The True Failure of Bush’s ‘War on Terror’

Ivo H. Daalder
Ivo H. Daalder, President, Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Ivo H. Daalder Former Brookings Expert, President - Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO

September 27, 2006

The following opinion was originally posted at the America Abroad weblog on TPM Café. All past posts may be found at America Abroad – A Blog on Current Affairs on this website, or at TPM Café.

There is a word missing in the declassified “Key Judgments” of the terrorism NIE that was released last night: Afghanistan. Yet it is in Afghanistan that the true failure of Bush’s “war on terror” is now most apparent.

A spate of recent articles, including the excellent piece by Jon Landay that Bruce mentioned the other day and a stellar report by David Rhode in the New York Times, attests to the fact that Afghanistan is once again becoming the place it was before the Taliban was toppled almost five years ago: a place where jihadists of all stripes can train and engage in terrorism against infidels of all kinds. Since, as the NIE notes, the same dynamic is also taking place in Iraq, we now have two Afghanistans instead of one. That’s the true measure of Bush’s failure.

It didn’t have to be this way. After the Taliban was toppled in December 2001, much of the world was prepared to help the Afghan people rebuild their country, which had been devastated by a quarter century of unrelenting warfare. But the Bush administration would have none of it. It opposed the deployment of large numbers of peacekeeping forces, believing, wrongly, that great powers shouldn’t do nation building. Moreover, even while Bush called for a Marshall Plan-like effort to rebuild Afghanistan, his administration failed to include a request for reconstruction funding in its 2002 budget request to Congress.

But worse was to come. Rather than finishing the job in Afghanistan, Bush of course decided to invade Iraq. Thousands of intelligence operatives, hundreds of thousands of troops, and billions of dollars were then diverted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the terrorists to pursuing an ill-fated occupation that, the NIE concludes, has become “the ’cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”

Ironically, and tragically, it is the people of Afghanistan who are now suffering the consequences of this gross strategic blunder. The upsurge of violence there — of suicide bombings and other terrorist acts — is reminiscent of what has been happening in Iraq. Indeed, NATO soldiers have concluded that there has been an “Iraqization” of the Afghan insurgency. The similarity in tactics — the way IEDs are hidden, suicide bombers are used, etc. — is just too great.

So not only did Bush leave Afghans to their own devises so he could invade Iraq, but the invasion of Iraq created forces that are now terrorizing the Afghans themselves. Some may still doubt that Iraq has been a strategic failure for the war on terrorism. But I find it difficult to think of anything more convincing than what is happening in Afghanistan to prove them wrong.

Posted at TPM Café on September 27, 2006 — 8:35 AM Eastern Time

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