1. BUSH AS COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN: COWARDLY AND
INCOMPETENT (Sept. 2002)
Imagine this. It is
1942 and the Allied counteroffensive
against Nazi Germany has begun with a landing in North Africa. As the
advance continues, American intelligence suddenly receives startling
information: Personally commanding the Axis forces from the front--- is
Adolf Hitler! Swiftly the news is relayed to
Franklin D. Roosevelt, and here is the course of action he decides on,
with Winston Churchill's grudging concurrence:
He halts the Allied advance. Concerned about casualties,
Roosevelt instead orders the hasty assembly of a ragtag force of Arabs
and Berbers to hunt Hitler down. A reward of $10 million is also
announced, Roosevelt hoping some very greedy
Wehrmacht officers might seize the Fuhrer and turn him in for a
The native force of course proves incompetent, where they're
not simply sympathetic to Hitler or paid off by the Nazis. Hitler makes
his escape to Sicily, and then back to Germany. His legend and stature
have grown--- the war, and the Holocaust, that
might have been ended in 1942 will now grind on into 1945. The river of
blood--- shall become an ocean.
Something along these lines is what George W. Bush did, with
the prize of the century, Osama Bin Laden,
in our grasp.
As late as November 11, 2001 Osama
Bin Laden, with around 1,500-2,000 Al-Qaeda
troops, was still in Jalalabad, just a
5-hour drive from the capital Kabul (which fell the next day). All Bush
had to do was send in several thousand Rangers or paratroops or Marines
and the King of Terror, with lord knows how many of his top lieutenants,
would have been captured or killed. Bush knew they were there. We were
bombing the hell out of the place. Instead he did nothing. Later that
day Bin Laden moved out of the city in a convoy of several hundred cars
and trucks, plus a few armored vehicles. How the American military,
which endlessly brags that its high tech sees everything, missed this
huge convoy is a question nobody has apparently asked--- till now.
Wending its way slowly south to the mountains of
Tora Bora it was the perfect target.
Finally, Bin Laden and his men reached their caves and dug in.
We had them.
Bush still didn't act.
He was afraid.
And of opposing his fancy-chested,
Instead, the "battle plan", apart from continued bombing,
consisted of enlisting the services of a ragtag bunch of local warlords
to do our fighting for us, some of these warlords men with ties to the
Taliban, some criminals, some both.
Starting in the last few days of November, and running into
the 2nd week of December, most of the Al-Qaeda
fighters, apparently including Bin Laden (though there are some who
think he was killed in the bombing), made their escape, many to
Pakistan, in most cases aided by our "allies" and "friends" (who were
well-paid to betray us). The warlords did some fighting too, starting
Dec. 5, but it was too late and inadequate. (They didn't have the
stomach to check out many of the caves, for instance.)
Though Bush and the high brass had no fight in them, further
down the line real American warriors who knew what was at stake were
dying to be sent into battle.
MSNBC.com (2/18/02) reported that "officers of the 82nd
airborne division and elements of the 101st--- pleaded with the generals
running the war to have their men dropped along the Afghan-Pakistan
border region to cut off the retreat of al-Qaida
and its leader, Osama bin Laden. To the fury
of these officers, their pleas went unanswered, turned aside by the high
probability of casualties."
Bush made another horrendous and idiotic decision in November,
in some ways even more inexcusable. As reported by Seymour
Hersh in The New Yorker (1/28/02), and in
other sources, Bush apparently, as a favor to a different "ally",
Musharraf of Pakistan, the Taliban's (and hence Al-Qaeda's)
greatest foreign supporter, "ordered the United States Central Command
to set up a special air corridor to help insure the safety of the
Pakistani rescue flights from Kunduz", a key
city then about to fall. According to a "C.I.A. analyst", many in the
Taliban leadership escaped in this airlift. According to the
RAW, India's C.I.A., perhaps 5,000 Taliban, Al-Qaeda
and Pakistanis got away. Hersh writes of the
deep frustration, no doubt the fury, of the Delta Force members who were
forced to watch as their own President stabbed them in the back.
Simply at Tora
Bora and Kunduz
Bush was responsible for the escape of perhaps 7,000 of the most wanted
men in American history. We had them all trapped. We may spend the rest
of our lives chasing them all over the planet.
Then came Operation Anaconda.
I have talked to someone who knows Bush personally, and is
generally admiring of him. Nonetheless, he says one of Bush's most
striking qualities is his astounding lack of curiosity.
So if Bush learned anything from, studied anything about, drew
any lessons from, Tora
Bora and Kunduz, it was not
especially apparent in March, 2002, when Operation Anaconda was launched
against Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters
in eastern Afghanistan. Once again we relied on Afghan allies instead of
our own fighters, their role being to drive the enemy toward waiting
American troops. But our Afghans quickly gave up the fight and
retreated. American troops did what they could, but apparently most of
the enemy escaped to Pakistan. 1,000 "top-quality" Taliban and Al-Qaeda
we would have loved to get our hands on we could have trapped them all
easily if Bush had more fight or brains. But his and the brass' apparent
terror of producing casualties even in the most necessary cause cripples
their warmaking. Tellingly, Canadian troops
were given the assignment of mopping up the last 60 to 100 enemy
In fact, American troops didn't take a single city in
Afghanistan. Every city fell to negotiation ---between
theTaliban/Al-Qaeda and other Afghans, many
of these Afghans Taliban sympathizers. In some cases "surrender"
consisted of nothing more than a Taliban whipping off his black turban
and whipping on a white. 1,000's, maybe 10's of 1,000's, of Taliban and
Al-Qaeda we needed to capture,
interogate, try--- were allowed to waltz off
into the night, back to their villages, or to melt into the local scene.
We had them all trapped. We may spend the rest of our lives
chasing them all over the planet. Yes, we spared ourselves the 83 dead
and 411 wounded or 142 dead and 615 wounded that might have resulted,
but perhaps some of those escapees will one day make it to America and
launch a terror attack that multiplies the above casualties a 100-fold
or a 1,000-fold, and then those dead will be on George W. Bush's head as
9/11's are on Clinton's.
Since chasing out the Taliban and Al-Qaeda
Bush has made a number of other grievous, perhaps fatal, errors:
1) He adamantly blocked the extension of the International
Security Assistance Force beyond Kabul, despite numerous offers of
troops from Europeans and others. He has barely explained why, typical
of the secrecy and incoherence with which he prefers to do business.
This may prove his greatest mistake in Afghanistan, essentially handing
the whole country except the capital over to a pack of warlords and
druglords without a fight. In such a ruined
field terrorists those weeds can flourish easily.
2) He has not fought the moral war well, but has often fought
a soiled war, which turns some in the world against us who might have
stood with us. Executions and nightmarish prison conditions have been
tolerated on the part of some Afghan allies, we have apparently turned
some of the captured over to torture by 3rd-world "friends", the
humanitarian effort (especially against starvation) has been inadequate,
civilians have been killed by air attacks which could have been avoided
if we were more ready to fight on the ground, and civil liberties have
become imperiled, especially by the indefinite imprisonment of American
3) The heroin trade has been allowed to flourish right under
our nose. And yet this is the only time in our lives when the Americans
will be in Afghanistan in force. If we can't contain it now....
4) Instead of simply imposing democracy on Afghanistan
now, take-it-or-leave-it, as we did with Germany and Japan after WW
II, he has initiated a slower, step-by-step process that may or may not
take in the end.
5) And perhaps Bush's greatest mistake has been his pitiful
performance in the Israeli-Palestine crisis, the
number one foreign policy problem today. Like his father, he is
not apparently much on "the vision thing". Until the second
Intifada, and Israeli response to it, grew
too fierce to ignore, he simply--- ignored the problem (gleefully
spitting in Clinton's activist face?). His passivity before, followed by
an endless series of policy flip-flops since---
punchless threats, appeals for peace
unbacked by action, calls for Palestinian democracy in which we
will not tolerate Arafat's (inevitable?) election, support of peace one
day, support of brutal Sharon military actions the next--- are clueless
and amateurish. The whole Islamic world, which we must have as an ally
in the war on terror, has been alienated. As for Ariel Sharon, a man who
cannot be influenced (or scared) by mere words, he has long since taken
the measure of Bush's weakness and incoherence and runs unchecked.
6) Let's not even get into the intelligence failures which
ultimately lie at Bush's quiet, disinterested feet. Suffice it that up
until his aide whispered about tragedy into his ear down at that school
in Florida September 11 the Bush administration was simply a
continuation of the Clinton administration. No more damning criticism of
a President can be made.
Bush's approval ratings are high. But so are the ratings of TV
trash and moronic films. In the end, his performance in Afghanistan
rates a C-, if that, and without a new measure of both brains and
backbone in the future, the potential exists even for startling failure.
3,000 dead deserved better.