“When National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan relayed the news to Biden that former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, he writes, Biden exploded in frustration and said, “Give me a break.”
In the excerpt, Foer depicts a scene that went viral of the withdrawal: when dozens of Afghans climbed onto the side of a jet to escape the country.
“Only after the plane had lifted into the air did the crew discover its place in history,” Foer writes. “When the pilot couldn’t fully retract the landing gear, a member of the crew went to investigate, staring out of a small porthole. Through the window, it was possible to see scattered human remains.””
“When former ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass touched down in Afghanistan after the plane’s departure to lead the evacuation effort, he toured the gates of the airport where he was greeted “by the smell of feces and urine, by the sound of gunshots and bullhorns blaring instructions in Dari and Pashto.”
“Dust assaulted his eyes and nose. He felt the heat that emanated from human bodies crowded into narrow spaces,” Foer writes.
Biden would shower Bass with ideas to evacuate more people.
“The president’s instinct was to throw himself into the intricacies of troubleshooting,” Foer writes. “‘Why don’t we have them meet in parking lots? Can’t we leave the airport and pick them up?’ Bass would kick around Biden’s proposed solutions with colleagues to determine their plausibility, which was usually low. Still, he appreciated Biden applying pressure, making sure that he didn’t overlook the obvious.”
“In total, the United States had evacuated about 124,000 people, which the White House touted as the most successful airlift in history,” Foer writes. “Bass also thought about the unknown number of Afghans he had failed to get out.””
“US troops are fighting ISIS in Syria. But Congress hasn’t approved it, the public hardly knows about it, and it’s not clear under what conditions the US would leave.
Americans tend to only be reminded of the 900 US troops and hundreds of contractors stationed there when they came under attack, often from militants who have Iran’s support, or when there is a mishap”
“The US is in Syria to curb the terrorist group Islamic State or ISIS, in a region that is semi-autonomous and run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish group.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that troops are needed because “if you completely ignore and turn your back, then you’re setting the conditions for a resurgence.”
But experts say that the US troops there are not building toward a sustainable outcome, and that resisting ISIS has become the pretext for a perpetual US presence.”
“Ford explains that the American mission to secure the outright defeat of ISIS is impossible. The 900 troops in the northeast of Syria and the US garrison at al-Tanf cannot stop a low level of recruitment into ISIS ranks. “So we can bomb some and we can kill some, but they’ll always replace the people that they lose,” he told me. “This is a classic forever war.””
“he lied. I want to be clear about what I mean by that. He knew what he was saying was not true. He took judgements from the intelligence community that were very uncertain, judgements that we put out there with very clear caveats — “we believe Iraq is continuing its nuclear program, but we have a low degree of certainty, blah blah blah” — he would just come out and state those things as fact. He did this over and over again. Just like Cheney saying that Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague, as a fact. When the truth was, there was a great deal of doubt about it. It was our job at CIA to stand fast, to keep those ridiculous notions under control. And we tried. But there was only so much we could do. The White House wanted a justification for the invasion.”
” “people say that Bush was looking to justify the invasion of Iraq. He wasn’t. What he was looking for is something different — selling points. The decision to invade had already been made, and there was not any intelligence that was going to change their opinion. So this was not an effort to justify the war. It was an effort to sell the war publicly. That’s an important distinction. The Bush administration was very explicit about their Iraq obsession almost immediately when they took power. ”
” When nobody knows what the president or vice president knew, or when they knew it, you get a situation where Bush can stand up and say, “Well, there were no WMDs, but we were given false information.” OK, no you weren’t. The trench view is no you weren’t. You demanded faulty intelligence, because you wanted only intelligence that was going to support this big extravaganza of invasion of Iraq, and you got it.”
“The invasion eliminated a brutal dictator, something many Iraqis were grateful for in itself. But it also for years eliminated even the distant vision of that good life. As one Iraqi woman told journalist Nir Rosen for his 2010 book Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World, “My message to the American people after five years, they destroyed us and didn’t help us, they didn’t reconstruct the country, they even added more destruction to us. The days during Saddam were better. Now there is killing and nothing good. Before there was security and life was going on easily…now things are getting worse and worse, killing in the streets.” As late as 2016, 93 percent of polled young Iraqis considered Americans their enemies for a war that Bush and his team framed as their liberation.”
“The boys doing Bush’s foreign policy thinking had a prewar paper trail planning Saddam’s overthrow that stretched back a decade. It had become an article of neoconservative faith by the turn of the century that Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, should have deposed the Ba’athist dictator as the capper to the 1991 war that expelled his armies from Kuwait. In 2001, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), full of folk who would forge W.’s foreign policy, made it clear that this grand plan was much larger than a single tyrant: It was about a “need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf [that] transcends the…regime of Saddam Hussein.” The government’s official National Security Strategy for 2002, issued in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, incorporated PNAC’s thinking, pushing the principle that any country seen as credibly threatening U.S. interests should be brought to heel with hard military power, not just the softer stuff of cultural influence and diplomacy and trade.
Even before September 11, Bush Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill would later report, one of the administration’s highest priorities was finding a way to topple Saddam. In the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, most any military act, no matter how severe or reckless, could be framed as an urgent fight against terrorism, even if not related to 9/11 itself. The prospect of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)—deploying them, selling them, maybe just handing them over to Osama bin Laden—was a bedtime story with terrifying potency for a rattled public. Newspaper publisher Knight Ridder reported as early as February 2002 that the White House was clandestinely planning to invade a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11.”
“The WMDs were not found. They were not there. Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, gave it to us straight: Nothing was found to justify the war on its own terms. “It’s not for lack of trying,” Conway said in a May 30, 2003, Defense Department briefing from Baghdad. “We’ve been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwait border and Baghdad but they’re simply not there.”
The administration fell back on the argument that Saddam never gave up “aspirations and intentions” toward obtaining such weapons. (Of course, nothing would inspire him more to use them if he had them than invading his country to overthrow him. But not much was said about that.) Very thin accusations that Saddam had allied with or aided Al Qaeda before 9/11 were floated and similarly did not hold water.
As head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer by then was essentially viceroy of Iraq; to flex how deeply we were obliterating the cause and memory of Saddam Hussein (who was executed in December 2006), Bremer disbanded the old Iraqi army and barred nearly all Ba’ath Party members from participation in government. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of aggrieved and unemployed young men were stalking the country, and nearly anyone with experience running schools or hospitals or water treatment facilities or oil refineries or electrical plants weren’t allowed to work on any of those things.”
“After seven years of U.S. occupation, Rosen writes in Aftermath, “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had been killed. Many more had been injured. There were millions of widows and orphans. Millions had fled their homes. Tens of thousands of Iraqi men had spent years in American prisons. The new Iraqi state was among the most corrupt in the world. It was often brutal. It failed to provide adequate services to its people, millions of whom were barely able to survive.””
“With negotiations complicated by Washington’s insistence that its troops must be able to act with complete legal impunity in Iraq, Bush, and later Obama, agreed to pull out all armed forces by the end of 2011. But with the rise of more militant chaos in the 2010s from the Islamic State group, American troops were back fighting throughout most of the 2010s. With that mission now officially over, about 2,500 troops still remain there, allegedly to merely assist and advise the Iraqis (who recently spent nearly a year trying to pull together a government, an effort marred by the usual factional rivalries, mass protests, arrests, and murders).”
“Beyond all the misery and chaos caused in Iraq itself, the U.S. came nowhere close to the neoconservative dream of a democratic domino effect in the Middle East. What resulted from the Iraq adventure was greater power and influence for America’s sworn enemy Iran, plus weapons and experienced jihadists and sectarian rivalries spreading around the region.
“Rather than being inspired by what happened in Iraq after the invasion,” former Middle Eastern CIA man Paul R. Pillar wrote in The National Interest in 2011, “Middle Easterners were repelled by it. If the violence, disorder, and breakdown of public services in Iraq were the birth pangs of a new Middle Eastern order, most people in the region wanted nothing of it.””