Former Bush speechwriter and neocon apologist Michael Gerson writes,
It is extraordinary â€” just extraordinary â€” that George Will should write a column urging American and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan without mentioning the events of Sept. 11, 2001. It is as though Walter Lippmann urged his readers, in confronting the Japanese threat of the early 1940s, to forget Pearl Harbor.
It should be more difficult to forget 9/11 than it apparently is â€” the goodbye calls, the leaps from fire toward death, the continental economic consequences. The Afghan war was undertaken because the Taliban government, under Mullah Omar, sheltered a dozen al-Qaeda terrorist training camps that produced 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, some of whom were human weapons aimed at American citizens.
Well, yes, Gerson, that was why the Afghan war was undertaken. But that was eight years ago.
My understanding is that Bush Administration initiated the strike in 2001 using military plans left over from the Clinton Administration, drawn up after the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. Whether the plans were the optimum ones for conditions that existed in the fall of 2001 is a point I’m sure historians will debate.
The original military action in Afghanistan was limited to U.S., British and other special forces troops working with the Northern Alliance. This action had the appearance of a great and relatively easy success. It liberated (temporarily) a great many people from the reign of terror of the Taliban, who are really, really bad. It damaged the operational capabilities of the al Qaeda organization as it existed at that time.
But Afghanistan had been a political and economic wreck for many years, and putting it through the motions of being a democratic republic didn’t make it so. One reason the initial military action seemed successful is that the Taliban, for the most part, didn’t put up a fight but simply disassembled itself and re-blended into the general population. The Bushies also put way too much trust and invested way too much responsibility in the government of Pakistan, which contained large factions of Taliban supporters. So the Taliban were not so much defeated as they were temporarily inconvenienced.
And al Qaeda itself (the real one, not the “al Qaeda in Iraq” that didn’t exist as such before the U.S. invasion and which is only very, very loosely, if at all, connected to the al Qaeda that orchestrated the 9/11 attacks) still exists and is now operating out of Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
It is possible that no occupational force could have prevented a Taliban comeback, because political and economic conditions that had allowed the Taliban to take control in the first place didn’t substantially change after 2001. However, the U.S. and British forces that lingered in Afghanistan after 2001 had no coherent political or military strategy that, even theoretically, would have allowed us to leave Afghanistan eventually with the Taliban contained. So … FAIL.
U.S. neocons, who collectively can make a bag of hammers seem precocious, checked Afghanistan off their “to do” list and moved on to their long-time priority, Iraq. For most of the past several years, while most attention has been focused on Iraq, occasional news articles warned that the Taliban were re-taking Afghanistan. But righties stuck their fingers in their ears and went la la la I can’t hear you whenever one attempted to point that out to them.
Last year, the Obama campaign said many times that the Bushies were wrong to take their focus off Afghanistan to invade Iraq. Well, yes. Duh. However, we cannot turn back the clock to October 2001 and get a cosmic do-over. The initial reasons, right or wrong, for initiating a military action in Afghanistan are now matters of history. What needs to be clarified are the purposes our military are serving in Afghanistan now and if there is an alternative — other than just quitting — to years of bloody and fruitless occupation. (I’d prefer the just quitting, frankly.)
I appreciate that there are real global security benefits to rendering Afghanistan into a reasonably stable and not-terrorist-ridden country. Maybe that end could have been achieved had strong and smart policies been executed in 2001 and 2002. However, they were not, and I question whether any military or nation-building effort will succeed going forward from here.
Further, even if there were such a policy, the Bush Administration’s eight years of mismanagement and profligacy has left us with diminished capacity for military and nation-building efforts.
The Obama Administration announced its Afghanistan policy last March. The President said then that failure in the region would be a threat to nations around the world, and he may be right. But I question if there is much the United States can do about it. Maybe I’m wrong. But I really would like to see a Plan B that doesn’t involve military occupation, or unmanned killer drones, for that matter.