It almost looks providential that within 48 hours, all these events transpired:
>The House Judiciary Committee continued its hearing on impeaching President Trump;
>Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, a Republican Judiciary Committee member suggested that former Presidents can be impeached; and
>The Washington Post began publishing a lengthy series documenting literally decades of official U.S. government deceit – including by former Presidents – surrounding the 18-year long war in Afghanistan.
It looks providential because if Gaetz is right (and, at least according to this analysis, there’s no legal consensus yet on the matter), it’s tough to think of more important abuses of power than the flood of dishonestly upbeat statements issuing from the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama about encouraging progress on the military and nation-building fronts in that protracted and ongoing conflict.
After all, the consequences of such abuses weren’t simply a short delay in providing military aid to a country (Ukraine) whose security and independence weren’t seen as remotely vital U.S. concerns even during the Cold War. Instead, according to Pentagon and other figures the Post cites, the war’s toll so far has included:
>2,300 dead American servicemen
>20,589 wounded in action
>Nearly one trillion taxpayer dollars – an inflation-adjusted figure that doesn’t include expenditures by the intelligence community and the costs of caring for wounded veterans.
It’s true that some of these casualties and spending date from the early years of the war – when no serious person can doubt the need to intervene militarily in Afghanistan to destroy its potential to serve as a terrorist base for planning and launching September 11-style terrorist attacks. But the vast majority date from the long years after the ouster from power of the Taliban and the destruction of Al Qaeda.
At that point, it should have been clear that the best American strategy for preventing the reemergence of jihadist organizations with global reach was maintaining small-scale special forces operations in the country that would focus on harassing extremists effectively enough to keep them off balance and incapable of organizing large-scale inter-continental violence. Stronger border security measures could also help keep them away from the U.S. homeland. Instead, U.S. leaders embarked on campaign to nation-build in a region that historically has been so divided that no true nation had ever existed.
(Actually, I first publicly critiqued the focus on nation-building in Afghanistan and touted the need for better border controls at a 2002 Washington, D.C. policy conference summarized here. It wasn’t till 2014, however, when ISIS had replaced Al Qaeda as the main Middle East terrorist threat to the United States, that I first wrote about the need for harassment forces.)
But the Bush and Obama administrations ignored this advice because they had drunk the globalist Kool-aid insisting that overseas threats can be dealt with adequately only by literally turning troubled parts of the world into the political, economic, and social successes that they have never been. These Afghanistan policies per se weren’t high crimes or misdemeanors – unless you favor criminalizing stubbornness persistent and extreme enough to qualify as stupidity.
What was arguably criminal? As documented by Post reporter Craig Whitlock, even though the documents (which exist because of a federal research project undertaken to analyze failure in Afghanistan) make clear widespread official recognition of the debacle on the ground, they “contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting.”
And more to the point: “Several of those interviewed [by the project’s researchers] described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”
I’ve only read Whitlock’s summary articles about the documents, not the documents themselves, but undoubtedly if he’d found evidence that Bush and Obama personally knew about the distortion efforts or, worse, ordered them, he’d have reported it. At the same time, determining Presidential guilt wasn’t the government research project’s mission. In fact, although the Post is still suing the government for release of the names of the more than 400 “insider” interview subjects whose statements represent most of the raw material gathered by the researchers, it’s not clear whether the two former Presidents were among them. Moreover, it appears that not all the documentary evidence produced by the project has been released, either with names attached or not.
So the question made famous by the late Tennessee Senator Howard Baker during 1973 Watergate hearings – “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” – can legitimately be asked about Bush and Obama. Any answers eventually shaken loose in impeachment or similar investigations will be too late to undo the enormous damage of the Afghanistan war to date. But they might hasten a decision by Mr. Trump finally to act on his instincts and cut the nation’s losses. More important, the prospect of sitting at a witness table might persuade future Presidents to be far less reckless when they spend America’s blood and treasure.