. So while bin Laden is dead, the contributions of these three so-called allies remain much too similar to what they were before 9/11.