Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Shadow of Bush . . . And A Thing Obama Did Right

And while on the subject of Bush, some observations on his foreign policy and another thing Obama did right:

Bush made a good call in holding Afghanistan responsible for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. During the previous four decades, many terrorist attacks against the United States or its citizens went unanswered. American leaders made legalistic distinctions between terrorist groups and the independent nations that harbored them. Our leaders wrung their hands with anxiety about holding host nations responsible for the terrorist attacks that originated from groups they hosted. Consequently, many of these attacks went unanswered. Unfortunately, it took the deaths of 3,000 Americans for our government to overcome their angst and hold a foreign government accountable.

Team Bush started out well, assisting the so-called Northern Alliance in their decades long fight against the Taliban. Once the Alliance drove the Taliban from power and cornered Osama bin Laden, things went awry. Instead of committing the necessary forces to take down bin Laden and bring a quick ending to the war, Team Bush decided to pay off some local warlords millions of dollars to catch bin Laden for us. They took the money, of course, and let him escape to Pakistan rather than turn him over to the infidels. As Peter Bergen told it:

Yet, even as bin Laden contemplated his own death and Al Qaeda seemed on the verge of defeat, Gary Berntsen, then commander of CIA operations in eastern Afghanistan, was worried. A gung-ho officer who speaks Dari, the local Afghan language, Berntsen realized that Afghan soldiers were likely not up to the task of taking on Al Qaeda's hard core at Tora Bora. In the first days of December, he had requested a battalion of Rangers--that is, between 600 and 800 soldiers--to assault the complex of caves where bin Laden and his lieutenants were believed to be hiding and to block their escape routes. That request was denied by the Pentagon, for reasons that have never been fully clarified. In the end, there were probably more journalists at Tora Bora than the 50 or so Delta and Green Beret soldiers who participated in the fight.

And so the task of encircling the area was passed off to local warlords--one of whom declared a truce with Al Qaeda at a critical moment in the battle, allowing members of the group to slip away. Muhammad Musa, a massively built, laconic Afghan commander who led several hundred of his soldiers on the Tora Bora front line, told me, "There were six American soldiers with us, U.S. Special Forces. They coordinated the air strikes. My personal view is if they had blocked the way out to Pakistan, Al Qaeda would not have had a way to escape." The strategy of relying on local proxies--a tactic that had served America so well in overthrowing the Taliban--proved disastrous at the Afghan campaign's crucial moment.

Everyone knows what happened next: Al Qaeda's leaders fled into the tribal areas of western Pakistan, where they began the long process of rebuilding their devastated organization. That process has gone far better than they could possibly have imagined as they slipped out of Afghanistan in late 2001 to the hum of American munitions blowing apart their last refuge in a country that had once, more or less, been theirs”

Instead of taking down bin Laden and coming home, Team Bush decided to begin a project of "nation-building" in a land where no real modern nation-state existed.

Then Team Bush focused on Iraq. Although 15 of the 19 lunatics who hijacked those planes came from Saudi Arabia, Team Bush asked no tough questions from the Saudis. Even after the Saudi family's Prince Alaweed bin Talal blamed U.S. Foreign policy for the attacks and Saudi Minister of the Interior Prince Nayef Ibn Abd Al-Aziz blamed the Jews, Team Bush had nothing to say to or about Saudi Arabia. It appears all that hand-holdin' and lip smackin' between Bush the Saud family members paid off.


lip smackin'

Instead of confronting Saudi Arabia, Team Bush began beating the drums for war against Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. That war, too, turned into another project of "nation-building."

Only time will tell if the Bush plan to install democracy in two regions under Islamic rule for 1,500 hundred years will pay off. One must hope so. I suspect both will experience coups by military or religious parties after we leave.

Meanwhile, during that time presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama took heat from Republicans regarding comments he made about getting tough with Pakistan. He suggested that we should take the war on terror to Pakistan, with or without that government's permission.

Republicans howled about violating the sovereignty of our so-called ally.

We saw how that turned out:


BrianR said...

Very interesting essay; well done.

I think you hit a very key element of the issue: is it even possible for a Western-style democracy to succeed in the Muslim Middle East?

I've written on that very same subject, and based on my experience in the region (I lived in Iran for 5 years), my answer is "no".


RightDetour said...

I am no expert on what makes democracy work in the diverse places where it does--United States, Europe, India and Japan. I just do not expect much from a region where the dominant religion has no respect for individual rights. 19th Century British philosopher J.S. Mill put it succinctly in another context:

“Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement.”

BrianR said...

"I just do not expect much from a region where the dominant religion has no respect for individual rights."

Exactly my point.