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The End of the Indispensable Nation

Twenty years ago, the September 11 terrorist attacks invigorated America’s sense of itself as the “indispensable nation.” But its actions since then have failed to improve global security and have endangered those who it claimed to be helping.


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EB: Welcome to Opinion Has It. I’m Elmira Bayrasli.

For decades, American leaders have viewed the United States as the indispensable nation.

Archive Recording, John Kerry: We are known as the indispensable nation for good reason.

Archive Recording, President Barack Obama: It has been true for the century past, and it will be true for the century to come.

Archive Recording, Hillary Clinton: And part of what makes America an exceptional nation is that we are also an indispensable nation.

EB: The phrase’s meaning boils down to a simple idea: only the US had the power to guarantee global security. And yet on September 11, 2001, America’s own security was breached.

Archive Recording: We understand that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. We don’t know anything more than that. We don’t know if it was a commercial aircraft.