How to interpret and understand the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, has been a recurrent theme of politics in the United States during the past decade. At the outset, the administration of George W. Bush framed the attacks in a way that has had lasting influence. In this view, the country was targeted because of its freedoms and high ideals, and the attacks constituted a declaration of war, to which the United States could respond in kind against targets of its choice. This interpretation led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but over time it has run into opposition at home and abroad. Even as it retains residual power, this view of 9/11 has helped create a situation in which “the world's only superpower” has proven unable to shape events in the way its leaders would like.

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