A new outlet

Paul Bracken
Paul Bracken

By Paul Bracken
Professor emeritus of management and political science, Yale School of Management

Following the Cold War, the U.S. foreign policy establishment was spoiling for another fight to overthrow tyranny. Yet there was no domestic support for such a war. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait led to the first Gulf War. But the failure to end his regime left a good part of the establishment with a sense of unfulfilled destiny. These were the trends underway before 9/11. But there was no outlet to give them voice.

By linking a war on terror with a projection of our idea of democracy onto the Middle East, the attack on 9/11 provided that outlet. 9/11 had scared the daylights out of the American people and provided the establishment with political cover for all kinds of folly that they do so well — the Afghanistan debacle is only the most recent example.

It should be said that the United States has been made safer, there have been no subsequent terror attacks. This is a good thing, clearly. A bargain between domestic and foreign policy was struck after 9/11: protection from terrorist attacks at home in exchange for a free hand in overseas wars.

But it’s not like we’re particularly good at remodeling other countries to turn them into Vermont. The record of democracy building in Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt is unblemished by success.

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