The United States emerged from the Cold War with unprecedented absolute and relative power. It was truly first among unequals. Not surprisingly, its leaders were uncertain about what to do with such advantages, and for more than a decade following the dismantlement of the Berlin Wall, U.S. foreign policy was conducted without much in the way of an overarching strategy.
The 9/11 attacks changed all this, giving Washington a surfeit of purpose to go along with its preponderant power. Within weeks, in the opening act of what became known as the “global war on terrorism,” the United States moved to oust the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan in order to prevent future attacks by al Qaeda and to send the message that governments that tolerated or abetted terrorism would not be secure.
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