Calling President Obama’s “compulsion to attack” the previous administration “unseemly,” Charles Krauthammer seems to have invented an alternate history of the U.S. in Afghanistan:
It’s as if Obama’s presidency hasn’t really started. He’s still taking inventory of the Bush years. Just this Monday, he referred to “long years of drift” in Afghanistan in order to, I suppose, explain away his own, well, yearlong drift on Afghanistan. [...]
The history of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is a considered readjustment of policies that have failed. In each war, quick initial low-casualty campaigns toppled enemy governments. In the subsequent occupation stage, two policy choices presented themselves: the light or heavy “footprint.”
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we initially chose the light footprint. For obvious reasons: less risk and fewer losses for our troops, while reducing the intrusiveness of the occupation and thus the chances of creating an anti-foreigner backlash that would fan an insurgency. [...]
It was a perfectly reasonable assumption, but it proved wrong. The strategy failed. Not just because the enemy proved highly resilient but because the allegiance of the population turned out to hinge far less on resentment of foreign intrusiveness (in fact the locals came to hate the insurgents — al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan — far more than us) than on physical insecurity, which made them side with the insurgents out of sheer fear. [...]
In both places, the deterioration of the military situation was not the result of “drift,” but of considered policies that seemed reasonable, cautious and culturally sensitive at the time but that ultimately turned out to be wrong.
What happened in Afghanistan wasn’t that the Bush administration tried a strategy and it failed; rather, it was that the Bush administration tried a strategy, committed itself to resourcing it, and then lost interest as it refocused attention and resources to the showpiece invasion of Iraq — and then promptly screwed that up, requiring years of further attention and resources, and resulting in further disregard of Afghanistan. The strategic misjudgment of going into Iraq, which Krauthammer vigorously advocated, is, more than anything else, what led to the current crisis over which President Obama is deliberating.
And it’s not just Obama who speaks of “drift” in U.S. Afghanistan policy, but also the current Chairman of the Join Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee in September that the U.S. had “very badly under-resourced Afghanistan for the better part of five years.” Speaking to the neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative in March, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) said “we have under-resourced Afghanistan for too long, we took our eye off the ball when we went into Iraq. All of our resources were devoted to that effort.” An international aid worker in Afghanistan told the New York Times’ Dexter Filkins that “the tragedy” is “the $70 billion that would have given you enough police and army to stabilize this place all went to Iraq.”
It gets tiresome to have to keep repeating all of this, but not as tiresome as reading Krauthammer’s ever more baroque efforts to avoid owning up to his massive errors in judgment. Like the rest of his neocon brethren, Krauthammer has expended an enormous amount of energy to distract from the fact that his ideas about the transformative potential of American military force have been utterly discredited. It’s a bit comical that the best advice Krauthammer can come up with for the president who has to deal with the consequences of those ideas is: “Needs more force!”