Administration's bad faith defense of Afghan dithering

Stephen Hayes:

On October 18, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows and, in the process of answering questions about Barack Obama's strategy on Afghanistan, accused the Bush administration of failing to ask the most basic questions about that country and our war there.

The president is asking the questions that have never been asked on the civilian side, the political side, the military side, and the strategic side. What is the impact on the region? What can the Afghan government do or not do? Where are we on the police training? Who would be better doing the police training? Could that be something the Europeans do? Should we take the military side? Those are the questions that have not been asked. And before you commit troops  .  .  .  before you make that decision, there's a set of questions that have to have answers that have never been asked. And it's clear after eight years of war, that's basically starting from the beginning, and those questions never got asked.

Then, after former vice president Dick Cheney used a speech on October 22 to accuse the Obama administration of "dithering" on Afghanistan, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs responded by claiming that the Bush administration did not care about U.S. troops.

"What Vice President Cheney calls 'dithering,' President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public," said Gibbs. "I think we've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously." Gibbs went on, calling Cheney's comments "curious" and claiming that a request for troops from General David McKiernan during the final year of the Bush administration "sat on desks in this White House, including the vice president's, for more than eight months."

So there are two separate and very serious charges that Obama White House officials are making about their predecessors. First, that the Bush administration had no real Afghanistan policy and failed for eight years to ask the important questions about the war there. And second, that the Bush administration ignored requests from commanders on the ground to increase troops in Afghanistan.

Bush administration officials were furious.

"The idea that we just sat on our f--ing asses--it's really a slander," says one senior Bush administration official. "It's just not credible that we didn't take this seriously."

In fact, the Bush administration did ask those questions. From mid-September to mid-November 2008, a National Security Council team, under the direction of General Doug Lute, conducted an exhaustive review of Afghanistan policy. The interagency group included high-ranking officials from the State Department, the National Security Council, the CIA, the office of the director of national intelligence, the office of the vice president, the Pentagon, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Its objective was to assess U.S. -policy on Afghanistan, integrating a simultaneous military review being conducted by CENTCOM, so as to present President Bush with a series of recommendations on how best to turn around the deteriorating situation there. The Lute group met often--sometimes twice daily--in a secure conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. (The group used the room so frequently that other national security working groups that had been meeting there were required to find other space including, occasionally, the White House Situation Room.)

...

"Mr. Emanuel either did not know about our review or chose to lie about it," says Eliot Cohen, who served as counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and was one of the principal participants in the Lute review. Virtually nobody believes Emanuel is clueless. In any case, the author of the review, Doug Lute, remains a senior Afghanistan adviser in the Obama White House.

...

"There was no (troop) request on anyone's desk for eight months," said the defense official. "There was not a request that went to the White House because we didn't have forces to commit. So on the facts, they're wrong."

...

The Obama administration has been lashing out lately but in doing so it sounds like a petulant juvenile instead of presidential. I think it is because they sense they are losing the debate and need to incriminate their critics rather than respond with reasoned argument.

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