History lessons for Team Bush

By MARTIN SCHRAM

It is time for some straight talk about the latest incendiary missiles the U.S. high command is launching at the enemy — politically-loaded phrases such as "cut-and-run."

Also a very different weapon of mass derision that paints Iraq war critics with memories of those who thought Adolf Hitler could be "appeased."

"Cut-and-run" is a hard-hitting warning that probably is accurate when aimed at those urging a total withdrawal from Iraq. (Because there is now no good option, whenever U.S. troops leave, Iraq could collapse into a terrorist haven.) But "cut-and-run" is also on target in ways Team Bush doesn’t intend — when it is applied to those who, in effect’ did just that in America’s earlier, other war — against the terrorists who attacked us five years ago. The War on Terror has been a sadly mixed result — due to massive misjudgments for which we are all paying a fearsome price today.

President Bush’s forceful response to 9/11 — his 2001 invasion of Afghanistan to remove the ruling Taliban and crush al Qaeda terrorists who attacked us — was supported by just about every nation and every thinking person on the planet. But then President Bush cut the military resources that might have been used to victoriously finish that war — so he could run to invade Iraq.

Cut-and-run: President Bush chose to topple Saddam Hussein before he finished the job in Afghanistan, before his troops crushed al Qaeda forever, before he was sure the Taliban could not regroup, and before Osama bin Laden was captured (either "dead or alive").

Indeed, U.S. forces came close to fulfilling Bush’s boast when bin Laden was in the caves of the Tora Bora mountain range in the last weeks of 2001. But bin Laden eluded a U.S. force that we now know was under-manned.

Here is what we now know: The CIA’s top man at Tora Bora, Gary Bernsten, leader of the CIA paramilitary team pursuing bin Laden, requested more troops. He explained in a fine CNN investigative piece last month that his unit monitored bin Laden talking to his men on a radio. "We listened to him apologizing them for having lead them into this trap and for having lead them into a location where they would be having air strikes called on them just relentlessly," he said. But he also determined more ground troops were needed to close off all bin Laden’s escape routes. "In the first two or three days of December, I would write a message back to Washington recommending the insertion of U.S. forces on the ground. I was looking for 600 to 800 Rangers, roughly, a battalion. They never came."

Again, we know why — this time from investigative reporter Ron Suskind’s excellent new book, The One Percent Doctrine (Simon & Schuster). The CIA’s Hank Crumpton briefed Bush and Cheney in November 2001. After discovering the Pentagon never told Bush of the CIA’s troop request, Crumpton strongly urged Bush to send more troops. But Bush reportedly said Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf promised his troops would seal all escapes into north Pakistan. Crumpton explained Pakistani troops couldn’t control that tribal region and satellite photos showed Pakistan’s troops weren’t there and wouldn’t arrive in time.

"We’re going to lose our prey if we’re not careful," Crumpton reportedly warned the president. But this time Bush asked if the Afghani forces could do the job. "Definitely not, Mr. President," said Crumpton. "Definitely not."

Still, additional U.S. troops never arrived. Bin Laden escaped. Now he is a Muslim martyr in hiding, making al Qaeda recruiting videos.

Today, just 20,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. NATO was given the military lead there and it is not going well. The Taliban is retaking areas once under U.S. or government control. Afghanistan’s opium crop is again thriving; it will wind up as heroin in U.S. addicts’ veins. Meanwhile, back in the homeland, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld seems to be waging a campaign to secure forever the political low ground.

Rumsfeld has likened critics urging a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq to those who never learned "history’s lessons" and believed "vicious extremists can be appeased." As in Hitler’s appeasers.

Democrats quickly criticized Rumsfeld for that. But they don’t realize Rumsfeld has historic expertise on appeasement. In the summer and fall of 1983, once-classified Reagan national security documents show, officials confirmed Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons against Iranian troops and "Kurdish insurgents." But on Dec. 20, 1983, President Reagan’s emissary arrived in Baghdad. Yup, Rumsfeld. An eager pleaser if not an appeaser, Rummy greeted Iraq’s dictator/gasser with a warm handshake and a smile.

And, as philosopher Tom Lehrer might observe, Saddam has hardly bothered us since then.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)

Comments are closed.