Former President George W. Bush is bewailing President Joe Biden’s plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Bush told Fox News last week, “I’m also deeply concerned about the sacrifices of our soldiers, and our intelligence community, will be forgotten,” after the war ends. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the American media has already forgotten how Bush’s lies turned U.S. intervention in Afghanistan into a quagmire that pointlessly killed and maimed thousands of American soldiers.
Brazen lies permeated Bush’s efforts from the start. In his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, Bush frightened Americans with a bogus nuclear threat: “Our discoveries in Afghanistan confirmed our worst fears. . . . We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities” in caves used by Al Qaeda. Senior CIA and FBI officials followed up with “background” briefings to the media, revving up the threat that Afghan-based Al Qaeda fighters were targeting U.S. nuclear power facilities. This made the terrorist threat far more ominous and spurred support for Bush’s preemptive war policy against Iraq.
Two years later, Bush administration officials admitted that the president’s statement was completely false and that no nuclear power plant diagrams had been discovered in Afghanistan. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Edward McGaffigan, who had testified in 2002 on this falsehood at closed hearings on Capitol Hill, commented that Bush was “poorly served by a speechwriter.” This was a farce—as if the deceit stemmed from some speechwriter’s poetic fancy—as opposed to the conniving of a phalanx of high-ranking officials and the complicity of George W. Bush. Bush’s lies on a nuclear threat from Afghanistan paved the way to his far more destructive lies regarding Iraqi chemical and biological weapons in his 2003 State of the Union address.
Bush sanctified his Afghan war as the greatest triumph for women’s liberation in modern history. In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush boasted, “The mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captives in their own homes.… Today women are free.” But a United Nations report the following year on rural Afghanistan concluded that “the situation of women has not changed to any great extent since the removal of the Taliban.” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who visited Afghanistan in early 2004, reported that “many Afghan women are still captives in their homes…. The rise of banditry and rape has had a particularly devastating effect on women. Because the roads are not safe even in daylight, girls do not dare go to schools or their mothers to health centers.” One international aid worker commented that during the Taliban era “if a woman went to market and showed an inch of flesh she would have been flogged—now she’s raped.” In 2009, shortly after Bush’s presidency ended, the U.S.-appointed president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, approved a law entitling husbands to starve their wives to death if they denied them sex.
But at least the U.S. government was not systematically subsidizing the rape of women—unlike the brutal fate of Afghan boys. Since the start of Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. military has poured money into Afghan government operations guilty of Bacha bazi—turning young boys into sex slaves. The Pentagon ignored the abuse until a 2015 New York Times exposé of American soldiers who were punished for protesting atrocities against young boys. The Times reported that U.S. troops were confounded that “instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.” In 2017, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported, “Afghan officials remain complicit, especially in the sexual exploitation … of children by Afghan security forces.” A 2017 Pentagon Inspector General report revealed that some U.S. troops were “told that nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation, that it was not a priority for the command, or that it was best to ignore the situation and to let the local police handle it.” But the U.S. government continued bankrolling Afghan child rapists.
Bush has never taken responsibility or shown any remorse for setting up an illegal worldwide torture regime. During his years in the White House, Bush perennially denied that he had approved torture. But in 2010, during an author tour to promote his new memoir, he bragged about approving waterboarding for terrorist suspects.
Bush’s Afghan war was not good intentions gone awry: It was profoundly dishonest from the start. Afghanistan quickly became nothing more than a political boasting point for Bush. In October 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was appalled when Bush did not even recognize the name of the U.S. general in charge of Afghanistan and had no interest in meeting him. Christopher Kolenda, a U.S. Army colonel who repeatedly deployed to Afghanistan to advise top U.S. commanders, declared that the Afghan government had “self-organized into a kleptocracy,” a government of thieves, by 2006. Ryan Crocker, Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan, admitted, “Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, of course, may have been the development of mass corruption.” An investigation by SIGAR found that it was “common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.” In 2019, SIGAR chief John Sopko summarized the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan: “The American people have constantly been lied to.”
Forgotten falsehoods almost guarantee new political treachery. George W. Bush now serves as a “useful idiot” for politicians who want to perpetuate America’s disastrous interventions abroad. But if there is any justice, the name of George W. Bush will live in infamy as a betrayer of American soldiers and an enemy of decency and the U.S. Constitution.
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