Two decades and four Presidents later, a retrospection reveals inconsistencies, contradictions and obfuscations in the US’s responses to such questions about the ‘War on terror.’
US Presidents often dithered, contradicted their predecessors on policy matters, and reversed their own decisions on how America’s distant wars were to be conducted.
President Bush had a huge bipartisan backing when he sent US forces into Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The world, still fresh from the jolt, majorly rallied behind.
However, his priorities shifted just two years into the operations. He opened the Iraq front, with the job in Afghanistan far from over. And then, perhaps too early, he declared an end to ‘major combat operations’ in both countries, as the events that followed would indicate.
Barack Obama inherited the Afghan and Iraq wars when he took office in 2008. He was not eager to begin a third in Syria as Isis swept across vast regions in that country, and also Iraq. He moved from George W Bush’s policy of branding repressive regimes as ‘Axis of Evil’ to engaging with them, directly or indirectly.
Obama was reluctant of direct military action in Syria, despite a broad understanding in Washington that decimating Isis was linked to deposing the Assad regime. Russian and Iranian involvement in the region possibly prevailed on him to look for a negotiated political solution.
Trump was keen to end America’s involvement in war theatres thousands of miles away, and to a great extent set the ball rolling too. But not before he had departed from Obama’s hands-off approach in Syria. The US fired cruise missiles into Syria on suspicions of the Assad regime using chemical weapons on its oppositions.
His decisions were often questioned by top people within his administration- in some cases, even causing them to quit.
In Afghanistan too, his deal with the Taliban all but wrote the script that Joe Biden would follow after entering the White House in January 2021.
Joe Biden had his task cut out- make the Afghan withdrawal as smooth as possible, and prevent, or at least considerably delay a Taliban takeover.
None of that happened in the end. A flawed intelligence assessment about the situation on the ground upended much of Biden’s plans.
Biden pushed back Trump’s deadline for a May 1 withdrawal by about four months, to Sept 11. But it was then advanced to Aug 31. The chaotic last few days and hasty evacuations brought back memories of the Saigon evacuations of 1975.