Don’t Blame George W Bush for Afghanistan!

George W Bush

So we’ve pulled out of Afghanistan now. And I guess it’s not going well. That’s what people tell me. But it strikes me as going about as well as can be expected. Republicans of course are blaming it all on Biden. And most media elites are largely putting the blame on him without saying what should have been done differently. But that’s all nonsense.

Of course, the Democratic leaders of three committees have already declared that they will be investigating Biden’s actions leading up to this. That’s a joke but also typical. These were people who had to be dragged into impeaching Donald Trump only after it became impossible not to do this.

It’s amazing that these people think this is to their advantage. It is a natural tendency for many professional Democrats to think that the smartest thing is always to abandon the party and attack it. And it never works. It just pisses off democrats. And it doesn’t get Republicans or moderates to vote for them.

Not at all! In fact, it makes a lot of people far less likely to vote for them because it makes them look weak. Makes them look like they’re not willing to stand up for their own side. And it makes them look that way because it’s true.

The “Smart” Take

But it’s become sort of the serious center-left position to claim that this was a mess two decades in the making. And many people want to place particular blame at the feet of George W Bush.

Now that is all true. The current situation in Afghanistan is most definitely the result of two decades of mismanagement. And Bush certainly did take a huge number of resources out of Afghanistan and put them into the absolutely ridiculous Iraq War.

I think the presidential blame should go in this order:

  1. George W Bush
  2. Barack Obama
  3. Donald Trump
  4. Joe Biden.

But I think it’s wrong to blame George W Bush for going into Afghanistan in the first place. For one thing, in Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke noted that Bush didn’t even especially want to attack Afghanistan. He only did it because he felt like he had to.

That doesn’t speak well of Bush. It shows that he was disconnected from what was going on. He wanted to use 9/11 for what he already wanted to do. This is why he is very much responsible for the Iraq War. But the Afghanistan War?

Who Wanted This War?

This gets to what I consider the most important thing in all of this: American’s wanted this war!

According to Gallup, when the war started, 89 percent of Americans thought the Afghanistan War was “not a mistake.” It didn’t matter that the country itself didn’t actually attack us. They were associated with the terrorist group that attacked us. And since we couldn’t attack that terrorist group, well, attack what you can! It’s like the war equivalent of the Stephen Still songs.

Many Didn’t Want This War

I was one of many people (in absolute, not relative terms) who were against the war at the time. On 9/11 itself, I predicted that the country would respond inappropriately. And it did not disappoint me! I even had a woman scream at me because I said we should not go to war.

Remember that Barbara Lee was the only person in Congress to vote against going to war with Afghanistan. And her argument was not even that we shouldn’t go to war. It was simply that we needed to slow down. We needed to take a breath.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001 was passed by both houses of Congress 3 days after 9/11. Three days! Bush took longer to sign it — a total of four days! Lee noted that we were not making a rational decision. And we weren’t!

Short-Sighted War Support

I was against going to war for slightly different, more pragmatic reasons. At that time I was studying a lot about the early days of the Vietnam War for a play I was writing. And it just seemed so obvious that this was something we were very quickly going to regret.

I thought the same thing in the lead-up to the Iraq War. But smart people like Clinton and Kerry voted to allow Bush to go to war. (So did Bernie Sanders in the House.) I knew they didn’t think it was a good idea. They were doing it because they thought it was politically savvy.

But it was so short-sighted! I knew that within a year or two (at most) the American people would have turned against the war and a “no” vote would be seen as a badge of honor.

Even when wars go reasonably well, Americans get tired of them fast. Americans were tired of World War II by 1943. And that was, you know, the Good War. It may be good politics for the next 6 months to be in favor of a war. But it is not good long-term.

The only time I can think of a war that actually did remain popular long-term was the Persian Gulf War. And that’s because that war was over very quickly. But even still, George HW Bush lost his next election. He had an 89 percent approval rating right after the war but by the time of the election, it was down to less than 40 percent.

The point is that the American public is fickle. They love the idea of a Good War in the short term. But you can depend upon them to hate it in the long term. So it’s basically always a good idea to oppose yet another war.

We Will Do This Again

Of course, in the case of the Afghanistan war, our political elites and the base of the country we’re together. It was not acceptable to stop for even a second. And that kind of sums up America right there.

If there were a marshmallow test for countries we would fail it.

But the thing is, we as a country need to come to terms with the fact that this was our choice. There have been few things during my lifetime that have been so popular amongst Americans as the Afghanistan War. If we can say that America supported anything, it is this war.

So I wish people would stop blaming Bush or Trump or Biden or four presidents or our security services or anything else. Because this is America’s failure. This is something America was almost giddy about going into. And maybe if we can admit to that, the next time we might not make such a bad decision.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Blame George W Bush for Afghanistan!

  1. What’s completely missing in every Very Serious Person’s assessment of how our invasion went wrong is “it’s an invasion.” Peoole don’t tend to like those. The straight damn fact is that a lot of people in Afghanistan want the Taliban to be in charge, they agree with what they stand for, and a lot of people who aren’t thrilled with the Taliban just want America gone.

    Much is being made about how awful the Taliban is towards women’s rights, and I have no doubt this is horribly true. But if that’s a reason to invade a country, then we should invade Wyoming, or Texas, etc. No, abortion rights aren’t the same as being banned from attending school. But the same principle applies. If Mississippi doesn’t like The Gummint telling them who can or can’t vote, it’s an absolute certainty that many people in Afghanistan don’t like America doing it, either — and we aren’t drone bombing the shit out of Tupelo.

    I’ll wait to see if, five years from now, the same publications that do it today are reporting about how oppresive the Taliban are. They won’t be, even though the Taliban likely will be. The media’s interest in how Afghanis suffer is completely headline-driven, it’s “will this hurt Biden, or will voters forgive him?” I don’t recall any recent headlines about how fucked-up life is in Iraq, or Syria, even though those are significantly our fault.

  2. So, after all it was you and me? Well, probably not you. Fair enough. I’ve probably told you before I was raised by conservative Republican parents. And although conservative orthodoxy on economics started to disintegrate the moment I entered the workforce, I held on to the foreign policy ideals. Being Gen X and very much a product of the Cold War, foreign policy was the center of my political ideals. When the Cold War ended, I remember looking at a chunk of the Berlin Wall on display in the ASU library and being so profoundly thankful that millions of people didn’t have to die for that outcome. And I got on with my life. I remember arguing with critics of the Afghan and Iraq wars and telling them they were being ridiculous. George W Bush seemed like a dumb asshole. And I get that politicians are corrupt. The payoffs and the ripoffs and the things nobody saw. But the charge that the pretext for war was fabricated just seemed like a Bond movie villain scheme. I didn’t believe it. And then I watched it happen. And at some point I knew I had been wrong and asked myself what other lies I had believed. Turns out, just about everything. Which is what eventually led me here.

    • That’s interesting. I was raised in a very conservative household too. At one point, my dad was in the John Birch Society!

      But to be clear: I don’t mean to attack anyone. My problem is that if we don’t admit to what we did before, we will do it again. If that 89% approval for the war last time turned into an 11% approval for the next war, that would at least be something good to come out of it. Bush is terrible. He should die in prison. But as a society, we do no good focusing on that because it allows us to avoid dealing with our own actions. If Bush had not gone to war, the Republicans would have been wiped out in 2002 and Bush would have lost in 2004.

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