Afghanistan a Year Later: Can We Finally Speak Honestly About Bush & Cheney's “Little War"?
Let’s use this anniversary to honestly evaluate the actions that have so bloodied our soldiers, while transferring trillions of US taxpayer dollars to Bush- & Cheney-related military contractors
One year ago this week the United States pulled out of Afghanistan, ending the longest “war” in American history.
For this anniversary the media has been covering Afghan government corruption, the Taliban’s reversion to violence and misogyny, and the famine that’s beginning to creep across that benighted nation.
But the two most important aspects of the war from an American policy perspective are being completely ignored.
Why did George W. Bush attack Afghanistan in the first place; what was his goal in invading and occupying that country?
Why do we continue to call occupations of foreign nations “wars”?
Bush and Cheney tried to justify their illegal and unauthorized attack, but both they and Congress pulled this off illegally.
There was no war resolution that passed Congress as required by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution: “The Congress shall have Power … To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”
The Bush administration rationale was that Bin Laden had a training camp and had been living in Afghanistan, thus we were justified in bombing the second poorest country in the world further back into the stone age.
That, however, was a lie. In fact, Afghanistan had little to nothing to do with the 9/11 attack.
It’s past time to put this tired and deceptive canard of Afghan involvement in 9/11 — that Republicans have been pushing so hard since 2002 — to bed.
The 9/11 attacks were not planned, hatched, developed, practiced, expanded, worked out, or otherwise devised in Afghanistan or by citizens of Afghanistan. That country and its leadership in 2001, in fact, had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11.
But wasn’t Bin Laden running a “terror training camp” in Afghanistan? Yes, he was, but, again, it had nothing to do specifically with 9/11. None of the hijackers had even ever visited them (I am unable to verify this, although it appears to be true: if you have more recent information, let me know).
They were more like the backwoods training camps that various US rightwing militias run, teaching low-level soldier-wannabee grunts (with the money to pay) how to use weapons and get into physical shape.
But what about their refusing to turn over Bin Laden, Bush folks ask?
That myth, it turns out, is no secret, although Republicans have been pushing this particular Big Lie for so long that it’s widely accepted as reality.
Bryce Greene for CommonDreams.org did a deep dive into this one in an extraordinary report about NPR’s reporting and the failure of conventional wisdom in the face of the GOP media firehose:
“This line that the Taliban ‘refused to turn over Osama bin Laden,’ and that this ‘led to the US attack,’ though part of the commonly accepted chronology of the war, is a gross distortion of history. The truth is almost the exact opposite: The Taliban repeatedly offered to give up Bin Laden…”
Not only that, consider this: an operation as detailed, well-funded, and sophisticated as 9/11 had nothing to do with those yahoos going through the camps in Afghanistan.
Osama Bin Laden, generously funded by the CIA during the Reagan administration, was running Al Qaeda in 2001, and while he wrote the checks to pay for 9/11, the actual planning and management of the operation was done out of Pakistan and Germany, mostly by Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
Even the 9/11 Commission Report notes that one of Mohammed’s German plotters, Zakariya Essabar, became the courier to update Bin Laden that the attack was imminent. Bin Laden himself didn’t know all the details until news reports came in.
“Shortly before the 9/11 attacks, he would travel [from Germany] to Afghanistan to communicate the dates for the attacks to al Qaeda leadership” notes the Commission report on page 165.
From Germany, the plotters moved to Florida, where they organized the final plans and Mohammed Ata and others learned how to fly commercial jet aircraft. But we never considered bombing Germany or Florida.
Of the 19 hijackers, 15 were Saudi citizens, 2 were citizens of the UAE (that also funded Jared Kushner), and one each were from Egypt and Lebanon.
None were Afghans.
Furthermore, none of the money came from the government of Afghanistan or Afghan nationals; Bin Laden had a substantial family fortune, and the Reagan administration had given him additional millions of dollars.
And, increasingly, it appears that additional funding and logistical support may have come from deep within Bin Laden’s native Saudi Arabia and from agents of the Saudi government right here in the United States.
As a result of discovery associated with a lawsuit by 9/11 families, Vice News, the Washington Post, and other sources report that several Saudi officials in the United States, including Bush family friend and then-Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Bandar (sometimes called “Bandar Bush”) and Bandar’s wife, had ties to — and were alleged to possibly be both financially and logistically supportive of — several of the hijackers.
Afghanistan had nothing to do with any of that. The Afghan government knew nothing about it. Not a penny of Afghan money helped the hijackers; it all appears to have come from Saudi Arabia and Saudis in the US.
“But,” Bush apologists will ask, “doesn’t Afghanistan hate America? Didn’t ‘they’ hit us on 9/11 because the Taliban hated American ‘values’?”
The simple answer is, “No.”
First, the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11 other than tolerating Bin Laden’s presence in their country; having helped repel the Soviets, he was a bit of a national hero.
And the Taliban really didn’t care much at all about “American values” as long as we stayed the hell away from their country.
They weren’t trying to evangelize their philosophy to other nations like the Soviet communists had; didn’t have plans to conquer the world like the Nazis did; and didn’t even try to export their way of life to other countries with madrassas, schools, mosques, and “cultural exchange programs” like the Saudis have funded around the world for decades.
The Afghans had just driven out the Soviets, after doing the same with the British, Greeks, Mongols, and Persians in the centuries before that. The men who ran the Taliban in Afghanistan by 2001 just wanted to be left alone to peddle their opium and torment their girls and women.
Not only was Bin Laden not even remotely motivated to attack the US because of anything having to do with Afghanistan; he told us himself exactly why and how he was going to attack us three full years before the planes hit the towers.
As The New York Times noted 17 years ago:
“More than three years before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, American diplomats warned Saudi officials that Osama bin Laden might target civilian aircraft…”
And it wasn’t like this was a secret: Bin Laden told ABC News what he was planning. As the Times laid out:
“The June 1998 cable reported to Washington that three American officials, the State Department's regional security officer, an economics officer, and an aviation specialist had met Saudi officials at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh to pass along a warning based on an interview Mr. bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of Al Qaeda, had just given to ABC News.”
The coming 9/11 attack, Bin Laden told the world, was all about the George HW Bush administration “defiling sacred Saudi soil.” That referred to our leftover soldiers from Poppy Bush’s 1991 “little war” on behalf of the ruling royal family of oil-rich Kuwait.
That year President George HW Bush had put new US soldiers on the ground in Saudi Arabia for the first time since 1951, creating a US air base to stage Poppy Bush’s ‘91 Gulf War invasion of Iraq.
To Bin Laden’s outrage (and that of many across the country), those soldiers stayed long after Poppy Bush’s 3-day war was over. They were still on Saudi soil by 9/11/01 which, Bin Laden said, was why he attacked us with commercial jetliners.
“Infidel” men, US soldiers who were Christian or Jewish, watching porn and drinking alcohol on holy Saudi soil was intolerable to Bin Laden and his fellow fundamentalists.
And the fact that “loose” American women soldiers were also there on Saudi holy soil, showing their elbows and driving cars in clear violation of Saudi law and customs, was doubly infuriating.
As early as 1998, Bin Laden threatened to strike America if we didn’t withdraw Bush’s Gulf War troops and stop “defiling” Bin Laden’s native holy land, Saudi Arabia. On September 2, 1996, he publicly threatened to “launch a guerrilla war against American forces and expel the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula.”
As he told a reporter for The Guardian in 1998: “We believe that we are men, Muslim men, committed to defend the grandest house in the universe. The Holy Kaaba is an honour to die and defend. So this is our aim — to liberate the lands of Islam from the sinners.”
In an open “letter to America,” Bin Laden wrote:
“Your forces occupy our countries; you spread your military bases throughout them; you corrupt our lands, and you besiege our sanctities, to protect the security of the Jews and to ensure the continuity of your pillage of our treasures.”
This was, he said repeatedly, the reason he ordered America struck in what we now refer to as the 9/11 attacks. He simply wanted us to remove Poppy Bush’s troops from the Prince Sultan Air Force Base in Saudi Arabia.
This was no secret among American foreign policy professionals, who had for years been suggesting we should withdraw our troops from Saudi soil. As the Council on Foreign Relations noted in 2005:
“The US military has shut down its last remaining Air Force unit at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. …
“The presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia had generated resentment within the kingdom and in the Arab world because of their proximity to Islam’s holiest sites. It was a major grievance cited by the Saudi-born Usama bin Ladin and his al-Qaida network.”
Again, 9/11 had nothing to do with Afghanistan and everything to do with former President George H.W. Bush stationing American troops in Saudi Arabia so he could “kick a little Baghdad ass” in the lead-up to the 1992 election.
But that consequence was on 9/11. Before 9/11 was an entirely different story.
Nine years after the Gulf War, Poppy’s son, President George W. Bush, was warned multiple times that 9/11 was coming if he didn’t pull out his daddy’s troops from the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.
President Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told me, live on the air, that he personally warned Bush’s incoming National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, that Bin Laden was planning to hit the US.
Counterterrorism expert Richard Clark, special adviser to President Bush, told me on the air that he had similarly warned Bush that bin Laden was coming because of Poppy Bush’s American troops in Saudi Arabia.
Berger also told me that he knew “for certain” that Al Gore had told Dick Cheney, and Bill Clinton had told George W. Bush, that Bin Laden was coming after us. Again, it all went back to our failure to pull our troops out of that US air base Poppy Bush had expanded in the desert of Saudi Arabia to stage his 1991 pre-election attack on Iraq.
After George W. Bush was sworn into office in January of 2001, he put VP Dick Cheney in charge of a White House counterterrorism task force to follow up on Clinton’s and Clark’s warnings.
Cheney, however, was so busy planning his attack on Iraq and dividing up its oil fields among his friends in the international oil business that his Al Qaeda task force didn’t bother to meet until late August of 2001 — and then did nothing.
Two weeks later came 9/11, just as Clinton, Gore, Berger, and Clark had warned Bush, Cheney, and Rice.
And now Bush and Cheney had to do something!
America had suffered a bloody nose, an attack even more audacious than Pearl Harbor.
Admitting that they’d ignored the intelligence warnings — particularly at a time when a decisive majority of Americans had doubts about the legitimacy of Bush’s Supreme Court-appointed presidency itself — would have been politically disastrous.
Just nine months into his new presidency and four days before 9/11, according to Gallup, Bush’s ratings were so deeply in the tank that only around 50 percent of Americans approved of the job he was doing.
If it came out that he’d been repeatedly warned that 9/11 was coming and he and Cheney had failed to act, it could end their political careers and maybe even lead to impeachment. It would also be a disaster more generally for the entire GOP, just as they were heading into primaries for the 2002 elections.
Bush and Cheney desperately needed a distraction from the growing tsunami of news stories about their ignoring intelligence reports and ridiculing the Clinton administration’s “obsession” with Bin Laden.
Attacking Afghanistan was the perfect solution in their minds, even though Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11 and it would mean the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, many of them children.
Wars, they knew, always create a rally-around-the-flag effect; it would give Americans a feeling of “justice served”; and there wasn’t the slightest risk that such an impoverished country could foil a US attempt to overthrow its government with military force.
And it would help with their other plans, which grew out of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s neoconservative Project for a New American Century that had demanded, in 1998, that then-President Bill Clinton attack Iraq and seize its oil fields.
Seven months before 9/11 happened, Bush and Cheney were already laying re-election plans for an “October Surprise” that involved attacking Iraq just prior to the 2004 election, as we’ve now learned from documents obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit.
Starting an immediate war with much smaller and poorer Afghanistan was the perfect setup for their planned later election-cycle takeover of Iraq, the nation with the world’s second largest oil reserves.
Nobody doubted that Afghanistan’s government in Kabul would fall in a matter of weeks, which is exactly what happened, and it would end all the “gossip” about Bush and Cheney having ignored intelligence warnings.
Having two successful wars — Afghanistan and the upcoming 2003 Iraq attack — would also help Bush and Cheney politically, and they knew it. Back in 1999, Bush had told his biographer, Mickey Herskowitz, that being a wartime president was the very, very best way to get re-elected.
Reporter Russ Baker interviewed Herskowitz for his book Family of Secrets, and wrote:
“‘He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,’ Herskowitz told me in our 2004 interview, leaning in a little to make sure I could hear him properly. ‘It was on his mind. He [Bush] said to me: “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander in chief.”
“‘And he said, “My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and he wasted it.” He said, “If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed, and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”’”
Afghanistan was, at that time, the second poorest country in the world, with an average per-person income of around $2 per day. Their entire GDP was less than $2 billion a year, and if we’d just offered them a few billion dollars and some aid they’d almost certainly have handed Bin Laden over in handcuffs at the head of a parade.
Their army was a joke, their air force almost non-existent, and their alliances were frazzled; in short, they were a sitting duck for a US president looking to, like Reagan had with Grenada, and Poppy had with Iraq, make a tough guy name for himself on the cheap.
Which is exactly what President George W. Bush did.
He sold us the fiction that 9/11 was planned and executed out of Afghanistan (much easier than attacking Hamburg, Germany or Venice, Florida), lied that it was funded by Afghans (much easier than biting the Saudi hand that fed the Bush family and Al Qaeda), and said that a revenge strike on Afghanistan by the world’s largest military force would satisfy America’s need for “closure.”
Before 9/11, Bush and Cheney ignored (indeed, they actively ridiculed) the threat Bin Laden presented to the US; then, after 9/11, they directed blame away from their business partners in Saudi Arabia and toward the dysfunctional Taliban government of Afghanistan.
That Afghan Taliban government, hit hard with our initial bombing, then offered to arrest Bin Laden and turn him over to a third country for prosecution. By that time they weren’t even asking for a few billion in foreign aid.
But, as The Washington Post’s headline noted just three days after 9/11, “Bush Rejects Taliban Offer On Bin Laden.”
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney wanted a “little” and “easy” war to jack up their popularity ratings — and they got it.
For Bush it ended speculation about his Supreme Court-assisted illegitimate claim to the White House. He’d lost the popular vote by over a half million and his main policy suggestion was to privatize Social Security and Medicare, compounding the public’s dislike of him.
For Cheney, it meant hundreds of billions in no-bid contracts for his failing Halliburton company, then on the verge of bankruptcy, which he had run into the dirt and was heavily invested in.
The war was over in less than three weeks when the Kabul government fell.
Then began a 20-year occupation that just last year came to an end, another important distinction almost never mentioned in the media.
We “won” the war in 2002.
What we “lost” was the occupation, just like happened in Vietnam.
It’s time to end the fiction that poverty-ridden failed states run by throwbacks to the Bronze Age were or are the source of well-funded and sophisticated attacks on fully developed countries like the United States.
In fact, the genesis of 9/11 goes back to Poppy Bush’s 1991 “Little Gulf War” that he hoped would help him beat Bill Clinton in the upcoming 1992 election.
Had President George HW Bush not lied us into the first Gulf War as a failed re-election stunt (there were no babies being thrown from incubators: that was a lie told to Congress by a daughter of the Kuwaiti royal family at the suggestion of a US PR firm) and then stationed US troops in Saudi Arabia to prosecute his “little war” (much like Reagan’s “little war” in Grenada) Bin Laden never would have had the least concern with us.
But Bush thought it might be worth it. After Poppy Bush’s 1991 Gulf War his approval ratings rose substantially, as reported by the Washington Post:
“The president's overall job approval rating in the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll, completed Monday, surged to 90 percent with the end of the Persian Gulf War, more than a 10-percentage-point increase since late January.”
Similarly, the Washington Post reported Reagan got a huge bump in his 1984 reelection chances after his 1983 invasion of Grenada:
“Reagan has made numerous public appearances in which he has expressed pride in the U.S. military performance in Grenada and stressed his view that it was a rescue mission for Americans there. As a result, the president appears to be stronger politically than he has been for some time. …
“Seventy-one percent in the survey said they approve of the invasion of Grenada, with only 22 percent saying they disapprove.”
It’s often said that nations that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
We should have learned from LBJ lying us into Vietnam that false wars and long occupations never work out well.
Hell, we should have learned that from the Mexican American War and the Spanish American War, both also conflicts American Presidents Polk and McKinley lied us into.
But we hadn’t learned any of that as of 9/11, and news coverage today suggests we still haven’t learned the clear lessons of Bush’s two illegal wars.
As a result, the reputations of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are enjoying a revival and those two and their morbidly rich defense contractor buddies are laughing all the way to the bank.
Which is, in part, why we must clear up the record of the past forty years, so our understanding of recent American history is accurate and can inform future decisions:
*Reagan’s 1983 attack on Grenada to “save” American medical students who definitely didn’t need saving (but helped Reagan with the 1984 election);
*Poppy Bush’s 1991 attack on Iraq to “save” babies in incubators who definitely didn’t need saving (but helped Bush, although not enough, with the 1992 election);
*and George W. Bush’s attacks on both Afghanistan and Iraq (setting up his victory in the 2004 election) were all unnecessary, illegal, and damaging to America in terms of treasure, blood, and our international reputation.
To avoid another Republican president declaring a “little war” to get himself re-elected like Reagan, Bush, and Bush all did, Congress must repeal the constitutionally dubious Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) and its various related authorizations and resolutions.
In its place, we must go back to requiring an actual declaration of war before we again commence American-force-based hostilities against anybody, anywhere.
At a May 21, 1940 press conference, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said:
“I don’t want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster.”
He put Senator Harry Truman in charge of tracking down and prosecuting war profiteers; Truman embraced the job with gusto.
“Their greed knows no limit,” Truman said in February 1942; by the following year he’d authored and gotten through Congress the Renegotiation Act, which allowed the federal government to claw back excessive profits from defense contractors.
We should think about doing the same today.
Yesterday, on Fareed Zacharia’s CNN show GPS, former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said, essentially, that around 90 percent of the money that the US sent to Afghanistan for reconstruction was appropriated by US military contractors, who threw up cheap plywood buildings and drained the leftover cash back to the US to stash in their money bins.
We poured trillions into a country with a $2 billion annual GDP, and left them more impoverished than when we arrived. Much of that money vanished because of theft, plain and simple.
This is a complete reversal from how we helped Europe rebuild after WWII, providing funds for German, French, and other nations’ steel, cement, and other industries to put themselves back together and then rebuild their own nations from within.
Let’s use this anniversary of our departure from the Afghanistan occupation to honestly evaluate the actions that have so bloodied our soldiers, sailors, airmen/women, and marines while transferring literally trillions of US taxpayer dollars to military contractors, including Bush- and Cheney-family aligned companies like the Carlyle Group, Blackwater, and Halliburton.
We must learn the lessons of this generation’s history, and teach them to our children.
Anything less is to perpetuate a legal and historical obscenity while setting America up for a potential disaster when the next president comes along who thinks a “little war” will help him or her get re-elected.