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September 11 in Retrospect

George W. Bush’s Grand Strategy, Reconsidered

The 'Tribute in Lights' shines as the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center is observed in New York, September 11, 2006. Gary Hershorn / Reuters

Ten years after 9/11, we can begin to gain some perspective on the impact of that day's terrorist attacks on U.S. foreign policy. There was, and there remains, a natural tendency to say that the attacks changed everything. But a decade on, such conclusions seem unjustified. September 11 did alter the focus and foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration. But the administration's new approach, one that garnered so much praise and so much criticism, was less transformative than contemporaries thought. Much of it was consistent with long-term trends in U.S. foreign policy, and much has been continued by President Barack Obama. Some aspects merit the scorn often heaped on them; other aspects merit praise that was only grudging in the moment. Wherever one positions oneself, it is time to place the era in context and assess it as judiciously as possible.

BEFORE AND AFTER

Before 9/11, the Bush administration had focused its

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