The Republicans Are Still Blaming Obama for Iraq and Afghanistan

President-George-W.-Bush-Mission-AccomplishedRepublicans have an unusual sense of history and again and again misdeeds and errors of the Bush administration have been attached to the Obama administration. It was bad enough they publicly planned and then shut down the federal government and blamed Obama.

Ill a deed as that was, remember how “A Third Of Louisiana Republicans Blame Obama For Hurricane Katrina Response Under Bush“? Remember when Afghanistan was called “Obama’s War”? But most disconcertingly of all, President Bill Clinton was blamed for the 9/11 attacks and how Republicans have consistently denied that any terrorist attacks took place on U.S. soil while Bush was president (Fox News’ Eric Bolling here; New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani here; Bush press secretary Dana Perino here).

Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely (ret.), who has already called for Barack Obama’s forced removal from office, is now blaming the president for Bush’s failed strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. As World Net Daily relates, the fault is with Obama’s counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN):

Essentially, Obama’s counterinsurgency, or COIN, doctrine is a form of warfare that makes soldiers trained to fight tank battles shift to a combat style that emphasizes politics, cultural awareness and protecting the local population from insurgent attacks, Vallely said.

The result looks like failure, he said.

“Today Iraq, which is still wracked by violence and heavily influenced by Iran, has provided no victory for America, and Americans do expect victory when the U.S. expends great losses of life and thousands of wounded and dead troops,” Vallely said.

Vallely faults Obama but in fact, as Peter L. Bergen argued in his book The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda (2011), the United States pursued a misguided obsession with Iraq, conducted incompetently, which undermined its efforts to defeat bin Ladin and al-Qaeda. Making the innocent country of Iraq his main target (where al Qaeda was not), Bush made a half-hearted attempt at Afghanistan (where al Qaeda actually was). That was still enough to topple the Taliban regime that was giving shelter to bin Laden and AQ but it was not enough to destroy either AQ or its mastermind.

“Many mid-level officers and non-commissioned officers voiced many and varied new doubts about the Army’s battlefield performances and senior leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan,” WND reports Vallely saying, “regarding the feedback he’s heard.”

Yet it was not Obama, but General David Petraeus who “authored the U.S. Army counterinsurgency manual” and who “tough[ened] Afghan rules of engagement.” Why did he write this manual? Because the U.S. Army entered Iraq and Afghanistan without even the idea of a counterinsurgency manual. When Bush began his wars, no thought at all had been given to counterinsurgency or to tactics or doctrine to deal with what is called asymmetrical warfare.

As I wrote here in 2011,

George W. Bush made the critical error of fighting an ideological war. His ideological neoconservative aims blinded him to the pragmatic considerations essential to the rapid and successful conclusion of the conflict. One need only read Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City (2006) to see just how out of touch with reality the neoconservatives crusaders were.

It was this manual that governed the rules of engagement under Petraeus’ predecessor in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal was Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) from June 15, 2009, to June 23, 2010. Petraeus was nominated by President Obama to succeed McChrystal on June 23, 2010 and confirmed by the Senate on June 30. He served in this role until July 18, 2011.

President Obama extricated America from Iraq and is in the process of doing the same with Afghanistan. These are wars Americans are overwhelmingly eager to put behind them. And they are unmistakably Bush’s wars.

Significantly, it was not Obama who invaded Iraq on a fabricated pretext and with an army designed to fight not an insurgency but World War III. Significantly, it was not Obama who lacked either a plan for administering the country once Saddam Hussein was removed from power, nor a long-term exit strategy. Those failing were those of President George W. Bush, his Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. These men were more concerned about enriching themselves and their friends than about managing a war or its aftermath.

Vallely complains that “In Afghanistan…a surge of more than 30,000 U.S. troops has produced a stalemate that leaves soldiers counting down to withdrawal at the end of 2014.” This is opposed, I suppose, to the defeat the U.S. was facing before the surge.

It is apparently Obama’s fault that the U.S. was not able to leave behind in Afghanistan a stable democracy. But The Washington Post reported in 2008 that,

[C]onversations with several Obama advisers and a number of senior military strategists both before and since last Tuesday’s election reveal a shared sense that the Afghan effort under the Bush administration has been hampered by ideological and diplomatic constraints and an unrealistic commitment to the goal of building a modern democracy — rather than a stable nation that rejects al-Qaeda and Islamist extremism and does not threaten U.S. interests.

If we look at actual facts rather than invented memories, it turns out that Bush actually succeeded in Afghanistan, at least initially. However, again he lacked for plans and ideas about what to do when he had overthrown the Taliban, and he let that victory, too, slip away from him – along with Osama bin Laden. Despite the experience of insurgency in Vietnam, the United States bungled the insurgency in Afghanistan – and that long before Barack Obama was elected president.

Had there been some strategic thinking or effective tactics on display from 2001 to 2008, President Obama would have inherited Bush’s bungled “war on terror” and two actual economy-shattering and unfunded wars.

Republicans had no plans, apparently, beyond a vision of endless war in both countries, with a permanent U.S. military presence (remember John McCain in 2005? “Not only because of our appreciation of Afghanistan, but also we believe there will be vital national security interests in this region for a long time”).

It is difficult to conceive in any way Obama prosecution of either war might have fallen short of Republican “accomplishments.” Again, in point of fact, it was President Barack Obama who eliminated Osama bin Laden, a man, for whatever obscure reasons, President Bush seemed reluctant to apprehend or to kill despite the pomp and belligerence of 2001. Bush gave us “”Mission Accomplished” in 2003: “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended,” he told the crowd. “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” This was despite the fact that the mission was just beginning.

It was Obama who ended this mission in December 2011. It was Obama who oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden in May of that year. And it is Obama who will end the long nightmare in Afghanistan in 2014.

Republicans mistake defeat for victory, ignore Bush’s existence when they can, and blame those failures they cannot ignore on Obama. But the American public must not let itself be confused by invented memories. Americans must not let themselves be deceived. They must remember history accurately, and vote accordingly in 2014 and 2016.

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