Is America safer after its 20-year war on terrorism in Afghanistan has resulted in the Taliban’s victory? The answer, like the war itself, is muddled. The lack of resolution should cause considerable discomfort to Americans who lived through the trauma of 9/11 and cheered the U.S. military’s quick routing of al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in 2001. After the World Trade Center’s collapse, Americans had every right to believe President George W. Bush’s declaration from atop the wreckage that the United States would make the terrorists pay.

Instead, radical Islamist terrorism has metastasized beyond all recognition. Extremist groups seem to be trying to one-up each other, as if they’re in competition to see who can be more devout, more oppressive or even more horrific in their zeal to impose their will on others. Hezbollah in Lebanon tried to exceed the outrages of their Palestinian mentors by using kidnappings and, in 1983, the suicide bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marines barracks in Beirut. Al-Qaeda and Taliban members found ways to exceed the outrages of Hezbollah. Islamic State founders have tried to go even further while exploiting power vacuums in Iraq and Syria to create a radical Islamic caliphate.

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