National Security Network

Past Bush Administration Failures in Iraq and Afghanistan Still Having Repercussions Today

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Report 26 October 2009

President Bush President Bush's Legacy Afghanistan bush iraq Obama


Iraq just experienced its worst bombing in two years and today was the deadliest day in Afghanistan in four years.  While conservatives want to pretend that the history of America’s involvement in these wars started only when President Obama was sworn-in to office, the reality is that the new Administration is dealing with the fallout of eight years of incompetent war time management by the past Administration. Contrary to statements by his critics, President Obama has moved aggressively to clean up previous messes made in both theaters. In Iraq, he set a timetable for the extrication of American forces, pushed Iraqis to take control of their own future, and has been intensely engaged in resolving political disputes. In Afghanistan, the President has increased our resources and manpower while focusing on developing a strategy for a war that had been without one.

Despite this leadership, conservatives have claimed that the surge in Iraq was a success – and the press was quick to agree with this logic – but unfortunately the surge never resolved the underlying political disputes that are at the core of Iraq’s ethnic cleansing and gruesome violence. As a result – and the latest bombings demonstrate this – violence is likely to continue in Iraq as it struggles to deal with the fallout from the surge’s failure to achieve political reconciliation. Likewise, in Afghanistan, President Obama inherited a neglected war that was, according to our very own intelligence agencies, in a “downward spiral.” Indeed, violence increased every year in Afghanistan since the invasion of Iraq. While conservatives are now trying to rewrite history and score cheap political points, their incompetent management of these two wars has left them with little credibility to challenge the new Administration’s wartime policy making.

Iraqis deal with fallout of the surge’s failure to achieve political reconciliation. This weekend Baghdad saw the deadliest attack in years.  The New York Times described the attacks: “Two synchronized suicide car bombings struck at the heart of the Iraqi government here on Sunday, severely damaging the Justice Ministry and provincial council complexes, leaving a scene of carnage that raised new questions about the government’s ability to secure its most vital operations... It was the deadliest coordinated attack in Iraq since the summer of 2007 and happened just blocks from where car bombers killed at least 122 people at the Foreign and Finance Ministries in August, in the continuation of a focused attempt by insurgents to strike at the government’s most critical functions.” The attack comes on the heels of an upswing in violence that began towards the end of the summer.  The Wall Street Journal reports that “[t]he August attacks, which killed nearly 100 people, shook the confidence of Iraqi security services ahead of a big drawdown of U.S. troops expected next year.” And just two weeks ago, “[a] series of apparently coordinated bombings aimed at a meeting for national reconciliation killed 23 people and wounded 65 others in western Iraq,” according to the New York Times.  

The recent violence in Iraq is closely linked to the continuing lack of political reconciliation that the surge was supposed to achieve, but never did.  As John Podesta, Ray Takeyh and Lawrence J. Korb wrote last year in the Washington Post,  “the surge has failed in its stated purpose: providing the Iraqi government with the breathing space to pass the 18 legislative benchmarks the Bush administration called vital to political reconciliation.”   The lack of political reconciliation in Iraq has maintained a dangerous and fragile situation.  Larry Korb writes this weekend from Iraq that, “Iraq is a fragile state, and it can become a stable or failed state depending on whether the government increases or decreases in legitimacy and competence.” Most important among these bench marks is a long disputed election law.  AFP wrote last week, following a visit by Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki, that "The Vice President [who is in charge of ensuring a tight focus on Iraq] also encouraged the Iraqi Council of Representatives to act expeditiously on an election law that will set the terms for transparent political participation in the upcoming Iraqi national elections. Biden said during a visit to Iraq last month that the parliamentary election scheduled for January was critical to Iraq's future.” [NY Times, 10/25/09. WS Journal, 10/26/09. NY Times, 10/11/09. Washington Post, 2/26/08. Lawrence Korb, 10/23/09. APF, 10/20/09]

Obama administration has already given the war in Afghanistan much-needed attention and resources, contrasting sharply with Bush administration neglect.  From the very beginning of his administration, President Obama has made the war in Afghanistan a much higher priority than his predecessor.  Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who also served in this role during the Bush administration, 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.”  So far the Administration has undergone rigorous deliberations over the war, and has also dramatically increased the resources brought to bear on the situation.  According to the Brookings Institution’s Afghanistan Index, there are now almost twice the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan as there were during the last year of the previous Administration, and Obama has increased total assistance to Afghanistan by roughly 83% according to CRS. In contrast, the Bush administration consistently neglected the country, almost from Day 1:

  • 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]
  • 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]
  • 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]

[Robert Gates via CNN, 9/27/09. Brookings Institution, 9/23/09. CRS, 10/06/09]

Conservatives push reckless policies despite record of near total incompetence.
The verdict is in on the record of extreme conservatives record during wartime.  This weekend, George Will commented that “[a] bit of dithering might have been in order before we went into Iraq in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction… For a representative of the Bush administration to accuse someone of taking too much time is missing the point. We have much more to fear in this town from hasty than from slow government action.”  Fareed Zakaria commented on the lunacy of conservatives like Dick Cheney urging the Obama administration to rush its decision on Afghanistan: “Dick Cheney has accused Barack Obama of ‘dithering’ over Afghanistan. If the president were to quickly invade a country on the basis of half-baked intelligence, would that demonstrate his courage and decisiveness to Cheney?”  Ret. Maj. Gen. and NSN Senior Advisor, Paul Eaton, noted that “Dick Cheney and the Bush administration were incompetent war fighters…The only time Cheney and his cabal of foreign policy 'experts' have anything to say is when they feel compelled to protect this failed legacy.”  In spite of extreme conservatives’ deeply troubled legacies in Afghanistan and Iraq, many continue to take to the airwaves to urge the President to rush headlong into a deeper commitment in Afghanistan:

  • Sen. Orrin Hatch (R – UT): “I understand why these are tough decisions, but I think it's taken too long and some people have been hypercritical in suggesting that he's waiting until after this election because they have some tough governorships up for election. I hope that's not the case…” [Sen. Orrin Hatch (R – UT), State of the Union, 10/25/09]
  • Sen. John McCain (R – AZ): “But the sooner we get the people over there, the sooner-- the decision is made the sooner we get people over there and are able to implement the strategy that will succeed…” [Sen. John McCain (R – AZ), Face the Nation, 10/25/09]

Furthermore, new claims from Bush administration officials that they submitted a “plan” for Afghanistan to the Obama transition team have said nothing about the quality of that plan. John Podesta, who headed the transition, explained “[T]hey did present him [Obama] with a report at the very end of the Bush administration, but I have it from reliable sources that the principals in the Bush administration spent one hour on that report before they handed it off to Obama.” Additionally, if Bush administration officials had a “plan” that it thought was the way forward, then there is no explanation as to why they never sought to implement it in Afghanistan. As Senator Kaufman, who was also a part of the transition team, explained, “The fact that they ignored Afghanistan for years and then threw some kind of report to the transition team as they were going out the door … as the kids say, actions speak louder than words. What did they do in Afghanistan for eight years?”

[George Will on ABC’s This Week, via Huffington Post, 10/25/09. Fareed Zakaria, 10/26/09. Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.), 10/22/09. Sen. Ted Kaufman, ABC News, 10/23/09]

What We’re Reading

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Climate change is exacerbating droughts in the Horn of Africa, aggravating a regional refugee crisis originally spawned by ethnic conflict.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s first speech to Japan’s parliament emphasized a platform of sustainable economic reforms and dramatic political reforms to introduce more electoral competition.

Maksharip Aushev is the latest human rights activist killed in the Northern Caucasus region, underscoring the region’s hostility towards human rights accountability.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, meets in Thailand following the adoption of a new charter to create to a European-Union style community of nations in the region.

A right-wing Jewish activist group and an Islamist group urged supporters to ascend the Temple Mount/Al Aksa Mosque, causing a new outbreak of violence between Israeli police officers and rock-throwing Palestinian youth.

Commentary of the Day

The New York Times urges the Obama administration to adopt more transparency measures related to detainees and interrogation.

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