|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
It would be much less fair, however, to ignore the events that led us to this moment, when whatever choice he makes will offer no great guarantee of progress and no small prospect of trouble.
Those events began with the inexplicable decision by officials of the previous administration to allow Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other ranking leaders of Al Qaeda to escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001. At the time, as a new Senate report on the battle of Tora Bora recalls, Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, and Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, decided not to augment the tiny force of special operations troops on the ground with sufficient force to capture or kill Mr. bin Laden and his deputies. They later claimed to be worried that “too many American troops in Afghanistan would create an anti-American backlash and fuel a widespread insurgency,” a rationale that can only evoke bitter laughter now.
None of the reasons offered back then for inaction at Tora Bora made sense after the outrage of 9/11, when the entire world, including the Afghan people, were cheering the U.S. invasion. The pattern of deception that later led to war in Iraq began with expressions of doubt by both General Franks and Vice President Dick Cheney about Mr. bin Laden’s presence in Tora Bora—a doubt that none of the commanders on the ground shared and that always sounded more like an excuse than an explanation. If there was any chance that the perpetrators of 9/11 could be found in those mountains, then maximum force should have been deployed as rapidly as possible.
What we know now, of course, is that Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, and President Bush himself were distracted from the vital necessity of victory in Afghanistan—which meant not only driving out the Taliban but installing a real government in their place—by their obsession with Iraq. Not only did the Al Qaeda leadership escape, but so did Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, who returned to mount a threatening insurgency two years later, just as the Bush White House and the Pentagon were declaring “mission accomplished” in Baghdad. The resulting neglect of Afghanistan—with all the corruption, disillusionment and anger that has ensued—had reached a critical stage when the Bush administration finally departed. Their own commanders were left behind to warn Mr. Obama that the enemy had gained the upper hand.
Months after the controversial presidential election that many Afghans consider stolen, there is no cabinet, and parliament is threatening to go on recess before confirming a new one because the president is unconstitutionally late in presenting the names. There are grave suspicions that some past and present cabinet members have engaged in the embezzlement of substantial sums of money. There is little parliamentary oversight. Almost no one bothers to attend the parliamentary sessions. The cabinet ministries are unable to spend the money allocated to them on things like education and rural development, and actually spent less in absolute terms last year than they did in the previous two years. Only half of the development projects for which money was allotted were even begun last year, and none was completed.
In other words, we can say of the Afghanistan government what Gertrude Stein said of her inability in later life to find her childhood home in Oakland, Calif.: "There is no there there."