Like Father, Like Son
This is lovely:
US officials told me in April 2008 that President Bush had been warned by his military commanders that Afghanistan was going from bad to worse. More troops and money were needed; reconstruction was at a standstill; pressure had to be put on Pakistan; the elections in April 2009 should be indefinitely postponed. Bush ignored all the advice except for asking the Afghans to postpone the elections until August.
He left everything else to his successor to sort out.
The elder Bush did something in a slightly similar vein: in December 1992, a month after losing the election to Bill Clinton, he ordered U.S. troops into Somalia. Called “Operation Restore Hope,” it was more likely a partisan political play. Bush had, for example, completely ignored the conflicts in the Balkans, as well as many other humanitarian and political crises around the globe during his four years in office. That he should happen to suddenly become interested in solving such issues by inserting U.S. troops into a hopeless quagmire just six weeks before leaving office is more than just coincidence. Clinton was left with a no-win scenario: either leave the country in a huge mess or stay and get stuck in the quagmire. In either case, Republicans would be perfectly positioned to attack him on his “failed” foreign policy, which, of course, is exactly what they did.
What Bush Jr. did this time is somewhat different, but no less reprehensible, and echoed the actions of his father in an important respect. While the senior Bush likely intentionally created a mess for a political opponent to clean up, Bush Jr. most likely just didn’t want to deal with his failures–but the effect was the same. Both Clinton and Obama were left in quagmires at the start of their presidencies, quagmires that a president named “Bush” got us into.
What makes the Bush Jr. quagmire all the more deplorable is that it was not entered six weeks before the handover of power, but more than seven years before. That Obama is now having to resuscitate the conflict and essentially start all over again is the main tragedy. By using 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq, his real military goal, Bush allowed Afghanistan to deteriorate for all that time.
Bush’s abject failure cost the lives of thousands of troops and trillions of dollars, as well as the respect and sympathy of most of the world. It destabilized the region, provoked Iran into nuclear belligerence, and created a situation that was inherently so fragile that our leaving would likely lead to devastation.
What should have happened is that we should have gone into Afghanistan and only there; we should have ousted the Taliban and nothing else. It was not and is not our place to decide the type of government there would be, but rather only that they did not harbor terrorists or otherwise threaten us. And then leave.
Had he done that, we could have left the region years ago. Yes, Saddam Hussein would still have been in power–and ironically, fewer Iraqis would have been tortured and killed, and Iraq would be in better shape than it is today. That is not praise for Hussein, it is a condemnation of the supreme clusterfrack that Bush committed there.
Instead, Obama now begins his term in office having to deal with a military which is severely strained and depleted (unlike the military Bush got from Clinton, which he claimed was depleted but was not), and take a seven-year-old conflict and somehow find a way to make it manageable enough for us to leave. One can only guess that Obama will not wind up leaving it or any other conflict as a quagmire for his successor to clean up. Clinton didn’t. Both Bushes did. Let’s hope that’s not a pattern that will continue.