When President George W. Bush tried to whip up support for an attack on Afghanistan after 9/11, he made a fundamental blunder that has bedeviled American politics for 20 years.
After the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, a military-religious force known as the Taliban gradually took control of the country and brought their version of Islamic order to the country. In about 1996, Al-Qaeda set up training bases in southern Afghanistan, the only Islamic government that Osama Bin Laden considered to be free from corruption.
Soon after 9/11, Bush asked the Taliban government to round up members of Al-Qaeda for Americans to arrest them. The Taliban offered to surrender Osama Bin Laden, but the Bush Administration was dissatisfied with that counteroffer and instead plotted war.
The United Nations Charter only authorizes wars if approved by the United Nations Security Council. George H.W. Bush got UN approval in 1990 to defend Kuwait from an attack by Iraq, but his son, George W. Bush, did not try the same.
To circumvent the UN Charter, Bush decided to take advantage of an existing low-level civil war in Afghanistan by sending troops to aid rebels in the north of the country. After American troops were sent to the north of Afghanistan, they fought alongside the rebels on their way to Kabul, the capital, to take control of the country. However, while American troops were fighting in the north, Al-Qaeda, the United States’ real adversary, escaped to the Pushtu-speaking part of Pakistan.
Under international custom, there is a right of reprisal. Years earlier, President Bill Clinton used surgical strikes in response to Al-Qaeda’s attacks on two American embassies in East Africa. However, Bush’s action far exceeded the “right of reprisal,” and instead, jumpstarted the United States’ war in the middle east.
Following the initial conflict that President Bush used to invade Afghanistan, the United States remained. Bush advanced several justifications for taking control of Afghanistan rather than focusing immediately on Al-Qaeda. One excuse was the view that a government harboring a terrorist group was illegitimate. A second premise was that a new government should rescue women – whose rights had been violated by the Taliban government. A third view was an ideological belief that the world is safer as more countries become democracies.
Regardless of the justification, Bush violated international law outlined by the United States – specifically Article 1 of the Convention on Duties and Rights of States in the Event of Civil Strife of 1928 – and made such entry a war crime.
In the summer of 2008, I placed all the above information on the desk of Senator Joe Biden in Washington within the pages of a pre-publication copy of my book “George W. Bush, War Criminal?” Since then, Biden has clearly has not forgotten what happened in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. He has not forgotten Bush’s blunder.
Withdrawing from Afghanistan removes a stain on the reputation of the United States. While American forces pull out, there should be no surprise the Taliban has been able to topple the Afghan army. What is being revealed is that the Kabul government, as supported by the United States, was irreparably broken and corrupt all along.
The 1928 UN Treaty permits foreign governments to assist a legitimate government under attack from foreign intruders. On that basis, some may now argue that American troops should remain to defend the Kabul government. But the Americans and their allies are the intruders. The United States has occupied the country without the approval of the Afghan people or the wider international community.
The United States lacked a dignified and legitimate basis for going to Afghanistan and remaining for two decades. Any departure will necessarily be messy, tragic for many, and undignified. But unfortunately, it is necessary.