National Security Network

More Revisionist History from Dick Cheney on Afghanistan

Print this page
Report 22 October 2009

Afghanistan Afghanistan Barack Obama Dick Cheney George Bush


Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s efforts to rewrite the track record of his Administration reached a new level of absurdity yesterday. In one of the most bizarre attacks on President Obama yet, Cheney, as well as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), accused the President of “dithering” on Afghanistan.  These attacks are coming from a Vice President whose own Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff admitted that Afghanistan got short shrift – “In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must,” while the Government Accountability Office concluded that the Bush administration had “no strategy” to deal with the al-Qaeda and Taliban safe-haven along the Afghan border.  The idea that Cheney, under whose leadership Afghanistan spiraled downward on almost every security, economic, and development indicator, would criticize Obama for cleaning up his mess, demonstrates his continued disdain for the facts and a willful revisionism of the Bush administration’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, Cheney and Boehner’s calls for the Administration to rush more troops to Afghanistan without a clear partner government in place are irresponsible. Their call for more American troops to be sent in the midst of an electoral crisis that has left the Afghan government in flux demonstrates frenetic decision making on their part, especially since we are close to seeing a resolution of the legitimacy issues surrounding the Afghan government with a runoff election scheduled for next month.  In addition, their calls also ignore the fact that the Administration has been strengthening our military levels in Afghanistan throughout the year, and that there are currently more troops there now than there ever were during the Bush administration. Our efforts in Afghanistan deteriorated under the Bush administration’s mismanagement, and Cheney revisionism aside, the Obama administration is now in the unenviable position of having to clean up the past administration’s mess.  

The Obama administration has set the “first real strategy” for Afghanistan since the 1980’s, despite Dick Cheney’s attempts to claim this policy as his own.  Unlike their predecessors, the Obama administration has made the war in Afghanistan a top priority. Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who also served in this role during the Bush administration, said on CNN’s State of the Union that President Obama has put forth the first real Afghanistan strategy in decades, adding that America had previously been stretched too thin there. He said, “Well, I will tell you, I think that the strategy that the President put forward in late March is the first real strategy we have had for Afghanistan since the early 1980s. And that strategy was more about the Soviet Union than it was about Afghanistan... every - we were - we were too stretched to do more. And I think we did not have the kind of comprehensive strategy that we have now.”  

Ignoring the statements from his own Secretary of Defense, former Vice President Cheney yesterday seemed intent on wrongly claiming the Obama administration’s policy as his own.  Accepting the ‘Keeper of the Flame’ award at a Center for Security Policy dinner – an event that also awarded convicted felon J. ‘Scooter’ Libby with the ‘Service before Self’ prize – former Vice President Cheney equated the Obama administration’s strategy for Afghanistan with the Bush-Cheney policy.  Jake Tapper and Ely Brown noted for ABC News that “Cheney said, in the fall of 2008, the Bush administration ‘dug into every aspect of Afghanistan policy,’ assembling a team that reviewed all options and recommendations, and briefing President-elect Obama’s team. ‘They asked us not to announce our findings publicly, and we agreed,’ Cheney said according to his prepared remarks, ‘giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt.’”  “The new strategy, Cheney said, according to the prepared remarks, ‘they embraced in March, with a focus on counterinsurgency and an increase in the numbers of troops, bears a striking resemblance to the strategy we passed to them,’” reported ABC. [Robert Gates via CNN, 9/27/09. ABC News, 10/21/09]

Cheney’s revisionist recollections are contradicted by the facts of seven years of mismanagement and failure in Afghanistan.  On Afghanistan, former Vice President Cheney and his colleagues from the Bush administration presided over a record of almost total incompetence. 

  • The Bush administration failed to commit ground troops in Tora Bora, enabling Osama bin Laden to escape Afghanistan to develop a terrorist enclave in Pakistan. "The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora... and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda.” [Washington Post, 4/17/02]
  • From the beginning, the Administration underestimated the required force levels necessary to secure Afghanistan. “The Defense Department initially opposed a request by Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and Afghanistan's new leaders for a sizable peacekeeping force and deployed only 8,000 American troops, but purely in a combat role, officials said.” [NY Times, 9/06/06]
  • Amidst transfer of resources out of Afghanistan, to Iraq, coalition casualties have steadily risen and the insurgency has intensified. “Beginning in 2003, the United States began transferring intelligence assets, Special Forces, and equipment to Iraq; and the insurgency in Afghanistan began to rebuild, steadily increasing in strength every year.” [ Center for American Progress, November 2007]
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, admitted that the Bush administration has neglected Afghanistan. “In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.” [Admiral Michael Mullen, via USA Today, 12/17/07]
  • GAO report found that the Bush administration never had a plan to address the Afghan-Pakistan border - the region posing the greatest threat to the U.S.  A 2008 GAO report titled The United States Lacks a Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas found that, “The United States has not met its national security goals to destroy the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in Pakistan…” and that, “No comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national security goals in the FATA has been developed.” [GAO, 4/08]
  • Under the Bush administration, Afghanistan received a small fraction of the resources sent to Iraq. While the war in Iraq has received $608 billion over the last five years of Bush’s presidency, Afghanistan received just $140 billion over the last seven. On average, Iraq received over $120 billion per year, while Afghanistan received just $20 billion. [NY Times, 6/30/08. CRS, 2/08/08]
  • At end of Bush’s term, National Intelligence Estimate found Afghanistan in a “downward spiral.” A draft National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan found that the country is in a “downward spiral.” A range of factors have contributed to the deteriorating situation, but the NIE’s “conclusions represent a harsh verdict on decision-making in the Bush administration.” [NY Times, 10/9/08. Washington Post, 10/9/08]

Conservatives recklessly and irresponsibly try to force a decision on more troops, politicizing the war debate.  In his comments yesterday, former Vice President Cheney joined congressional conservatives in trying to recklessly push the president towards increasing troop numbers in the midst of an electoral crisis and before we have any clarity on what our partner government in Afghanistan will look like.  Cheney said, “‘The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger,’ the former vice president said. ‘It's time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity,’” according to AP. House Minority Leader, John Boehner made similar comments on Tuesday. Politico says he “pressed again for President Barack Obama to make an immediate decision on the way forward in the war-torn country.” Boehner said, “The foot-dragging that’s going on by the administration puts our troops there at much greater danger than they would be otherwise.”

Last weekend on CNN, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel rebuffed conservative critics who are calling for a massive increase in troops in the midst of this electoral crisis, saying that “It would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create and become a true partner in governing the Afghan country.”  Senator John Kerry also made a similar point on the same program, saying from Afghanistan that, “It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don't even have an election finished.” The president himself has made clear that he would bring a focused, methodical approach to determining the way forward in Afghanistan and would avoid adopting a strategy prematurely, saying “What I'm not also gonna do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question.”

This decision has clearly been politicized by conservatives who seek to derail the president’s agenda regardless of the consequences for the nation.  Politico reports, “Democrats are allowing Obama time to make a decision on strategy in Afghanistan, while GOP leaders have begun pushing for the president to make a decision on a troop surge immediately.” As Paul Krugman wrote earlier this month, “If Republicans think something might be good for the president, they’re against it — whether or not it’s good for America.”[AP, 10/22/09. Politico, 10/21/09. CNN, 10/19/09. President Obama, Meet the Press, 9/20/09. Paul Krugman, 10/4/09]

What We’re Reading

The recent deployment of US Marines to Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan may prove to be a template for General McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plans for the rest of the country.

A Pakistani brigadier was assassinated in Islamabad, along with his driver, in what many believes is the Pakistani Taliban’s first major assassination against a senior Pakistani military official.

Although there are fears that any delay to the election would change withdrawal plans for US troops, stalemate continues to plague the Iraqi Parliament as they continue to draft an election law to hold parliamentary elections in January.. Meanwhile, a spike in violent crime in Baghdad and elsewhere has Iraqi Interior Ministry officials concerned that pervasive collusion and corruption is plaguing Iraqi Security Forces.

Iranian negotiators have accepted a draft deal to transfer Iran's enriched uranium stockpile abroad, but the agreement must first be ratified by the government in Tehran. Back home in Iran (too many uses of the word “Iran”), the ongoing political crisis has exposed a clear generational cleft dividing families who either support the regime or the opposition.

A Massachusetts man was arrested on terror charges, based on his extensive travels to terrorist training camps and a plot to target US soldiers in Iraq.

Scientists and experts are concerned that billions continue to go hungry despite better food production techniques, in part because the global financial crisis has restricted access to more food.

Various music artists have sued the government under the Freedom of Information Act to uncover a list of songs which might have been used in the conduction oftorture.

A congressional advisory panel has concluded that China has increased its cyber spying activity, including against US companies trading with China.

American military officials have continued to voice their concerns about Japan’s new ruling political party which plans on making major revisions to the regional security agreements set in place with the United States.

Commentary of the Day

The LA Times argues against a federal judge barring the media to cover the trial of Blackwater employees killing Iraqi civilians, calling the action “extreme and unjustifiable”.

In a cause and effect debate, Max Boot argues that no political or economic reform can occur in Afghanistan without increased US troop numbers enforcing peace. Conversely, Nicholas Kristof is concerned that ramping up troop presence in Afghanistan will not change the perspective of Afghans who are wary of any sign of colonialism or occupation.

The NY Times believes Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe must be pressured by the Southern African Development Community, a regional bloc of African nations, to accept Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai role in their national-unity government, or else the bloc should withdraw recognition of Mugabe’s government and insist on new, internationally-supervised elections.