We’ve gotten a number of interesting and insightful responses to the question below about how President Bush’s record has stood up over time. In general, it’s a deafening silence in terms of coming up with many actions that have stood up well. But several readers have brought up one good catch — the invasion of Afghanistan.
Attacking Afghanistan had overwhelming support in the US just after 9/11. So as a policy decision it was a gimme. However, at the time, particularly during the early weeks of the campaign, there was a great deal of criticism that the President had undermanned the effort, particularly that he and his Defense Secretary had relied too much on precision airpower and too little on boots on the ground. I was one of those critics. And we were wrong — at least in the short term.
Suddenly, or so it appeared at the time, the Taliban regime just collapsed. Coming in with a vast ground army just wasn’t necessary.
However, this is also a debate or instance of decision-making from the past that I think you can argue had very negative follow-on effects.
The decision not to rely on a heavy ground troop component in the invasion of Afghanistan is very hard to separate from the post-invasion problems we’ve had in the country, which stem to a great degree from our not having the troops in the country to insure basic law and order and prevent the reemergence of the warlordism that dominated the country in the early and mid-1990s.
Even more important, this chapter of the Afghan War was a critical backdrop to the debate over the mechanics of the Iraq War. Setting aside the question of whether it was a good idea to invade Iraq at all, there’s really no question that we made reconstruction and stablization of the country almost infinitely more difficult by trying to occupy the Iraq with far, far too small a force. No one who hasn’t taken the Bush omerta doesn’t concede this point. And the upshot of the Afghan War had a profound effect on empowering the Rumsfeldites in the Pentagon and silencing or appearing to discredit Rumsfeld’s critics both inside and outside the Pentagon.
Late Update: Leave it to me to give President Bush too much credit. A number of readers have touched on an aspect of the Afghan War I neglected above. Outsourcing the ground component of the Afghan War not only affected out ability to ‘win the peace’ in Afghanistan, it also played a very direct role in our failure to bag bin Laden himself in the mountains of Tora Bora. And that, of course, was like the main reason we were there in the first place. So maybe, after all, it was classic Bush. Great on day one, great pictures, but in the end a dismal failure.