Andrew Burton / Reuters The new normal: at John F. Kennedy Airport, February 2012.

Preventing the Next Attack

A Strategy for the War on Terrorism

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the United States’ resolve was clear: never again. Never again would it let shadowy networks of jihadists, acting in the name of a perverted version of Islam, carry out a catastrophic attack on American soil. And so, in fits and starts, the George W. Bush administration and then the Obama administration developed a strategy for fighting what became known as “the global war on terror.” Washington sought to disrupt plots wherever they emerged and deny terrorists safe havens wherever they existed. When possible, it would rely on local partners to prosecute the fight. But when necessary, it would act alone to disrupt plots and kill or capture terrorist operatives and leaders, including with drone strikes and daring special operations raids such as the one that killed Osama bin Laden.

Today, the terrorist threat looks much different than it did right before 9/11. The U.S. counterterrorism community has dramatically ramped up its intelligence capabilities. Determined to “connect the dots” in the future, the U.S. government created new agencies and instituted a new paradigm for intelligence—share by rule, withhold by exception—and set up a slew of “fusion centers” and joint task forces to foster interagency cooperation. Borders were hardened, cockpit doors reinforced, and watch lists created. In Afghanistan, the United States overthrew the Taliban regime, which was hosting al Qaeda. Today, despite recent Taliban gains, al Qaeda still does not enjoy free rein in the country. In Iraq and Syria, al Qaeda’s offshoot, the Islamic State (or ISIS), is on the run, thanks to the work of a global coalition assembled in 2014 and U.S.-led air strikes and special operations raids. The group’s Iraqi capital of Mosul fell in July, and its Syrian stronghold in Raqqa is almost certain to follow. Owing to the relentless pressure that the United States and its allies have placed on terrorists’ safe havens, the threat of a complex and catastrophic attack emanating from abroad—although not

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