The Lost Opportunity

I liked Barack Obama's summation of the big strategic picture in late 2001, and the massive lost opportunity of the Bush/McCain strategy:

Imagine, for a moment, what we could have done in those days, and months, and years after 9/11.
  • We could have deployed the full force of American power to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and all of the terrorists responsible for 9/11, while supporting real security in Afghanistan.
  • We could have secured loose nuclear materials around the world, and updated a 20th century non-proliferation framework to meet the challenges of the 21st.
  • We could have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in alternative sources of energy to grow our economy, save our planet, and end the tyranny of oil.
  • We could have strengthened old alliances, formed new partnerships, and renewed international institutions to advance peace and prosperity.
  • We could have called on a new generation to step into the strong currents of history, and to serve their country as troops and teachers, Peace Corps volunteers and police officers.
  • We could have secured our homeland—investing in sophisticated new protection for our ports, our trains and our power plants.
  • We could have rebuilt our roads and bridges, laid down new rail and broadband and electricity systems, and made college affordable for every American to strengthen our ability to compete.
  • We could have done that.
Instead, we have lost thousands of American lives, spent nearly a trillion dollars, alienated allies and neglected emerging threats – all in the cause of fighting a war for well over five years in a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

Looking forward, Obama outlines five goals for our post-Iraq foreign policy: "I will focus this strategy on five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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