Lessons and Insights Gleaned 20 Years After 9/11

On September 30, 2021, the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, hosted a special edition of its “Beyond the Headlines” (BtH) series as part of BU’s Alumni Weekend 2021, during which experts reflected on the state of the world following the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The discussion was led by Joseph Wippl, Professor of the Practice of International Relations at the Pardee School, and featured Andrew Bacevich, Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at the Pardee School, as well as Hugh David Scott Greenway, an American journalist who has worked as a foreign affairs correspondent for Time Life, The Washington Post, and the Boston Globe covering multiple conflicts including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. Panelists offered their insights on the 9/11 attacks, the ensuing invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the parallels between those invasions and the Vietnam War, as well as the path forward for U.S. following its recent withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Greenway was quick to point out the similarities between the Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how both are examples of “American misadventures abroad.” He said that the U.S. mission to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan was doomed from the start as the military had no understanding or desire to understand the local culture or traditions; the mission was to bring American values to the region, and the military was dead set that they were always close to victory. Bacevich echoed Greenway’s observations stating that the U.S. militarism and ideological hubris were the guiding lights through the military occupation of the Middle East. According to him, the national security paradigm that led the U.S. through the Cold War, after the Cold War, and throughout the global war of terror – the desire to be ideologically superior and militarily dominant – was incorrect and needs to change so issues of climate change, as well as public and economic health, can be addressed with more efficiency. Bacevich argued that until the national security paradigm shifts, the U.S. will not learn from the failures of the post-9/11 war on terror.

A recording of the panel can be viewed above.

Beyond the Headlines is a regular series at the Pardee School that seeks to cultivate informed conversations among experts and practitioners on issues that are currently in the news headlines, but to do so with a focus on intellectual analysis and on longer-range trends. Recent Beyond the Headlines discussions have focused on topics including the global perception of U.S. presidential elections, civil-military relations, BrexitInternational Women’s Day, and the crisis in Kashmir.