The Muslim world has changed considerably in 20 years, Fareed writes in his latest Washington Post column—and the Taliban are about to confront that reality.
When Osama bin Laden plotted the 9/11 attacks, Fareed notes, he hoped to rally Muslims against the West and around an austere version of Islam that, over two decades, has simply failed to appeal. Tellingly, since their takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban have called China their most important international partner—the same China that has been accused credibly of human-rights abuses against its Muslim minority in Xinjiang—highlighting the importance of power over religion to the Islamist militants. The UAE, one of three countries to recognize the Taliban’s regime in the 1990s, has yet to do so again, and its cities are showcases of openness and diversity.
“It is not surprising that the Taliban is seeking out China as its most important partner,” Fareed writes. “My bet is that it will have a much harder time finding easy allies in the Muslim world.”
How the US Wasted the Post-9/11 Moment
“Twenty years ago America set out to reshape the world order after the attacks of September 11th,” The Economist writes. “Today it is easy to conclude that its foreign policy has been abandoned on a runway at Kabul airport.” Depicting a US foreign policy that derailed itself after al Qaeda’s attacks in 2001, the magazine writes elsewhere that America’s post-9/11 failures began with a squandered moment of global unity.
Domestic solidarity and international support—including from Russian President Vladimir Putin and, when it came to Afghanistan, even from Iran—in the wake of 9/11 soon gave way to something else. “The war on terror has had no such ennobling or unifying results” as the end of the Cold War and America’s sense of shared purpose before 2001, The Economist writes. “Not only has America failed to strengthen an international order that conforms to its values. America’s own public institutions and many of its private ones—whether from confusion, exhaustion, fear or partisan political assault—are also emerging weaker from this 20-year experiment in power projection.”
Jihadism Has Changed in 20 Years, Too
Noting the previous unthinkability of recent scenes in Kabul, as the “Taliban practically held the door while the U.S. troops departed” Afghanistan, Hassan Hassan writes in an in-depth essay for Newlines Magazine that jihadists have changed a lot since 9/11. A schism emerged in the 2000s and seems to have gone under-appreciated for years, Hassan writes, as many jihadis rejected the grand vision, championed by Osama bin Laden and others, of fighting the “far enemy” in a global war against the US. Rather, jihad has gone local, with jihadis pursuing more limited aims in their specific countries and communities.
“Jihadists have learned two lessons from the past 20 years which have had a moderating and sobering effect,” Hassan writes. “One is that local fights are the priority and more can be achieved by focusing on the local environment … The other lesson is to not mess with the U.S. if you can help it … The Taliban limited their fight to Afghanistan, while al Qaeda and the Islamic State took the fight to the West. The first succeeded and the other two failed. … [T]hat is the unheralded accomplishment of the war on terror, which, besides all the destruction and misery it caused, transformed jihadism. The U.S. achieved its core objective, notwithstanding the rhetoric about nation building, human rights and women’s emancipation, by tempering jihadism to be a threat only to local populations, not to Westerners. In this sense, the global war on terror was in fact won, just not on the high-minded terms in which it was fought.”
Is Intelligence Still Fighting the Last War?
The US has found a better way to fight terrorism in recent years, several commentators have argued of late: by using more limited means than long military occupations.
But at The Atlantic, Amy Zegart writes that after the catch-up US intelligence played in the post-9/11 decades, it is once again behind the curve—this time, vis-à-vis digital opportunities and threats. The CIA and other agencies must shift attention to analyzing the open-source intelligence that has bloomed in its availability in the digital age, rather than gathering intel in outmoded ways, Zegart argues, while more attention should be turned to cyber, too, as nation-state hacking and criminal ransomware flourish as threats.
Living With Covid-19
As the Delta variant breaks through the world’s Covid-19 defenses, countries that once pursued “zero-Covid” strategies are now changing tack. Southeast Asia saw mixed results against the virus at first—Vietnam and Thailand recorded a near-miraculous dearth of cases until this spring, for instance, while the Philippines and Indonesia didn’t fare as well—but countries across the region are adopting phased-opening strategies geared toward coexistence with Covid-19, Alifah Zainuddin writes for The Diplomat.
Australia, heralded for its success in keeping Covid-19 out, has had to shift its strategy as cases crop up, The Economist writes: “The only way to curb such outbreaks has been through short lockdowns known as ‘circuit-breakers’. With more infections slipping through the net, that leads to what [epidemiologist Catherine] Bennett [of Deakin University in Melbourne] calls an ‘epidemic of lockdowns’. More than half of Australians have been in lockdown at one point or another since June. Melbourne has seen more than 200 days of lockdowns since the pandemic began. Hence the plan to ditch the zero-covid paradigm and accept that cases, and to a lesser extent deaths, will rise.”
China, debatably the world’s paragon of draconian pandemic response, finds itself in a similar position, Yanzhong Huang writes for The New York Times: Beijing doesn’t want to sacrifice its success in locking down against the virus, Huang writes, but economic effects could force a change to that approach.
Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good