Kerry’s Afghan Amnesia

Charles Krauthammer issues a historical reality check this morning:

In the 1990s, Afghanistan was allowed to fall to the Taliban and become the global center for the training, indoctrination and seeding of jihadists around the world — including the mass murderers of Sept. 11, 2001. This week, just three years after a two-month war that destroyed the Taliban, Afghanistan completed its first free election, choosing as president a pro-American democrat enjoying legitimacy and wide popular support. This represents the single most astonishing geopolitical transformation of the past four years. (Deposing Saddam Hussein ranks second. The global jihad against America was no transformation at all: It existed long before the Bush administration. We’d simply ignored al Qaeda’s declaration of war.) But perhaps even more astonishing is how this singular American victory has disappeared from public consciousness.

Americans have a deserved reputation for historical amnesia. Three years — an eon — have made us imagine that the Afghan war was easy and foreordained.

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President Bush put in place a military campaign that did in two months what everyone had said was impossible: defeat an entrenched, fanatical, ruthless regime in a territory that had forced the great British and Soviet empires into ignominious retreat. Bush followed that by creating in less than three years a fledgling pro-American democracy in a land that had no history of democratic culture and was just emerging from 25 years of civil war.

This is all barely remembered and barely noted. Most amazing of all, John Kerry has managed to transform our Afghan venture into a failure — a botched operation in which Bush let Osama bin Laden get away because he “outsourced” bin Laden’s capture to “warlords” in the battle of Tora Bora. Outsourced? The entire Afghan war was outsourced. How does Kerry think we won it? How did Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul and Kandahar fall? Stormed by thousands of American GIs? They fell to the “warlords” we had enlisted, supported and directed. It was their militias that overran the Taliban. “Outsourcing” is a demagogue’s way of saying “using allies.” (Isn’t Kerry’s Iraq solution to “outsource” the problem to the “allies” and the United Nations?) And in Afghanistan it meant the very best allies: locals who had a far better chance of knowing which cave to storm without getting blown up. As Kerry himself said on national television at the time of Tora Bora (Dec. 14, 2001): “What we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will” — i.e., not throwing American lives away in tunnels and caves in alien territory. “I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.”

Fair points all. Unfortunately, our current political climate is one where incumbents can admit to no mistake, no matter how small, and challengers must criticize every action of the incumbent, no matter how successful.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Campaign 2004, Middle East, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rodney Dill says:

    I was wondering when someone would make the connection in an editorial that the ‘outsourcing’ that Kerry is criticizing Bush for is also the ‘leading an international community’ that Kerry is advocating. Thanks for making the post on this James.