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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Slow, Small George 

Joe Conason reminds us that Iraq is not the president's first military failure:
The President has never explained why he allowed Mr. bin Laden to escape from Afghanistan. There may be no self-flattering explanation. For despite his characteristic bravado—and indeed, despite a quite inspiring speech to a joint session of Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks— Mr. Bush flinched from decisive action when he had the opportunity to destroy the leadership of Al Qaeda.

For whatever reason, as former counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke noted in Against All Enemies, the Bush administration’s assault on our enemies in Afghanistan was "slow and small." After giving the Taliban a "final chance" to turn over Mr. bin Laden, Mr. Bush eventually dispatched an inadequate force of U.S. troops that numbered fewer than one full Army division.

Was the President daunted by the ruinous history of past British and Russian invasions of Afghanistan? That wouldn’t fit Mr. Bush’s public image as a tough, decisive commander in chief, but his nerve certainly failed when the terrorist leaders were driven into the mountains around Tora Bora.

Instead of putting enough American "boots on the ground" to capture or kill the enemy, the President and Gen. Tommy Franks depended on local tribal fighters to carry the fight to the mountain stronghold, while the U.S. provided intelligence, bombing and missile strikes. Many of those local forces fought bravely—but others, who were wholly unreliable and probably bribed, let Mr. bin Laden get away in December 2001.

In light of Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent remarks mocking the idea of a "more sensitive" war on terror, it is ironic to recall how the Al Qaeda leadership escaped. According to The Washington Post, General Franks believed that proper sensitivity to the feelings of our Afghan allies ruled out a full-scale invasion by U.S. troops. He didn’t want the Afghans to think that he would "just push them aside and take over because we were America," or to worry that we had come to "conquer their country." In fairness, General Franks has also insisted he saw no evidence at the time proving that Mr. bin Laden was present at Tora Bora. Nobody with expert knowledge gives that excuse much credence . . . .

"Dead or alive." On the anniversary of that pronouncement, 1,000 more Americans and over 10,000 Iraqis are dead, while Osama bin Laden is very much alive.

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