It was the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil and launched the international wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, creatingUS Department of Homeland Securityand an ongoing war on terror.
The four coordinated attacks on September 11, 2001 killed nearly 3,000 people, including more than 340 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers. About 25,000 people were injured in the attacks, carried out by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda.
Two decades later, Americans are assessing new threats, such as cyberterrorism and internal extremism, as they reflect on the tumultuous withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
DePaul University history professorThomas mockaitisand professor of political science at the University of ChicagoRobert Papa discuss what we have learned about terrorist threats since then and how safe we are today.
The following questions and answers have been long edited.
How do you think 9/11 changed the world?
Thomas Mockaitis:September 11 has changed the world in subtle and profound ways.
The journey will never be the same. Two-hour arrival before departure is the new rate. Increasing security in all government and private buildings is also a permanent change. We are used to it.
The global war on terrorism has had a profoundly negative effect, keeping us in a state of perpetual war. We lost $ 2 trillion in Iraq and $ 2 trillion in Afghanistan.
We have also spent billions on placebo safety that makes us feel good without keeping us safer. (The fight against terrorism) has also fostered sentiment and xenophobia against immigrants. Law enforcement has been given a dangerous breadth in conducting surveillance, detaining immigrants, and conducting checks.
Robert Pape:He made it clear that terrorism is a clear and present danger. The deadliest attack against America since World War II was not undertaken by a major power or country, but by a small group of superpowers.
What do we know about Al Qaeda status now? Are they still a credible threat?
Mokatiti:The centralized organization based in Quetta, Pakistan, has been severely degraded. Its affiliates and, most importantly, the ideology it represents continue and will continue to inspire extremists.
Paper:Al-Qaeda is a shadow of itself today, but six months from now it could be quite different.
Has the advancement of technology and the internet made us safer or more vulnerable since 2001?
Mokatiti:The technology offers several advantages, mainly in data collection, information sharing and passenger screening. It has also helped terrorists spread their message and gain followers.
Paper:If supercharged individuals can launch themselves into space, then the dangers of superpower terrorists are also significant.
There was widespread public support for the war in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, but America’s troubled exit from the country makes people rethink the war. Do you believe that the objectives of that conflict were met?
Mokatiti:There was a brief window of opportunity in 2002-2003, but instead of consolidating victory in Afghanistan, we took our eyes off the ball and invaded Iraq. This gave the Taliban a chance to heal. Around 2009, the war was invincible, but we gave it one more effort with the rise and doctrine of Petraeus (anti-insurgency approach). It did not work because the Kabul government was corrupt and lacked popular support. After we killed Bin Laden in 2011, we should have declared victory and gone home.
Paper:America’s intention to go to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 was to take Bin Laden. This goal was achieved in 2011.
Terrorist attacks can provoke crackling reactions. Is this a risk when it comes to how the government responds to such events?
Mokatiti:Adopting terrorist legislation and enforcing security measures after an attack is like buying food when you are very hungry. Everything looks good, and you do not make good choices.
Paper:Excessive reaction produces more terrorists than it stops. In Iraq in 2002, there were at most several hundred terrorists scattered in northern Iraq. After our invasion with a mass army in March 2003, the number of terrorists increased to 5,000 by 2004 and 20,000 in 2006. Worse, our mass invasion of the army led to the establishment of al-Qaeda in Iraq as a major terrorist organization and this later evolved into ISIS.
How does the threat of domestic terrorism today compare to the threat of international terrorism we saw on 9/11? Do you believe the country is ready to withstand both threats?
Mokatiti:Internal extremism poses the greatest threat. The number of organizations and travelers willing to engage in violence was fully revealed on 6 January. The threat still exists. It can appear as a lone wolf, small group attacks or something bigger like the capital uprising.
We have done a good job securing airports and protecting infrastructure, making it much more difficult to carry out a large-scale attack like 9/11. The threat today comes from attacks like those in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and Orlando (Pulse Nightclub). Terrorists using firearms and IEDs are hard to stop. It does not matter if they are foreigners or locals. Objectives may vary, but not methods.
Paper:Terrorism remains a clear and present danger that we ignore at our own risk.
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