It’s Time for George W. Bush to Stand Down and Shut Up
It’s outrageous that the president responsible for the disastrous war in Iraq that helped turned the one in Afghanistan into a quagmire is objecting to Biden’s troop withdrawal.
George W. Bush, who chose to remain quiet as a churchmouse in the face of almost all of Donald Trump’s crimes and abuses as president, has chosen this moment to offer a critique of a decision of Joe Biden’s.
George W. Bush, who is responsible for the biggest foreign policy catastrophe in U.S. history with the disastrous invasion of Iraq, has chosen this moment to give Joe Biden foreign policy advice.
George W. Bush, who has been at times complicit and at times silent in the face of his own political party’s serial assaults on the rights and dignity of women in America, has chosen this moment to lament what Joe Biden’s decision to at long last pull our troops out of Afghanistan to express his concern for the rights of the women of that country.
Yes, the George W. Bush who launched what has become the longest war in American history, a trillion-dollar plus fiasco that cost the lives of over 2300 American military personnel and of between 35,000 and 40,000 civilians in Afghanistan, has violated his self-imposed policy of not commenting on the policies of his Oval Office successors to condemn Biden’s decision to finally end that war.
He told a German broadcaster, “I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad.” He added, “Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm. This is a mistake. They’re just going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people and it breaks my heart.”
Never mind, that during the 20 years of America’s troop presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. was unable to remake the political and cultural reality of that country enough to defang the extremists who are likely to attack those women and girls, to strengthen the central government and military sufficiently to provide on-going, long term security for those women and girls, to knit together a global coalition and diplomatic mechanisms that are tough or effective enough to provide the protection those women and girls deserve. Two decades of war and loss and deployed U.S. and coalition troops were not enough to send a message to the Taliban that they would pay a high cost for again seeking to translate their twisted, thousand-year-old world view into a hellish reality for the women and girls of Afghanistan.
Bush, who did not criticize the drawdowns in Afghanistan by Obama and then Trump, apparently felt compelled to attack Biden’s plan to pull out the last U.S. troops from that country. Never mind that is precisely what Trump also said he would do. Never mind that Obama said it was his ultimate goal, as well.
Imagine the nerve of Bush offering this criticism. He launched this war in the wake of the September 11 attacks, much as any U.S. president would have done. He received Congressional authorization to do so to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against the groups that “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11 attacks. He then undermined that effort by diverting the bulk of U.S. military attention to Iraq. He did that based on what we now know to be lies peddled by a faction within his administration. That war diverted almost $2 trillion in US resources to laying waste to a country we had no business fighting. Nearly 4,500 Americans died there, and 32,000 more were wounded. While exact numbers are disputed. hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died in our war that achieved no significant benefit for the United States. It destabilized the region while irreparably damaging America’s standing in the world and delaying America’s ability to ultimately hunt down the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden.
That did not occur until 2011, over two years after Bush left office. During the ten years since, the authorization to use force in Afghanistan was extended, the exact terms specifying its targets even classified, but clearly among those targets were the Taliban, who aided and gave sanctuary to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Another decade of fighting not only did not eliminate the Taliban threat, it failed to create an adequate counterweight to their enduring presence and today it is clear that they are reclaiming control over much of Afghanistan even as America leaves.
What would Bush propose? If he is like many in the chorus of frustrated tough guys and chicken hawks on the right who are criticizing Biden’s decision, perhaps he thinks we should have a permanent military presence in Afghanistan. If so, then he, like them, has learned none of the lessons of the past two decades. They seem to think more lives and more treasure will produce what it has not produced in the past 20 years—a strong government in Kabul, a strong military, respect for the rule of law and 21st Century values on the part of the Taliban. The speed of the Taliban’s reassertion of control should be seen as a sign of the complete futility of U.S. efforts in that country, echoing, as so many have pointed out since we arrived, the similarly unsatisfying experiences of past invaders from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union.
Should the United States seek to protect the women and girls of Afghanistan? Of course. Indeed, we have a special responsibility given the damage we have done to the country. But, given how poorly military intervention has worked at achieving the society-stabilizing goals that would ensure the security of all the citizens of Afghanistan, regardless of sex, it should be clear the measures we should use must take another form. This should be a major project of the international community, one that comes with aid for countries who respect the rights of women, provide their education and opportunities, enable them to have a full political voice—and that provides severe penalties for all countries who do not.
That should serve as a reminder that another area in which we have not heard Bush speak out during his ex-presidency of charmingly bad art and warm photo shoots with Michelle Obama is guaranteeing the rights of women in all countries...including, first and foremost, right here in the United States.
In fact, that especially includes women in Bush’s home state of Texas, where the ex-president has said nothing about a new law that is worthy of the Taliban. It harnesses the power of religious zealots who do not believe women have the right to control their own bodies to challenge any effort by clinics or doctors or anyone helping a woman to get an abortion in that state. Neighbors can sue neighbors for choices that are guaranteed to them by the laws of the United States, that have been reaffirmed (for now) by the Supreme Court led by Bush-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts.
Has Bush spoken out against the efforts of his party to get the Supreme Court to overturn or limit those rights? No. Did he speak out when his party nominated a man to be president who has been accused by two dozen women of rape and sexual abuse? No. Has he spoken out against the efforts by his party to limit the voting rights of Americans, targeting primarily the voting power of women of color? Of course not.
Bush appointed justices and judges who opposed reproductive rights for women. He blocked aid to international organizations that provided family planning services. He blocked efforts to recruit more women into the intelligence community. And he has remained silent as the American Taliban in his party have sought to do worse.
Bush has permanently disqualified himself from commenting on U.S. foreign policy. He owns the Afghanistan fiasco and should be silent about well-intentioned efforts with bi-partisan support to bring it to a close. (Polls show overwhelming support for the pullout—between 58 percent support in an Economist poll to 77 percent in a CBS News poll.) He offers no better choices because, like other critics, he has none. And if he is going to stand up for the rights of women in the face of systematic efforts by religious extremists to crush them, then there is plenty of work he is going to have to do at home before he has any credibility to comment about what is going on elsewhere in the world.
George, unless you are going to stand up for American women and against errors you yourself made, it would be better for us all if you go back to your painting.