Calling Mr. Bush the "worst commander in chief ever" brings wails of outrage from certain corners, but the sobriquet is a fairly easy one to justify. Bush is, after all, the first U.S. president to lead the country into two failed wars. And make no mistake--regardless of how they turn out, our excursions in Afghanistan and Iraq have failed. That the "best-trained, best-equipped" military force in history is mired in two third-world sand bunkers sends a clear message that America's days of being able to dictate global affairs through use of armed conflict are over for good.
Keep in mind that the Bush administration didn't necessarily embark on two bad wars purposely. It launched one good war--Afghanistan--that went bad when the administration left the job unfinished and diverted assets and national energies to the bad war in Iraq.
Jewels of Denial
In the Sunday August 12 New York Times, David Rhode and David E. Sanger related how the administration snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Afghanistan.
In "How a ‘Good War’ in Afghanistan Went Bad," Rhode and Sanger write that after the early success of the 2001 war, "American intelligence agencies had reported that the Taliban were so decimated they no longer posed a threat." Two years after the Taliban fell to American-led coalition forces, "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."
Troops were diverted, intelligence-gathering resources like predator unmanned aerial vehicles were diverted, reconstruction funds were diverted. "We were economizing in Afghanistan," a former senior official of Central Command told Rhode and Sanger. “We’re simply in a world of limited resources, and those resources are in Iraq,” the former official added. “Anyone who tells you differently is blowing smoke.”
And guess who's trying to tell us differently.
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was National Security Advisor at the time of the virtual abandonment of the Afghanistan effort, says, “I don’t buy the argument that Afghanistan was starved of resources.”
National Security Adviser Steven J. Hadley, who was Rice's deputy during the first Bush term of office, insists that there was no diversion of resources from Afghanistan.
Robert D. Blackwill, who was in charge of both Afghanistan and Iraq policy at the National Security Council, claims that "…where we find ourselves now may have been close to inevitable, whether the U.S. went into Iraq or not.”
And they wonder why people make fun of them.
The Rear View Mirror
Given the unnatural disaster that our foreign policy under the Bush II administration has been, it's little wonder that the likes of Condi Rice and Steven Hadley still display such Rumsfeldian denial about it. For years now, administration stalwarts and supporters have been erasing their history faster than they can accuse their political opposition of rewriting it. These days, many argue that we have to stop looking backward, and quit playing the blame game, and concentrate on the future. If you take a look at who's saying that, though, you'll notice it's mostly a) members of the administration, b) Republicans who have been Bush liegemen all along, c) conspicuous neoconservatives like Bill Kristol and d) Democrats who voted for the war in Iraq and consistently cave when its time to vote on bills that might reign the administration in.
We need to take a good look at what's happened on Bush's watch for a number of reasons. First and foremost among them is that Bush is still in power, and despite the departures of the likes of Scooter Libby and Donald Rumsfeld and now Karl Rove, a hell of a lot of the folks who brought us our fiasco in the Middle East are still on the job. They can still do a whole bunch of damage and they have plenty of time to do it.
Second, they've spawned follow on generations of young neoconservative Republicans who believe--like Cheney, Rumsfeld and other neophytes of the political right during the Nixon era did--that "we would have succeeded if only…" Believe me, the neo-conservative movement has more lives than the monster in a summer horror film franchise, and they'll be back.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to remember the consequences of the philosophy that America's first, best destiny in the post-Soviet era was to make itself into a post-modern Roman Empire. In a September 2005 article, I wrote "Empires rise, empires fall. Some land softly, some crash into the back pages of other civilizations' history books. Almost without exception, empires that ended badly failed to understand that the military power that established them was not, in itself, sufficient to sustain them."
It seems I'm not the only one who worries that America will repeat the mistakes of hegemons of the past. David Walker, the United States Comptroller General, is concerned that the United States, like the Roman Republic and other organizations that failed to adapt "may not survive."
In a speech in Chicago last week, Walker, who heads the non-partisan Government Accounting Office, noted "striking similarities" between today's America and Rome in its final days: “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government."
"In my view," he said, "it's time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time."
I'm in wholehearted agreement with Mr. Walker on that score, and there's no better history to learn from than the history of America's past six years. If investigation of that history leads to a few more members of the Bush administration spending time in the big house, so be it. And while I have no expectation that the worst commander in chief ever will be impeached and convicted, if that were to happen, I wouldn't mind it one bit.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available on March 1, 2008.