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Like Father, Like Son

September 20th, 2009
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.

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  1. Tim Kane
    September 20th, 2009 at 23:06 | #1

    “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.”

    I would respectfully disagree this, but I think it is only in a manner of degree.

    Afghanistan attacked us. Just like Japan did in 1941. We spent six years supervising and providing guidance to the reformulation of both Japan and Germany to make sure they were on sound platforms.

    What amazed me, back in 2001, was that Bush did not call for a draft on 9/12. It was probably the only time in the last 40 years he could have done that and congress and the nation would have responded positively.

    The fact was, in 2001, we couldn’t tell if any of our reactions to 9/11 would result in a localized war or an area (theater) war. Furthermore, there was no assurance that if we invested our self in South West Asia, China wouldn’t cause trouble with Taiwan (there was a stand off with China only a few months earlier over a downed spy plane in the South China Sea) or even trouble making by North Korea on the Korean peninsula.

    Furthermore, if you need 500,000 soldiers, say 18 months after 9/11 to perform policing or whatever of an occupied nation, you have to start drafting and training them immediately.

    I agree with you in that a single minded focus on Afghanistan would have been called for – but I would never have ruled out including cross border areas – especially with Pakitstan.

    The response to 9/11 should have been consistent with the Powell doctrine, which is probably the only way a functional Democracy can go to war: Over powering numbers and an exit strategy.

    We should have gone into Afghanistan with an intent to fully and thoroughly police the place.

    We could have, and should have, nutured nation building in a manner similar to what we did with Germany and Japan. Afghanistan already had the fundamental makings of constitutional system. We should have brought back the King, which we did in an informal capacity, built upon the Loya Jerga to formulate a parliamentary system that would complement Afghan history as well as put it on a positive, progressive trajectory. The United States had massive aid promised to Afghanistan from it’s allies. A large personnel presence for policing and overseeing construction would quickly have pushed Afghanistan to a positive place and reasonably quickly. We’d be celebrating Afghanistan massive success today.

    In 2001, the King had enormous moral authority. His deposing in the 1970s was the beginning of all of Afghanistan’s worries – his re-institution was thus welcomed by most all Afghans. The U.S. coopted his moral authority and used him to convene the first Loya Jerga, but then pushed him asside in favor of their man Karzai, who was a confederate from the oil industry.

    The state department was fully prepared to implement sound civics and development policies. They were cast aside (as they were in Iraq too). The state department does know how to do good economic development and nation building (especially when given enough resources): Korea, Japan, Taiwan and much of Western Europe are all American success stories.

    A successful Afghanistan would have had immense impact on the development of Islamic states in the region. Surrounded by relatively successful economies and democracies in Turkey and Afghanistan would have put immense pressure on Iran years ago to modernize itself – especially since Iranians view both countries as barbarians or hill billies. The same holds true for Pakistan, which would then be surrounded on two sides by thriving democracies. The result of such pressure would inevitably created a string of thriving (mostly Islamic) democracies from Istanbul to Singapore, with only Myanmar (Burma) breaking that string.

    With already modernizing Arab states in the Persian Gulf, this string of mostly Islamic states would make the path to modernization and stability in South West Asia quite explicit and give it a certain sense of inevitability.

    It’s hard to over emphasize the lost opportunity Bush had in Afghanistan. The entire world stood ready to follow his lead there on 9/12 if only he did the logical thing. He should have used that event to create an Anti-Terrorist Organization that reflected NATO. Almost everybody was willing to follow him here. He would have had the resources. This would create momentum in other areas too. Especially if Russia and China joined in, along with the rest of the first world. Not all nations that joined NATO were thriving democracies when they joined, but they are today.

    Had Bush done the logical and sound thing, he might have gone down in History as one of the greatest men ever and one of the greatest Presidents ever. This would have taken little imagination. In fact it took a sort of act of denial. Part of me thinks that if Gore had been President instead of Bush, an enlarged version of the European Economic Community, though much less intensely integrated, would have been encouraged to include Russia and stretched across the Eurasian continent to Japan and be working closely for coordination with China.

    These opportunities were thrown away with both hands by Bush. He told our allies and people around the world to take a flying leap. Bush had his own intentions, and they involved some smaller foolish venture in Iraq.

    Basically he is a complete and utterly ruinous disaster both economically and in foreign affairs. In both spheres he was set up in positions no man in history had ever had. The U.S. was at it’s economic and moral authority peak and by the time he left, the American century was in an abrupt tail spin.

    The problem with Republicans is that they don’t know how to rule and have no inclination or desire to rule well. Republicans want to say that Reagan won the cold war, but it was really Harry Truman who won it. He created all the post war institutions that allowed the west to thrive while the communist block withered.

    A successful democracy in Afghanistan would have put enormous

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