U.S. Foreign Policy Never Recovered From the War on Terror | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED X-Frame-Options: DENY X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN

U.S. Foreign Policy Never Recovered From the War on Terror

In a 1996 essay in Foreign Affairs, the conservative authors William Kristol and Robert Kagan proposed a U.S. foreign policy of “benevolent global hegemony.” Scoffing at former President John Quincy Adams’s maxim that America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,” they asked, “But why not? The alternative is to leave monsters on the loose, ravaging and pillaging to their hearts’ content, as Americans stand by and watch.” In Kristol and Kagan’s view, it was the United States’ responsibility to sally forth and slay—an argument they reprised years later as two of the biggest advocates for the Iraq war.

The last two decades have revealed the folly of this hubris. With the declaration of its global “war on terror” after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States went abroad in search of monsters and ended up midwifing new ones—from terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (or ISIS), born in the prisons of U.S.-occupied Iraq; to destabilization and deepening sectarianism across the Middle East; to racist authoritarian movements in Europe and in the United States that feed—and feed off of—the fear of refugees fleeing those regional conflicts. Advocates of the war on terror believed that nationalist chauvinism, which sometimes travels under the name “American exceptionalism,” could be stoked at a controlled burn to sustain American hegemony. Instead, and predictably, toxic ultranationalism burned out of control. Today, the greatest security threat to the United States comes not from any terrorist group, or from any great power, but from domestic political dysfunction. The election of Donald Trump as president was a product and accelerant of that dysfunction—but not its cause. The environment for his political rise was prepared over a decade and a half of xenophobic, messianic Washington warmongering, with roots going back into centuries of white supremacist politics.

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