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Heartbreaking Ineptitude

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The foreign policy stylings of George W. Bush:

But that skepticism had never taken hold in Washington. Since the 2001 war, American intelligence agencies had reported that the Taliban were so decimated they no longer posed a threat, according to two senior intelligence officials who reviewed the reports.

The American sense of victory had been so robust that the top C.I.A. specialists and elite Special Forces units who had helped liberate Afghanistan had long since moved on to the next war, in Iraq.

Those sweeping miscalculations were part of a pattern of assessments and decisions that helped send what many in the American military call “the good war” off course.

Like Osama bin Laden and his deputies, the Taliban had found refuge in Pakistan and regrouped as the American focus wavered. Taliban fighters seeped back over the border, driving up the suicide attacks and roadside bombings by as much as 25 percent this spring, and forcing NATO and American troops into battles to retake previously liberated villages in southern Afghanistan.

In other words, the administration diverted resources from a country that it had the responsibility to build, and let a genuine threat to American security regroup and regain effective power in large parts of the country, in order to invade a country that posed no security threat whatsoever to the United States. Brilliant! Which leads us to another edition of What Hilzoy Said:

I remember hearing those speeches and thinking: oh, thank God. Back in late 2001 and early 2002, I was giving Bush the benefit of the doubt — I hadn’t thought much of him before, but 9/11 did seem to have concentrated his attention, and it truly seemed as though he had changed. (As indeed he had; just not in ways anyone anticipated.) I had supported the invasion of Afghanistan, and I heard those words — Marshall Plan, we will not repeat the mistakes of the past, we will not abandon Afghanistan — and thinking: we are really going to do something wonderful.

I think that some of the most inspiring moments in international relations are when serious, long-festering problems are actually decisively solved. When South Africa’s apartheid government handed over power peacefully to the ANC, for instance: South Africa still has enormous problems, but the ghastly ever-present nightmare of apartheid had actually gone away. When the conflict in Northern Ireland is finally laid to rest, it will be the same sort of glorious moment. Some problems aren’t solved all at once; still, you can see points at which things turn slightly from despair towards hope, and then, if you’re lucky, a point at which the process of transforming some problem that has haunted the world for what seems like forever into history starts to look irreversible.

Afghanistan had been one of those problems for decades. We weren’t in a position to do much about it earlier — naively, I believed that you don’t just go around invading countries out of the blue, ha ha ha — but suddenly we actually had a really good reason to invade, and there we were, the Taliban was in flight, the people seemed overjoyed, and I thought: dear God, we are actually going to do try to right by Afghanistan, whose people have suffered so much for so long. And back in that era of lost hopes, what gave me real confidence that we would do our best to actually help Afghanistan to transform itself from a failed state into a normal, functioning society was that for once, making a serious effort to do this wasn’t just a wild aspiration. It was feasible, it was the right thing to do, but most importantly, as far as its actually happening was concerned, it was clearly, obviously, overwhelmingly in our interest.

It still breaks my heart just thinking about it. Read the whole article and weep.

It’s infuriating because it’s true.

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