Two decades after September 11, the shocking and tragic attacks continue to shape American politics and foreign policy. In the months following the attacks, the U.S. passed the Patriot Act, checking civil liberties in the name of security; drove Al Qaida from Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban from power, launching what would become the country’s longest sustained military campaign; and enacted the Homeland Security Act, resulting in the Department of Homeland Security—now the third largest Cabinet department. In the years since, 9/11 has transformed the U.S. government and Americans’ attitudes about safety, privacy, and the nation’s role in global affairs. The impacts of the war on terror have reverberated around the world. With the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan this year, the Taliban have once again seized power there, with agonizing implications for Afghans and the world.
Today, extremist threats, technology, and the international order have evolved, repression and regional conflict continue to destabilize the Middle East, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought another inflection point. How can we apply what we have learned over the past two decades? Below, Brookings experts offer reflections and recommendations.