The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, reshaped the U.S. foreign policy agenda, says Doug Feith, who was undersecretary of defense for policy in the Bush administration.
He sees the top two goals of that new agenda as achieved: preventing future attacks and disrupting terror networks. But he says the U.S. failed on the other goal: countering ideological support for terrorism.
Feith, a senior fellow as the Hudson Institute, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz that before the attacks, terrorism had been thought of as a phenomenon of limited violence, where one group attempts to draw international sympathy and attention toward its cause.
"That clearly was not an adequate way to explain 9/11," he says. "They were looking to cause mass destruction."
Inside the administration, there was agreement that the people who planned the attacks needed to be punished. But Feith explains that this wasn't the sole objective of the American response.
"The strategy that ultimately got developed in the Bush administration for dealing with the terrorism problem had three main elements," he says. "One was protecting the homeland. The second was disrupting and attacking international terrorist networks. ... The third was, or should have been, countering ideological support for terrorism.
"I think that we fell down badly on that third element," he says.
He says there was reluctance inside the U.S. government to oppose the ideology of Islamism, which he says is different from simple anti-American feelings.
There are many people around the world, he says, who disagree with the decisions behind American policy or dislike what the country represents. But he argues that this type of anti-American sentiment doesn't result in terrorism.
In the weeks and months following Sept. 11, the American response to the attacks helped keep terrorists in other countries off balance and have prevented them from mounting other attacks on American soil, Feith says.
"Had there been a series of follow-on attacks to 9/11," he says, "it might have transformed American society, and then no one would look back and say it was minor."
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