On that day 20 years ago this week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared war on Pentagon bureaucracy, saying that it was a threat to national security and “a matter of life and death.” A day later, the nation’s security would be breached and there would be a new threat that truly was a matter of life and death.

On that day two decades ago, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware delivered a speech warning that America’s role in the world was in danger of being undermined by Washington’s willingness to “go it alone” and its readiness to “make unilateral decisions in what we perceive to be our own self-interest.” A day later, events would be set in motion in which the country was willing largely to go it alone and make unilateral military decisions.

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