Bush II redux: Would you believe things were even worse than you thought they were?

Thoughts on reading The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda, by Peter Bergen

The Longest War is a slow read, because I find myself glowering, grumbling, and occasionally shrieking as I come across passage after passage that reveals the utter incompetence and willful ignorance of George W. Bush and his cronies in the run-up to 9/11, the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their continuing failure to understand the most basic realities about Al-Qaeda as the years went by.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve read a fair amount about the history of Al-Qaeda, U.S. counter-terrorist efforts over the past two decades, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as viewed both from Washington, DC, and from the field. I don’t claim any expertise, but I do think it’s fair to say that I know considerably more than the average guy on the street. And yet I find Peter Bergen’s history of the now two-decade war between Al-Qaeda and the United States to consistently unsettling and occasionally shocking.

For example, I knew that some of the captives at Guantanamo were very likely innocent of terrorism. What I didn’t know, however, was that “only some 5 percent of all the detainees held [there] were ever apprehended by U.S. forces to begin with. Why is that? Almost all of the prisoners there were turned over to American forces by foreigners, some with an ax to grind, or more often for a hefty bounty or reward. After U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, a reward of five thousand dollars or more was given to Pakistanis and Afghans for each detainee turned over. While rewards can be a valuable law enforcement tool, they have never in the past absolved law enforcement authorities of corroborating the information that motivated the reward. But the U.S. military accepted the uncorroborated allegations.”

I wonder if this information was what Donald Rumsfeld meant when he spoke of “what we didn’t know we didn’t know.” But I doubt it.

From the stubborn refusal of Condoleeza Rice even to discuss the threat from Al-Qaeda until just days before 9/11 . . . to Dick Cheney and George Bush’s insistence that the “intelligence” they received from that proven liar and crook, Ahmad Chalabi, was more credible than reports from their own CIA . . . to the spectacularly obtuse refusal of the Bush White House and the Pentagon alike to send even four or five hundred more troops to close off Osama bin Laden’s escape routes from Tora Bora . . . the whole horrific misadventure was without any question the most dramatic example of incompetence in the conduct of international affairs in all of American history.

And to think that our federal government is now increasingly falling under the sway of people whose only criticism of George W. Bush appears to be that he spent too much money!


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