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How the United States Terrorized Itself

5 0 1
11.09.2021

The journalist Spencer Ackerman’s new book, Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump, advances the important work of integrating America’s global counterterrorism campaigns with the history of politics and race in the two decades since the 9/11 attacks. Ackerman’s core argument is that the post-9/11 wars helped radicalize the right in the United States, pushing it toward nativism, Islamophobia, and a paranoid sense of civilizational decline that created a political niche for former President Donald Trump. It’s an important book—but one that sometimes falls into the sweeping generalizations that characterized the post-9/11 era itself.

Ackerman contends that even if counterterrorism is no longer the defining paradigm of U.S. foreign policy, the United States still operates in a political era defined by the response to terrorism. This open-ended, amorphous conflict became a political resource for various ideologues and office-seekers. The web of campaigns known as the “war on terror” has been used for numerous purposes, many of them racialized: limiting immigration to prevent what some have dubbed “white replacement,” lifting American culture out of supposed decadence and dissolution, and forging a narrative of the conflict as a struggle of the West against Islamic civilization. The ideological and political baggage attached to the post-9/11 wars not only made the conflict theoretically boundless but also encouraged a huge swath of the country to view Muslims, immigrants, liberals, and other groups as enemies.

Trump appealed directly to this complex by demonizing immigrants as a national security threat, spreading the lie that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, promising to bar Muslims from the country, and portraying the U.S. political elite as weak and incompetent. Ackerman insightfully notes that Trump did not seek to end America’s sprawling global counterterrorism campaigns, as his defenders sometimes claim, but to intensify their violence and turn their surveillance and law enforcement tools on his domestic political foes. The impact of the “war on terror” mentality on the homeland peaked in mid-2020, when Trump and his allies unleashed militarized law enforcement on protests against racial injustice, often wielding the same hardware that the U.S. military employed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ultimately, Trump’s rise and resulting disasters such as the travel ban on several Muslim countries, family separation at the border, and the Jan. 6 insurrection cannot be understood outside of the context of the post-9/11 wars’ radicalizing effects on domestic politics.

The journalist Spencer Ackerman’s new book, Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump, advances the important work of integrating America’s global counterterrorism campaigns with the history of politics and race in the two decades since the 9/11 attacks. Ackerman’s core argument is that the post-9/11 wars helped radicalize the right in the United States, pushing it toward nativism, Islamophobia, and a paranoid sense of civilizational decline that created a political niche for former President Donald Trump. It’s an important book—but one that sometimes falls into the sweeping generalizations that characterized the post-9/11 era itself.

Ackerman contends that even if counterterrorism is no longer the defining paradigm of U.S. foreign policy, the United States still operates in a political era defined by the response to terrorism. This open-ended, amorphous conflict became a political resource for various ideologues and office-seekers. The web of campaigns known as the “war on terror” has been used for numerous purposes, many of them racialized:........

© Foreign Policy


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