Article first published in The New Statesman on 7 September 2011.

I missed the attacks entirely. I found out about them on 18 September, when the police came into my room in north-western Nepal and accused me of being an “Osama Bin Laden activist”. There was another ten days before I could reach an internet café and read about the event. And it was a long time before I understood how much had changed. Before 9/11, I had been involved as a diplomat in East Timor, Kosovo and Bosnia – missions that were essentially humanitarian. After 9/11, for me as for hundreds of thousands of soldiers and other diplomats, the decade was dominated by Afghanistan and Iraq: 9/11 turned intervention into war. Western foreign policy since has been driven by fear, pride and guilt. The US and its allies have exaggerated the threat posed by “failed states”. We have overestimated our power to transform those states. And we became trapped in Iraq and Afghan­istan through our guilt at the loss of soldiers’ lives. Emotions, rather than any rational analysis, trapped us in these deserts.

We finish this decade, therefore, in Libya, still struggling to find a constructive and honourable approach to intervention that avoids the false security of total isolation and the long humiliation of occupying an alien land.

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