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Stephen J. Hadley | September 15, 2021

Watch the event here.

Stephen Hadley, Former National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, joined Professor Feaver to discuss the lessons learned over the twenty-years since 9/11 and U.S. strategy going forward.

Event summary:

On September 15, the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy welcomed a virtual discussion between Professor Peter Feaver and Stephen Hadley, the former National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush. Hadley was the Deputy National Security Advisor during President Bush’s first term, then served as his National Security Advisor from 2005 to 2009. The discussion covered the lessons learned in the twenty years since 9/11 and U.S. national security strategy moving forward.

The discussion opened with a reflection on 9/11 and how it is commemorated, noting the importance of remembering the event, commemorating those who did and the first responders, and honoring those who served and showed heroism. Hadley then spoke about the U.S. response to 9/11 in the wake of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. He noted that while Iraq was a war of choice, Afghanistan was a war of necessity and any president would have done what Bush did in Afghanistan. He reflected on General McChrystal’s comment that he wished they could have waited a year to learn more about the culture and study the issue, but they could not wait. Hadley highlighted how events do not wait for you to be fully ready to manage them, but instead force action. He noted the importance of acting quickly in the fall of 2001, as the Taliban refused to expel al-Qaeda and the intelligence community warned of a wave of mass casualty attacks. Hadley also reflected on the issues of safe haven and Pakistan, as the U.S. pushed Pakistan but needed it for supply routes and intelligence. The U.S. also did not want to risk pushing the Pakistani government too hard, as that could have toppled the government and created an extremist state.

Professor Feaver brought up the issue of the Iraq War and whether attention was diverted to Iraq at the expensive of Afghanistan, and Hadley responded that the idea that the Taliban could have been defeated between 2002 and 2004 does not hold up under the historical record. The U.S. needed to think not of defeating the Taliban, but rather containing the Taliban, training the Afghan security forces, and trying to help Afghans to build a government that would be responsive to their needs. The real failure, Hadley asserted, was not the failure to provide resource in 2002 and 2003, but not to plan for the decades-long effort that it would take to achieve the strategic ends in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Hadley noted that President Bush wanted to tell the American people that we would be in Iraq and Afghanistan for a long time, but Hadley advised against it – and he highlighted that this was the wrong advice.

The discussion also touched on several other issues related to the two decades of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, including enhanced interrogation techniques, offering his resignation after the State of the Union in which President Bush suggested that Iraq was looking for yellowcake from Niger, and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The discussion then turned to a Q&A from the audience, where Hadley answered questions about his advice to future policy-makers, how to improve American credibility in the Middle East, and the U.S. security challenges in the Middle East for the Biden administration.

Wajahat Ali

On September 9, the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy welcomed Wajahat Ali, an influential writer and leading Muslim American public intellectual, in conversation with Professor David Schanzer to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Ali began by talking about his experience as a Muslim American college student in the immediate wake of 9/11, as he – along with other Muslim Americans – was thrust into a situation where he was forced to be a cultural ambassador for 1.7 billion people. He highlighted the feeling of being simultaneously a “citizen and a suspect” and a “neighbor and a foreigner.” He expressed how the immediate and lingering effects of 9/11 have impacted Muslims and other people of color in political, social, and cultural realms.

The discussion then turned to the U.S. response to 9/11, both at home and abroad. Ali noted that in the immediate wake of the attacks, the U.S. government and Bush administration did all they could to stop the backlash against Muslim Americans, but it was not enough. He highlighted how this was a profound impact for progressive change, as there was a realization among young Muslim-Americans (as well as Muslims around the world) that they had to get more involved to gain access to the gatekeepers and policy-makers in order to effect change. Ali also highlighted the “us vs. them” dynamic between Islam and the West that emerged in the years following the initial attack. He spoke about how as Islam became defined by violent extremists, the West became defined by an anti-Muslim war, which emboldened extremists on both side. He brought this discussion to the current political climate, and how the treatment of whiteness vs. the treatment of minorities is treated in American politics and culture.

Ali wrapped up the discussion with a reflection on 9/11 and the American political psyche. He spoke about how 9/11 revealed to us and the world that America is vulnerable, and revealed our anxieties. He called the attack and the subsequent political impacts an “x-ray at our anxieties, our hubris, and our vulnerabilities” that revealed our weakness, asking the audience to reflect on the idea that the U.S. response showed how we are willing to give up the civil liberties of the marginalized to feel free.