December 7, 2009

December 7, 2009 | Commentary on Terrorism

Obama Invites Heaping of Afghan Blame on Bush

Unwilling to criticize their leader and hero for sending more troops to Afghanistan, the American left has stepped-up its Bush-bashing. Many now blame George W. Bush for "forcing" Barack Obama into what they see as a bad decision.

Despite giving lip service to the need for unity, President Obama tossed several lines into his West Point speech that invited this finger-pointing at the former president.

So rather than blame terrorists for their Afghan offensive, we're told that the violence is Bush's fault. This attitude resembles how leftists blame society for causing crime, rather than blaming the crooks.

As CNN analyst Gloria Borger noted, "There was a clear subtext in the president's speech on Afghanistan: 'I wouldn't be in this awful situation if my predecessor hadn't sent troops to fight the wrong war in Iraq.'"

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D, MD) took it farther, and accused Bush and former Vice-President Dick Cheney of abandoning efforts in Afghanistan. "Frankly, they turned tail," Hoyer told reporters.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), chimed in. "President Obama inherited a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan because the Bush administration did not have a plan to get the job done," she said.

Yet Obama's big speech clearly adopted -- in lengthy detail -- the Bush-Cheney rationale of why the United States needs to be in Afghanistan. But he gave them zero credit for it. Nor did he equate the Afghan surge with the successful Iraq surge of Bush 43.

Instead, Obama's words invited scorn to be heaped upon his predecessor:

". . . in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war, in Iraq. . . . For the next six years, the Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention . . . . Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. . . . Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards."

Some will agree with faulting Bush; some will not. But as George Will noted, "after 11 months of graceless disparagements of the 43rd president, the 44th acts as though he is the first president whose predecessor bequeathed a problematic world."

Obama glossed over the fact that any 2007-2008 Afghan troop requests were handled by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who Obama retained in that post. The prior secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, angrily called it a "bald misstatement" to say a withholding of troops happened on his watch, and added, "I am not aware of a single request of that nature between 2001 and 2006."

Yet even as Obama and others express concern at the cost of the Afghan surge, the New York Times editorialized that penny-pinching was the heart of Bush's mistakes, demeaning it as "President Bush's strategy of fighting on the cheap." Yet the Times praised Obama for dispatching far fewer troops than his generals requested, and for pledging to bring them back quickly as a cost control measure.

There will be no letup in the left's blaming Bush more than it blames al-Qaeda or the Taliban for the need to commit more U.S. forces. Expect more statements such as, "The Bush administration made a fatal mistake when it led us into Iraq and away from finishing the task in Afghanistan, and we have been paying the price ever since," from Rep. Jim McDermott (D, WA). And, "President Bush took his focus off of Afghanistan early on and allowed U.S. policy there to drift for many years," from Rep. Maxine Waters (D, CA).

Yet many of today's Bush-bashers condemned vehemently the Iraq surge that proved successful. Doubtless they also would have condemned any Bush attempt at an earlier surge in Afghanistan.

Then-Senator Barack Obama was a prominent outspoken foe of that Iraq surge, making it a core issue in his campaign for the White House. Not until September of 2008 did Obama change his tune and declare that the surge had succeeded "beyond our wildest dreams." Yet he never admitted he had been wrong to criticize Bush for it.

Now Obama is copying Bush's strategy while urging others to condemn it. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery everyplace else, but not in today's Washington, D.C.

Ernest Istook is recovering from serving 14 years in Congress and is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Ernest Istook Distinguished Fellow
Government Studies

Related Issues: Terrorism

First Appeared in Human Events