Here is an easy way to judge whether we have succeeded at something or not: think back at the root of the problem. Then imagine that you can go back in time and offer the people of that time the situation we have today. If they accept it, you know that what you have is a ‘win’.
I can still remember clearly the chaos of 9/11. The fear of not knowing who attacked you, much less how we would get back at them. The initial reports of a ‘headless movement’ that could attack us anytime, anywhere. All the speculation of world markets having to close because we could never, ever secure all the containers and the ‘fact’ that a nuclear attack through a dirt bomb hidden in one of them was simply a matter of time.
Then, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Can anyone remember all the military specialists at CNN explaining how 30-40 thousand American troops could be lost just in the ‘battle for Baghdad’? Not to talk about the 2001 recession, the Anthrax attacks, the civil war in Iraq, the eternal hunt for Bin Laden, etc, etc.
So yes, we have won. We have destroyed Al Qaeda to a level that very few thought it was possible. We have also destroyed the Taliban, killed Bin Laden and in the process turned Iraq into a semi-functioning democracy. Throughout these 10 years we lost 7500 troops which is a lot in human numbers but it also is incredibly few in historical terms (we lost almost as many troops in 2 months just trying to get Iwo Jima).
It is true that we are still in Afghanistan and Iraq. The whole nation building aspect of both wars is by far the most complicated part and one that historians might say that we ultimately failed at. But the security aspect of both wars was achieved without a doubt.
It is also true that we still face threats. The idea of being totally safe is just a fallacy pushed by the media for political reasons. We entered the cold war almost immediately after the most brutal and destructive war in history. There will be obvious problems created by our efforts to destroy the enemies who attacked us in 9/11. Maybe Iran will be our next issue. Maybe it will be China. Maybe it is something that only low level CIA agents know about and that is cooking behind the scenes just like Al Qaeda was.
But that is just the nature of humanity. You cannot be the strongest nation in the world without making enemies. The important part is to deal with these enemies as they show up for a fight. And now, 10 years after they sucker punched us right in front of the whole planet, we can say that we not only got up but we got even. We are still the biggest force on Earth and they are fish food.
And the world is a better place. That’s what this is all about.