The US government’s perception of and response to international terrorism has undergone momentous shifts since first focusing on the issue in the early 20th century. The global rise of anarchist and communist violence provided the impetus for the first major US government programs aimed at combating international terrorism: restrictive immigration policies targeting perceived radicals. By the 1920s, the State Department emerged as the primary government agency crafting US responses to international terrorism, generally combating communist terrorism through diplomacy and information-sharing partnerships with foreign governments. The 1979 Iranian hostage crisis marked the beginning of two key shifts in US antiterrorism policy: a heightened focus on combating Islamist terrorism and a willingness to deploy military force to this end. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, led US officials to conceptualize international terrorism as a high-level national security problem, leading to US military invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, a broader use of special forces, and unprecedented intelligence-gathering operations.
Mary S. Barton and David M. Wight
Paul D. Miller
Afghanistan has twice been thrust front and center of US national security concerns in the past half-century: first, during the Soviet-Afghan War, when Afghanistan served as a proxy for American efforts to combat Soviet influence; and second, as the frontline state and host for America’s global response to al-Qaida’s terrorist attacks of 2001. In both instances, American involvement swung from intensive investment and engagement to withdrawal and neglect. In both cases, American involvement reflected US concerns more than Afghan realities. And both episodes resulted in short-term successes for American security with long-term consequences for Afghanistan and its people. The signing of a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries in 2012 and a bilateral security agreement in 2013 created the possibility of a steadier and more forward-looking relationship—albeit one that the American and Afghan people may be less inclined to pursue as America’s longest war continues to grind on.