Afghanistan: George W. Bush’s First Disastrous War

It was a misguided effort from the start, built on lies and false idealism, and it has left a bloody legacy.

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.

After Al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes on September 11, 2001, wreaking death and destruction in New York and Washington, it was inevitable that the U.S. military would respond. But rather than targeting Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, Bush chose to conquer Afghanistan and seek to rebuild it as some type of female-friendly utopia. While the Bush White House boasted of liberating the downtrodden Afghan people, Bush’s military geniuses let Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders escape at Tora Bora.

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 shamelessly exploited the deaths of soldiers he sent to Afghanistan. On May 1, 2004, Bush wrapped up his speech to the White House Correspondents Dinner by exploiting the recent death of a former pro football star to valorize his Afghan war. Bush declared, “The loss of Army Corporal Pat Tillman last week in Afghanistan… reminds us of the character of the men and women who serve on our behalf… Friends say that this young man saw the images of September the 11th, and seeing that evil, he felt called to defend America…. We count ourselves lucky that this new generation of Americans is as brave and decent as any before it.”

At the time of Bush’s paean, the Pentagon was claiming that Tillman had died while leading a charge against Al Qaeda forces. An on-scene investigation quickly revealed that Tillman had been killed by other American soldiers. A week after Tillman was killed, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a top commander in Afghanistan, notified the White House that Tillman was killed by U.S. troops: “I felt that it was essential that you received this information as soon as we detected it to preclude any unknowing statements by our country’s leaders that might cause public embarrassment if [!!!] the circumstances of CPL Tillman’s death become public.” [Emphasis the writer’s] There was a flurry of emails between the White House and the Pentagon on the Tillman case on April 28 and 29, as a White House speechwriter got key details for Bush’s spiel at the correspondents dinner. The Pentagon delayed admitting that Tillman had been killed by American soldiers until after a grandiose memorial service in Arizona featuring Sen. John McCain.

In May 2005, Patrick Tillman, Sr., bitterly complained: “After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this. They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up… They realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy.” The Bush administration continued covering up the details of Tillman’s killing, vexing the family.

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