American policy has historically been pragmatic. Efforts to combat terrorism were just that. American diplomats paid little attention to root causes and conflict resolution, lest counterterrorism efforts become mixed up with judgments of causes. At the same time, the United States has devoted considerable effort to resolving the Middle East conflict, helping to bring about an end to the violence in Northern Ireland, and intervening to prevent ethnic cleansing and other atrocities in the Balkans that, if left to fester or produce vast new semi-permanent populations of refugees, could have become new sources of terrorist violence.
Progress has been made. Intelligence has improved through unilateral efforts and improved liaison with other intelligence services. An international legal framework has been created and international cooperation has increased. Countries would rather not be identified as state sponsors of terrorism. The volume of international terrorism, as it is defined by the United States, has declined, and certain tactics have declined significantly. All this could have been seen as a measure of success on 10 September 2001. However, the terrorist attacks on the following day—attacks on American soil that caused far more casualties than all of the previous terrorist incidents put together—overshadowed any sense of achievement.