For years, George W. Bush has been roundly criticized, even lampooned, for declaring "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq while wearing a flight suit and landing on an aircraft carrier. But like so many other catastrophes associated with the Bush administration, in the end, Bush always seems to get the last laugh. Maybe declaring "Mission Accomplished" was not that crazy after all. If the "mission" in Iraq was to bilk the federal government for hundreds of billions of dollars in "no-bid" contracts for politically-connected corporations like Halliburton, KBR, and Blackwater-Xe, reaping enormous profits for Dick Cheney's Old Boys' network -- then it's safe to say: "Mission Accomplished."
Or if the "mission" was to privatize a socialist-leaning economy in the heart of the Middle East through bombing parastatals and government enterprises to create future investment opportunities for U.S.-based conglomerates and other multinational corporations -- then it's safe to say: "Mission Accomplished."
And if the "mission" was to seize sweeping Executive powers and use the Iraq war to scare the hell out of the American people with graphic descriptions of "weapons of mass destruction," "smoking guns," and "mushroom clouds"; if the objective was to win the 2002 midterm elections in an atmosphere of war and win re-election in 2004 as a "wartime" president; if the "mission" was to tarnish your political opponents as "unpatriotic" whenever they criticized your war of choice; if the purpose was to lock-in obscene Cold War-levels of military spending for the foreseeable future -- "Mission Accomplished."
If the "mission" was to wreck a nation that once prided itself on its modernity and level of economic development; if the goal was to weaken a nationalistic Arab country that has water resources, agricultural land, a technocratic class, and immense oil reserves; if the aim was to turn Baghdad into the most violent city on Earth with hideous blast walls, bombed-out buildings, and open sewers, forcing millions of Iraqis to live in squalor as an example to those who might challenge U.S. power -- then it's "Mission Accomplished."
President Barack Obama is caught in a bind of Bush's creation. The journalist Thomas Ricks, in his new book The Gamble channels the Bush-appointed Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno urging Obama to keep American troops in Iraq forever. Ricks and other "experts" predict that if Obama fulfills his popular campaign pledge to disengage from Iraq, there will be a "bloodbath" and the lives already lost would have been lost in vain. But opinion polls have shown consistently since 2006 that the American people disagree with the "experts" on this one and want an end to the U.S. occupation as soon as possible. Ricks and others need to be reminded that the war in Iraq was a war that never should have been fought.
In Afghanistan, President Obama's new emphasis on economic development, regional diplomacy, and training Afghan security forces is a welcome shift from Bush's unilateral and militaristic policies, but even these new tactics probably have failure written into them. The goal seems to be to peel off some of the Taliban's less extreme elements through bribery and promises of a share of power and take advantage of ethnic and religious conflicts between the Pashtuns and the "Afghan Arabs" associated with Al Qaeda, while training an Afghan police force capable of providing "security." But it is folly to talk about "weeding out corruption" in a country whose biggest export is opium and half the population lives in the 11th Century. Allies of the Taliban are sure to infiltrate and disrupt any Afghan "security service." The role of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) complicates the whole picture. And drone attacks that kill civilians only inflame local antagonism toward the governments in Kabul and Islamabad and don't seem much different than the "terrorism" they're aimed at fighting. Again, Bush gets the last laugh because it was his policies toward Pakistan when General Pervez Musharraf was in power that produced the dilemma that Obama now faces along the fictive Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The neo-cons of the "Project for a New American Century" (re-branded "The Foreign Policy Initiative") that provided the brain trust for the Bush administration exposed the nakedly imperialistic side of American foreign policy that often remains hidden. Whether it's the historical examples of toppling governments in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and elsewhere; or raining more bombs on Vietnam than Germany and Japan experienced during World War Two; or launching "strikes" against Libya, Serbia, Sudan, and elsewhere; or arming paramilitary groups to harass governments deemed unfriendly to U.S. "vital interests"; or implementing "regime change" through invasion and occupation; or torturing prisoners -- You can call it "soft power," "hard power," "smart power" or whatever the hell you want, but the operative word is "power." Now that Dick Cheney, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and other members of "The Foreign Policy Initiative" have assumed their place in the opposition they seek to use their elite perch to hem in Obama in Iraq and Afghanistan, limit his politically acceptable options, and set up a media frame where they can denounce him when the level of violence escalates.