Last June 29, I was in Ohrid, Macedonia for a conference of the NATO Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, which brought together delegations from all members of NATO and the Partnership for Peace to discuss current issues, including the NATO mission in Afghanistan. (Left- Hekmat Karzai, Director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, poses with me in front of the ancient Greco-Roman Theater in Ohrid). After the closing plenary, a U.S. NATO official came over to offer some friendly advice. I was losing credibility in international meetings, he suggested, because my (see adjectives above) expertise on Afghanistan was being colored by my domestic political agenda. I thanked him for his constructive criticism and began to consider whether he might be right. After all, the administration had changed many (though hardly all) of the policies I had been criticizing since 2001. Couldn't I take yes for an answer?
When I got back to the hotel, I found an e-mail from Juan Cole inviting me to join this group blog, which he was just setting up. Before answering, I glanced over at Informed Comment, to see what Juan was writing about. I found this:
Bush said in a speech on Thursday that he hopes Iraq will be like Israel, a democracy that faces terrorist violence but manages to retain its democratic character:Juan noted that telling Middle Easterners that the U.S. wants Iraq to be just like Israel was not an effective way to build regional support for our effort. He archived this story under the tag, "Monumental stupidity."' In Israel, Bush said, "terrorists have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks. The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it's not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that's a good indicator of success that we're looking for in Iraq." 'These words may be the stupidest ones ever uttered by a US president. Given their likely impact on the US war effort in the Middle East, they are downright criminal.
I answered Juan, gladly accepting the invitation, and added a note telling him about the NATO official's comment. I concluded:
I thought maybe he was right. Then I went back to the hotel and read your post from today. I think my domestic political agenda is the result of my knowledge of the rest of the world.In this spirit, I would like to draw readers' attention to the following bizarre fact: The Bush-Cheney administration still enjoys some vestige of credibility when claiming that its policies defend the national security of the United States, and the Democratic Party presidential candidates and Congressional Leadership sometimes seem afraid of challenging the administration too directly for fear of being seen as soft on terrorism.
As a wonky, moderate, highly respected, and thoroughly analytical scholar, I do not express myself in simplistic partisan formulae. But politicians do. That's their job. If I were a politician, for instance, I might say something like this:
The Bush-Cheney administration has surrendered much of Afghanistan to the Taliban and much of Pakistan to al-Qaida. They have turned most of Iraq over to Iran, creating the very danger over which they now threaten another disastrous war; they have strained the U.S. Armed Forces to the point of exhaustion, turned the Defense Department over to private contractors, the Justice Department over to the Republican National Committee, and the national debt over to foreign creditors, while leading a party whose single most basic belief is supposed to be that individuals must take personal responsibility for their actions. And they dare to lecture us on national security?Allow me to illustrate these (slight) overstatements with a few current reports.
On Afghanistan, I have already commented on recent analyses of how the Bush-Cheney adminstration fecklessly under-invested in Afghanistan, assuring that the weak government of Hamid Karzai would lack the resources needed to establish itself throughout the country. Since the recent New York Times report was based on interviews with most of the U.S.'s former ambassadors and military commanders in Afghanistan, I won't bother to re-argue the point here. Especially since a former CIA counter-terrorism official (who led the team that captured Abu Zubayda) and a former State Department official (now working for Kissinger Associates, not MoveOn.org) observe in Sunday's LA Times:
Afghanistan -- former Taliban stronghold, Al Qaeda haven and warlord-cum-heroin-smuggler finishing school -- feels more and more like Sept. 10, 2001, than a victory in the U.S. war on terrorism.For more of the same, see Jim Rupert's report from the remote province of Nuristan in the northeast. Of course the administration has changed so much of its original policy on Afghanistan that its claims to have done the right thing there are in their last throes, supported by only a few dead-enders such as the delusional Donald Rumsfeld.
The country is, plain and simple, a mess. Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies have quietly regained territory, rendering wide swaths of the country off-limits to U.S. and Afghan forces, international aid workers and even journalists. Violent attacks against Western interests are routine. Even Kabul, which the White House has held up as a postcard for what is possible in Afghanistan, has become so dangerous that foreign embassies are in states of lockdown, diplomats do not leave their offices, and venturing beyond security perimeters requires daylight-only travel, armored vehicles, Kevlar and armed escorts.
Pakistan? Here's another article from Sunday's L. A. Times:
Political turmoil and a spate of brazen attacks by Taliban fighters are forcing Pakistan's president to scale back his government's pursuit of Al Qaeda, according to U.S. intelligence officials who fear that the terrorist network will be able to accelerate its efforts to rebuild and plot new attacks.It just gets better from there; you should read the whole article. As I noted previously, the legitimacy of the government is collapsing in Pakistan, the result of a fully predictable (and predicted) political crisis that has been gathering steam for over a year. How did the Bush administration respond? By announcing in January that Ambassador Ryan Crocker would be transferred from Islamabad to Baghdad and then by not replacing him until July. And by fully supporting General Musharraf's contempt for rule of law and democracy until he had provoked much of Pakistan's middle class to take to the streets against him.
The development threatens a pillar of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy, which has depended on Pakistan to play a lead role in keeping Al Qaeda under pressure to reduce its ability to coordinate strikes.
Ambassador Crocker now has the demanding task of trying to nudge the Iranian backed Iraqi Shi'a factions that the U.S. installed in power to reconcile with the Sunni Ba'athi factions that the U.S. removed from power (but whose willingness to take arms and money from the U.S. is now cited as the main indicator of U.S. success). And good luck to him.
Meanwhile, back at the war on those who attacked us on 9/11 (not Iraqi Shi'a militias, Iran, or Ba'athists, as far as I know): according to the National Intelligence Estimate on "The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland," which was prepared while the ambassador's residence in Islamabad was vacant:
Al-Qa’ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership.In the past few weeks, a reinvigorated Bin Laden has released both a video aimed at asserting his leadership of the global struggle against U.S. dominance, promising that "Islam" would solve the crises of imperialism, high taxes, and sub-prime mortgages, and an audio tape aimed at al-Qa'ida's most strategic target market, the population of Pakistan, where Bin Laden and his senior advisors are now safely ensconced. In the audio tape Bin Laden fulsomely praises the "tribes of Waziristan" and several Pakistani Taliban leaders, while omitting support for any Afghan group. This indicates where his real sanctuary in the region lies.
Iraq and Iran? I cede to Juan Cole, Scott Horton, and numerous others the thankless labor of documenting the administration's crimes and blunders in Iraq, a task I would compare to trying to convince a skeptical audience that water is wet. But since the administration (now abetted by CBS's 60 Minutes) is furiously accusing Iran of support for Shi'a militias in Iraq, it seems appropriate to recall a few basic facts about the situation in Iraq, helpfully laid out by Peter Galbraith in the New York Review of Books. Peter first visited Iraqi Kurdistan in, I think, 1989. He was one of the first outsiders to document the atrocities of Operation Anfal, at a time that the first Bush administration was giving Saddam a pass on killing Kurds, as long as he stood against Iran. At that time Peter was a senior staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Since then he has been Ambassador to Croatia and held a senior U.N. post in East Timor. I last saw Peter in Heathrow airport just before Thanksgiving last year, when we crossed paths as he returned from Iraq and I from Afghanistan.
An Afghan friend once remarked that Americans, unlike Afghans, seemed to require "memory facilitation," which Peter's article helpfully provides:
Iraqi forces [in the south] are dominated by the Badr Organization, a militia founded, trained, armed, and financed by Iran. When US forces ousted Saddam's regime from the south in early April 2003, the Badr Organization infiltrated from Iran to fill the void left by the Bush administration's failure to plan for security and governance in post-invasion Iraq.Peter notes, as seems obvious but is ignored by most discussion in the U.S., that the Bush administration's stupendous blunders in Iraq have handed Iran a "far-reaching" "strategic victory." He illustrates his claim that "the scale of the American miscalculation is striking" with one of the by-now familiar astoundingly wrong quotations from the administration's strategic thinkers, in this case Paul Wolfowitz confidently asserting that a Shi'a-led Iraq will undermine Iran.
In the months that followed, the US-run Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) appointed Badr Organization leaders to key positions in Iraq's American-created army and police. At the same time, L. Paul Bremer's CPA appointed party officials from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) to be governors and serve on governorate councils throughout southern Iraq. SCIRI, recently renamed the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), was founded at the Ayatollah Khomeini's direction in Tehran in 1982. The Badr Organization is the militia associated with SCIRI.
In the January 2005 elections, SCIRI became the most important component of Iraq's ruling Shiite coalition. In exchange for not taking the prime minister's slot, SCIRI won the right to name key ministers, including the minister of the interior. From that ministry, SCIRI placed Badr militiamen throughout Iraq's national police.
In short, George W. Bush had from the first facilitated the very event he warned would be a disastrous consequence of a US withdrawal from Iraq: the takeover of a large part of the country by an Iranian-backed militia.
On the exhaustion and depletion of the U.S. Army, see this, this, and many other stories, including the recent ones explaining how the post-"surge" troop reduction is required regardless of "success" in order to keep the Army from collapsing. Scott Horton at Harpers provides complete coverage (and original investigation) of both the privatization of the U.S. Defense Department and the transformation of the Justice Department into a branch of the RNC. On the financing of the debt caused by the combination of tax cuts and uncontrolled spending on everything but social services for those who really need them, see this table of foreign holders of U.S. Treasury Securities.