September 11: Back to square one 20 years after

September 11: Back to square one 20 years after. By David Kilcullen.

Twenty years after 9/11 the terrorism threat is larger and more widespread, the Western alliance is weaker, and the US is in sharp decline relative to its rivals. Democratic societies are less free, stunted by “safetyism”, less resilient and more divided. …

In one respect — and one only — the war on terror was a success: no country has suffered another ­attack on the scale of 9/11. But this is cold comfort against the costs of two decades of conflict. These have been enormous: researchers at Brown University calculate the financial bill at $US8 trillion ($11 trillion) for the US, not counting coalition, NATO and UN spending. The same researchers estimate up to 929,000 direct war deaths, but the true toll is far higher if we include deaths from disease, famine and social collapse in war-affected societies.

Global terrorism looms larger and threatens more countries today than in 2001. Al-Qa’ida on 9/11 had about 25,000 members, mostly in Afghanistan, Africa and Southeast Asia. In 2021 the organisation is on the point of regaining its Afghan sanctuary, has expanded into other countries and is at least double its pre-9/11 size.

More importantly, al-Qa’ida today is far from the only — let alone the most radical — transnational terrorist group. Islamic State, spawned from al-Qa’ida as a direct result of the ill-judged 2003 invasion of Iraq, still has thousands of fighters across the Middle East, 11 “provinces” and a network of ­almost 200,000 supporters worldwide. Regional groups such as al-Shabaab — which also emerged from an ill-judged intervention, in 2006, in Somalia — have increased in size, lethality and reach. …

The influence of Iran’s mullahs has grown:

Iraq is today effectively an Iranian protectorate, with dozens of Tehran-backed militias providing security against the remnants of ­Islamic State’s “caliphate” and ­exercising significant political control as a result. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s regime owes its survival to Russian and Iranian assistance, making Damascus, too, a client of Tehran.



In Yemen, Iranian-backed Houthis control the country’s heartland, hold an impressive ­arsenal of rockets, drones and loitering munitions, and are attacking Iran’s arch rival, Saudi Arabia. Across North Africa, Islamic State, al-Qa’ida and local groups compete for recruits, while in Libya — after another ill-judged intervention, in 2011 — rival governments backed by competing coalitions vie for control as extremists prosper. …

The west is divided and weaker, led by Breshnevs:

The incompetence and incoherence on recent display in Afghanistan has now drawn rage and contempt from governments themselves, with harsh statements from leaders in London, Paris, ­Berlin and New Delhi. The argument, long pushed by Moscow and Beijing –that the US is both arrogant and unreliable, treating loyalty and sacrifice as a one-way street and disappearing conveniently when asked for support in return — resonates much more strongly today than on 9/11.

North Korea, apart from a brief period in 2017-18, has benefited from being on the backburner of US policy, allowing it to build a ­nuclear arsenal, develop advanced missile technology, and act in an ­increasingly aggressive manner toward South Korea.

Aside from the external evidence of US decline, there are signs of internal weakness. The US in 2021 is a gerontocracy, with all the pathologies one might expect from an ageing regime.

America’s vigour on 9/11, on top of its game as the world’s sole superpower a decade after defeating the Soviets in the Cold War, has deteriorated into something remarkably similar to sclerotic late-Soviet politics. …

Led by stupider people, and everyone is noticing. Not only are average IQs dropping in the West, but the West is led by an elite that spurns real talent — too competitive for them!

For decades, Americans have been told by self-described experts that they have the most powerful, capable and well-equipped military the world has ever seen. It is certainly the most expensive. Yet this superb military seems unable to actually win a war: it has not done so since defeating Saddam Hussein in 1991.

Sooner or later people, comparing the failure they see with their own eyes against the confident ­assurances of credentialed experts, begin to suspect that the experts might actually be idiots. …

They cannot persuade, they do not earn our trust, instead they rely on government force to bully us:

Democratic societies are less free today than on 9/11. Anti-terror legislation in many countries has chilled speech, limited freedom of assembly, association and travel, gagged media discussion of terrorism suspects, created mechanisms for secret detention without trial and compromised people’s privacy, all in the name of keeping them safe.

Domestic intelligence agencies are more intrusive, social-media and tech companies monitor conversations for extremism, surveillance cameras have proliferated and a generation has been taught to view others as potential threats.

All in sync with the corruption of society by a debased currency, managed by a few for their own enrichment — who pay off government by manufacturing some of the money that makes the welfare state possible. It is not sustainable. A major shakeup is coming, perhaps soon.

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hat-tip Scott of the Pacific