They also show that “little thought was given to long-term consequences or to exit strategies,” he said.
“‘How does this end?’ would typically accompany any significant recommended armed intervention,” Riley said. “But not in this instance. Our Bush oral histories reveal the all-consuming urgency of those times. We got into this conflict with little attention at the outset to how we might get out of it. That reality has shaped every presidency since.”
Additionally, Riley said, the interviews show that the Bush administration soon shifted its focus to Iraq – what we are seeing in Afghanistan is an “opportunity cost” of that shift, Riley said – and interviews with senior Obama officials “demonstrate the persistent inability of American policymakers to make durable progress over time in Afghanistan.”
“That story of 20 years of persistent frustration is necessary for understanding why Presidents Trump and Biden have acted as they did to bring the American engagement to a conclusion,” Riley said.
“Our oral histories abundantly demonstrate how each administration has grappled with this dilemma, including testimony from political advisers, senior diplomats and key military leaders. The accumulated evidence from these interviews, tracking almost 20 years of history, demonstrates just how unsolvable the problem was – unless the Americans were willing to keep in place an active force forever. Nobody, neither Republicans nor Democrats, seems happy with the current outcome. But everybody, both Republicans and Democrats, has testified over the years at how unhappy they are with permanent stalemate.”
Below are three relevant excerpts from transcripts of the Bush oral history used by Washington Post journalist Craig Whitlock in his new book, “The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War.”
They include interviews with a former ambassador, an aide to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. You can find more information and interviews – including with three military leaders – on this Miller Center page dedicated to the events in Afghanistan.