Partly because the deadliest attack in the history of modern international terrorism was against the United States, Americans tend to see their own country as the center of the counterterrorist universe. It was a U.S. president who declared a "war on terror," led by the United States. Although U.S. officials have said a lot about international cooperation, the cooperation they have had in mind has been mostly a matter of the United States leading, pushing, or insisting, and other countries conforming or complying. The same U.S. president summarized his standard for other countries' counterterrorist performance with the phrase "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" -- the "us" of course being the United States -- and the United States has shown a tendency to lord that standard over its foreign counterterrorist partners. The transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama has softened these hard edges, but Americans still take a very U.S.-centric approach to the subject.
Some of the American exceptionalism on counterterrorism began even before the attacks of September 11, 2001. Legislation in the 1980s claimed extraterritorial jurisdiction for U.S. courts and U.S. law enforcement agencies regarding any terrorist act in which U.S. persons or interests were victims. Clearly, if every other state made a similar claim, the result would be legal chaos. Think about what the U.S. reaction would be if, say, France claimed jurisdiction over a terrorist crime that a U.S. citizen committed on American soil, in which a visiting Frenchman happened to be one of the casualties.
Because the overwhelming U.S. concern understandably has been with terrorism within the United States and above all terrorist acts -- like 9/11 -- perpetrated within the United States by foreigners, terrorism by U.S. citizens has been a jarring note that has not fit into most of the tunes Americans have been playing about fighting terrorism -- many of which, having to do with such things as no-fly lists for international flights, have focused specifically on keeping foreign terrorists out of the United States. Especially ill-fitting have been several cases over the last couple of years involving Americans traveling abroad to commit terrorism in other countries such as Pakistan and India, including terrorism against non-American targets. A noteworthy example is the surveillance that Pakistani-American David Headley performed in support of the gruesome attack by Lashkar-e-Taiba in Mumbai in November 2008, which killed at least 160 people.
The U.S. export of terrorism calls into question the high -- perhaps sometimes impossibly high -- standard to which Washington holds other governments in controlling what emanates from their territories. U.S. officials might not say "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" anymore, but it still is considered not enough for governments to refrain from sponsoring or supporting terrorism. They are expected to do whatever it takes to prevent their citizens from committing terrorist acts abroad, with little American patience for excuses about how difficult it is to control borders or the activities of private individuals. To the extent this is the U.S. standard, the United States itself has failed it.