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Osama bin Laden and America's long journey from 9/11 to 5/1

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Anger and overreach

The events of that day changed the world. Americans felt vulnerable and fought back. We showed our great patriotism, but also our susceptibility to anger and overreach.

A new Bush administration, which had hoped to focus on domestic policy and reducing America’s role in the Balkans, suddenly found itself in a major war on terror. The administration dusted off underground bunkers and revived cold-war plans to assure the continuity of government in case of a major attack on Washington. The skies above America were closed to airplanes for nearly a week, and subsequent air travel would never be the same.

Sept. 11 opened a gateway to an unexpected future: The war in Afghanistan, which threw NATO’s previous reluctance to go “out of area” out the window; bombings in London and Madrid; the war in Iraq, which descended into brutal sectarian warfare and divided the West; Guantánamo; the surge in violent Islamist extremism globally; and even, most recently, the democratic revolutions of the Arab Spring.

For a time in 2001-02, it looked as if the effort to defeat the terrorists would go quickly. The Afghan Taliban – who had sheltered Al Qaeda – fell from power in a matter of weeks. The siege of the caves at Tora Bora, where Osama bin Laden had fled, promised to bring about his demise and a strategic defeat for terrorism.

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