One of the biggest promises made by George W.
Bush as a candidate no more nation-building has turned out to
be his biggest lie as president.
In the final weeks of the 2000 campaign, Bush slammed the Clinton administration
for doing exactly what he's doing now, only worse. He warned voters his opponent
Al Gore would turn more U.S. soldiers into "nation-builders" and "peacekeepers."
Bush pledged to exercise "judicious use of our military."
These weren't off-the-cuff remarks. The anti-nation-building rhetoric was part
of a carefully crafted campaign strategy to position Bush solidly to the right
of Gore on foreign policy. Bush was the conservative candidate, and true conservatives
don't get America mixed up overseas in bleeding-heart humanitarian missions.
They don't use Marines for meals-on-wheels. What Bush vowed during the campaign
regarding nation-building was delivered from hard-and-fast talking points that
his political handlers had him commit to memory. And it resonated with American
On Oct. 3, 2000, candidate Bush lectured Vice President Gore about his views
on nation-building during their first debate.
"The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops,"
he snorted. "He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about
using our troops as nation-builders."
So much for that promise.
"Morale in today's military is too low," Bush added.
Nearly three in four U.S. soldiers in Iraq think the war there is unwinnable
and want out, according to a February
poll by Zogby International. Good thing our new commander in chief boosted
"We're having trouble meeting recruiting goals."
Yeah, not like now. That
doesn't sound familiar at all.
"Some of our troops are not well-equipped."
You mean like lacking
"I believe we're overextended in too many places."
So Bush overextended the military even more by invading and occupying two large
and unruly countries.
"If we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building
missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road,"
Bush closed. "And I'm going to prevent that."
Then on Oct. 11, in their second debate, Bush tore into Gore for deploying
troops to Haiti. "I wouldn't have sent troops to Haiti. I didn't think
it was a mission worthwhile," he said. "It was a nation-building mission,
and it it was not very successful. It cost us billions of dollars
Yet the price tag for Bush's own unsuccessful nation-building is now up to
half a trillion dollars, and his foreign ventures aren't even in our hemisphere.
and I'm not so sure democracy's any better off in Haiti than it
Not like in Iraq, where the Interior Ministry dispatches death
squads to torture and kill political enemies just like Saddam Hussein. Or
in Afghanistan, where Islamic
"virtues" police terrorize women, à la the Taliban.
"I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they
live in to build the nations."
Yes, but only after we bomb the infrastructure they have and then only
after Halliburton and Bechtel get the first shot at reconstruction contracts.
The day after the presidential debate, in an interview with NBC's Tim
Russert, candidate Bush stressed that a "big difference" between him
Gore was "on the nation-building concept."
"If he means using troops all around the world to serve as social workers,
or policeman, or, you know, school-walk crossing guards, I'm not for that,"
Bush clucked. "And I don't think America is for that either. I think America
wants judicious use of our military."
Yeah, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Bush has judiciously ordered troops
to build mosques and schools; rebuild bombed highways and bridges, then patrol
them like traffic cops; train and stand up police, border guards, and whole
armies; and pass out soccer balls, pencils, and candy to kids.
Borrowing a page from the Clinton-Gore humanitarian playbook, which included
meals-on-wheels ventures in both Haiti and Somalia, Bush has used GIs to feed,
clothe, and vaccinate Iraqis and Afghans.
"We got the Taliban gone," Bush crowed in 2002 (before the Taliban
back with a vengeance). "We'd like to get disease and hunger gone,
So he handed out stethoscopes and Band-Aids to soldiers and turned them into
nurses. As I reported in my first book on the war on terror, Crude
Politics, the president recognized a U.S. soldier who traveled around
Afghanistan providing medical care. "He treated broken bones. He treated
gunshot wounds. He treated cuts and disease," Bush gushed in a White House
ceremony with Afghan delegates. "He treated a small child who was bitten
by a donkey." How touching. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden was plotting new
Bush then judiciously used the military by attacking a country that had nothing
to do with 9/11, further blowing off bin Laden and the rest of the al-Qaeda
leadership, which had slipped into Pakistan while Bush focused on regime change
and nation-building in Afghanistan.
On Oct. 30, 2000, then-Gov. Bush threw another elbow at Gore over "nation-building"
during a presidential campaign rally in Albuquerque.
"My opponent believes our military should be used for nation-building
and peacekeeping," Bush carped, "instead of focusing on its primary
job, which is to be able to fight and win wars."
Fight and win wars? In Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush has reassigned GIs trained
for combat to police neighborhoods like beat cops and resolve sectarian disputes
like social workers. Their role as an occupying force is permanent, and so are
the bull's-eyes affixed to their backs. At least 20 more American GIs were ambushed
and killed just this week.
Listen to the frustration of Army Sgt. Christopher Dugger, who leads patrols
in Baghdad. "We're trained as an Army to fight and destroy the enemy and
then take over," he
said. "But I don't think we're trained enough to push along a country,
and that's what we're actually doing out here."
Added Army Spec. David Fulcher, regarding their impossible mission: "How
it become, 'Well, now we have to rebuild this place from the ground up'?"
Then, in the final lap before the 2000 election, candidate Bush warned voters
against sticking with an administration that sends the military on poorly planned,
poorly equipped, and poorly defined missions.
"I'm worried about the fact that certain branches of the military are
running short of parts," he said in a Nov. 3, 2000, campaign speech at
Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan.
Of course, Bush fixed all that, most notably by making sure troops in Iraq
had adequate armor to protect them from roadside IEDs some three years
after they asked for it, that is.
"I'm worried about the fact I'm running against an opponent who uses
nation-building and the military in the same breath," Bush added. "I'm
worried about the fact that our mission is not clear."
Unlike the mission in Iraq, which changes by the month.
The career Pentagon officials I've talked to are demoralized by the very
mission creep Bush railed against six years ago as a candidate. Many are
quitting the service because of it.
After 9/11, they say the mission was clear and simple: decapitate the al-Qaeda
leadership once and for all. Strike at the head, kill the body. U.S. CentCom
officials involved in talks over the initial counterattack told me, as I first
reported in early 2003 in "Crude Politics," that they had argued for
a narrowly defined and concentrated search-and-destroy mission against al-Qaeda
in Afghanistan go in, get bin Laden & Co., and get the hell out.
What they got instead was a broadly defined, long, complicated mission that
has included proxy forces, humanitarian airlifts, regime change, nation-building,
economic development, base-building, embassy-building, and endless occupation.
The plan was so comprehensive and complex that it virtually guaranteed finding
bin Laden would slip down the priority list. Bush's ambitious nation-building
has only stirred up ant hills without killing the queen.
It's a tragic irony that after two invasions and two occupations of two countries
after $500 billion spent kicking up a lot of sand we've come back
full circle to the original mandate of five years ago. That's because the threat
from al-Qaeda still exists, and that's because its inner circle is still intact,
still at large, and still calling the shots in the global terror arena.
That's not my opinion. That's the consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.
Turn to the recently declassified key
judgments [.pdf] in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) updating progress
in the global war on terror.
There on page three it says that decapitating the al-Qaeda leadership
which has carved out new headquarters in Pakistan is key to crushing
al-Qaeda and winning the war on terror.
"The loss of key leaders, particularly Osama bin Laden [and] Ayman al-Zawahiri,
in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller
groups," according to the NIE. "We assess that the resulting splinter
groups would, at least for a time, pose a less serious threat to U.S. interests
than does al-Qaeda."
The same report says the Iraq war has helped al-Qaeda, not hurt it.
In other words, it's al-Qaeda, stupid. Not Iraq, not Saddam Hussein, not the
Ba'athists, not Tehran, not Hezbollah, and not even the Taliban, but bin Laden
and al-Qaeda. We need to go full circle back to "Osama bin Laden, dead
or alive," the focus we had before the leader who made that vow freighted
the war on al-Qaeda with personal vendettas, political opportunism, and the
special interests of cronies and donors.
William F. Buckley, the godfather of the conservative movement, was
pilloried by the neoconservative superstatists when he said Bush overreached
in Iraq and did not act as a traditional conservative with regard to foreign
He suggested both Bush and his war were frauds awaiting failure, and that
such failure will not only be Bush's legacy, but that of the GOP and the
entire conservative movement if they continue to hitch their fortunes to
"Bush is not a conservative" and the invasion of Iraq was "anything
but conservative," Buckley
said. He added that "The reality of the situation is that missions
abroad to effect regime change in countries without a bill of rights or democratic
tradition are terribly arduous" and "unrealistic."
Yet King George of Denial wants to reform the world once he's done reforming
the Middle East. That's what he told Tim Russert he wanted to do if he got a
second term topple "tyrants" wherever he found them.
Founding Father John Jay had another King George in mind when he wrote Federalist
"[A]bsolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to
get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as
thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private
compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These
and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign,
often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and
interests of his people."
Jay sternly warned against the prosecution of mischievous and fraudulent
wars. If another election goes by without invalidating the Iraq fraud and
holding its architects accountable, everything Jay and the other founders of
this great nation fought for will be for naught.