You wouldn't know it from reading the press or watching the news, but seven years ago today, at 1 p.m. Eastern time to be precise, President Bush, who was somewhat more relevant then than he's been lately, spoke to the nation from the White House Treaty Room ("a place where American Presidents have worked for peace") to announce the beginning of the invasion of Afghanistan.
The military operation was initially termed "Operation Infinite Justice," though like other administration blunders that set an unhelpful tone of West versus East (such as Bush's reference, six days after the attacks, to coming retaliations as "this crusade") the image crafters had to change the name to "Operation Enduring Freedom" once Muslim groups in the United States reminded the administration that only God provides "infinite justice."
"Given the nature and reach of our enemies," Bush said in one of his more eloquent moments, "we will win this conflict by the patient accumulation of successes, by meeting a series of challenges with determination and will and purpose."
Seven years on, the failures seem to outnumber the successes by a margin of Taliban to one. Let's review:
- Osama bin Laden is still at large. He's probably in Pakistan's Waziristan.
- Al-Qaeda has reconstituted, is stronger than before 9/11 and pulled off more attacks in 2007, excluding Iraq and Afghanistan, than in any year before.
- The Taliban are back in Afghanistan. While they're not stronger than they were before, they're setting the Afghan's war agenda enough that Afghan President hamid Karzai is looking to negotiate with them.
- The Taliban are stronger than ever in Pakistan, where they control the Tribal Areas.
- NATO and American forces have been unable to maintain their control of Afghanistan militarily while losing the hearts and mind of the population by recklessly bombing civilians.
- Pakistan, a nuclear power, is weaker and more unstable than it was before 2001, when it was close to a failing state. Its president is the eminently corrupt and ineffectual Asif Ali Zardari. Its military is increasingly divided between Islamist sympathizers and government supporters. Its outlying provinces are beyond its control.
- John McCain and Barack Obama are largely ignoring the deterioration on virtually every front in Afghanistan in Pakistan.
- Then there's Iraq, which continues to disproportionately devour American resources, manpower, attention and misplaced hopes.
Iraq is daily proof of how much we wavered.
The inattention the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are daily reminders of how much we've tired of both.
Afghanistan is daily proof of how much we've faltered.
And Osama, who's likely more worried about when he can get his next dialysis treatment than whether he's going to face American capture, is daily, painful and embarrassing proof of how much we have failed.
Then again, I hesitate to say we. This hasn't been our failure, though we're paying its price, and will continue to do so long after Jan. 20, when he has--not a moment, not a failure too soon--left the scene he did so well to ravage.