On the day of the London bombings, President Bush proclaimed: "The war on terror goes on." Through the 2004 campaign, his winning theme was terror. He achieved the logic of a unified field theory connecting Iraq to Afghanistan by threading terror through both, despite the absence of evidence. He insisted that if we didn't fight the terrorists there, we would be fighting them at home. In January, the CIA's thinktank, the National Intelligence Council, issued a report describing Iraq as the magnet and training and recruiting ground for terrorism. The false rationale for the invasion had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. With his popularity flagging, Bush returned to the formulations that succeeded in his campaign.
In Bush's "global war on terror" (GWOT), Iraq and Afghanistan present one extended battlefield against a common enemy - and the strategy is and must be the same. So far as Bush is concerned, it's always either the day after 9/11 or the day before the Iraq invasion. Time stands still at two ideal political moments. But his consequences since are barely managed chaos.
"I was horrified by the president's last speech [on the war on terror], so much unsaid, so much disingenuous, so many half truths," said James Dobbins, Bush's first envoy to Afghanistan, now director of international programs at the Rand Corporation. Afghanistan is now the scene of a Taliban revival, chronic Pashtun violence, dominance by US-supported warlords who have become narco-lords, and a human rights black hole.
From the start, he said, the effort in Afghanistan was "grossly underfunded and undermanned". The military doctrine was the first error. "The US focus on force protection and substitution of firepower for manpower creates significant collateral damage." But the faith in firepower sustained the illusion that the mission could be "quicker, cheaper, easier". And that justification fitted with Afghanistan being relegated into a sideshow to Iraq.
According to Dobbins, there was also "a generally negative appreciation of peacekeeping and nation building as components of US policy, a disinclination to learn anything from ... Bosnia and Kosovo".
Lack of accountability began at the top and filtered down. On the day of President Hamid Karzai's inauguration in Afghanistan, in December 2001, Dobbins met General Tommy Franks, the Centcom commander, at the airport. As they drove to the ceremony, Dobbins informed Franks of press reports that US planes had mistakenly bombed a delegation of tribal leaders and killed perhaps several dozen. "It was the first time he heard about it. When he got out of the car, reporters asked him about it. He denied it happened. And he denied it happened for several days. It was classic deny first, investigate later. It turned out to be true. It was a normal reflex."
Democracy was an afterthought for the White House, which believed it had little application to Afghans. At the Bonn conference establishing international legitimacy for the Kabul government, "the word 'democracy' was introduced at the insistence of the Iranian delegation", Dobbins points out.
However, democracy - now the overriding rationale for the GWOT - does not include support for human rights. "In terms of the human rights situation in Afghanistan, Karzai is well meaning and moderate and thoroughly honorable," said Dobbins, "but he's overwhelmed."
Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon and the White House removed restraints on torture. "These were command failures, not just isolated incidents ... You didn't have the checks and balances. They've had consequences in terms of public image." In April, the US succeeded in abolishing the office of the UN rapporteur on human rights for Afghanistan.
Dobbins believes that the operation in Afghanistan has improved, but that the administration "hasn't readily acknowledged its mistakes, and corrected them only after losing a good deal of ground, irrecoverable ground ... most of the violence is not al-Qaida type, but Pashtun sectarian violence. It's not international terrorism."
Facts on the ground cannot alter Bush's stentorian summons to the GWOT"This is a campaign conducted primarily, and should be, by law enforcement, diplomatic and intelligence means," Dobbins said. "The militarization of the concept is a theme that mobilizes the American public effectively, but it's not a theme that resonates well in the Middle East or with our allies elsewhere in the world."
"We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don't have to face them here at home," Bush declared in June - and repeated endlessly - finally appearing vindicated with the London attacks. London, like Iraq and Afghanistan, is "there", not "here".
Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is author of The Clinton Wars
© 2005 Guardian Newspapers, Ltd.