AMERICA'S WAR ON TERROR was launched when the heroes of United Flight 93 rushed the hijackers over Shanksville, Pa., aborting what would have been al-Qaeda's fourth 9/11 attack. In the decade that began on that terrible day, the goal of disrupting and crushing the Islamist terror network has been pursued with remarkable versatility: The United States has fought this conflict with military, diplomatic, and financial weapons; it has relied on aggressive intelligence-gathering and sensitive counterinsurgency; it has reshaped airline security and rewritten civil-liberties law. Jihadists have been killed with Predator drones abroad, detained as enemy combatants at Guantanamo, and thwarted in undercover stings at home.
Yet in the long run it may turn out that more significant than any of these was the war of ideas that followed 9/11.
Almost from the outset, President George W. Bush recognized that the United States was engaged in an ideological struggle. During the Cold War two decades earlier, Ronald Reagan had argued that the promotion of freedom should be a key priority in American foreign policy. By advancing the ideals of liberty and human dignity, Reagan told the British Parliament in 1982, America and its allies would undermine the Soviet Union and eventually relegate Communist totalitarianism to "the ash-heap of history." In much the same way, Bush saw, radical Islam could be weakened by deploying the moral force of liberal democracy and equality.
Just nine days after 9/11, addressing a joint session of Congress, Bush began to lay out an ideological strategy for defeating the jihadist threat.
"Al Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime, but its goal is not making money," Bush said. "Its goal is remaking the world -- and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere." Terrorism was not caused by the religion of Islam but by the Islamists' political fanaticism. "They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions -- by abandoning every value except the will to power -- they follow in the path of fascism and Nazism and totalitarianism."