An Oct.30, 2001 draft strategy memo (PDF), published this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, reveals that the Bush administration initially did not want to engage in rebuilding efforts in a post-Taliban Afghanistan, even as officials publicly said they would.
The memo, obtained by George Washington University, would seem to reflect a campaign promise former President George W. Bush made in 2000, when he insisted that his administration would not engage in “nation building.”
Composed by staffers for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the document shines new light on the evolving strategies that went into America’s invasion of Afghanistan following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Namely, it cautions: ” The U.S. should not commit to any post-Taliban military involvement since the U.S. will be heavily engaged in the anti-terrorism effort worldwide.” The document goes on to suggest that a coalition of Arab nations, like Turkey and Egypt, could potentially take over the reconstruction effort instead of the U.S.
That idea would prove highly optimistic, and even unrealistic, as the U.S. wore thin its international goodwill by preparing to invade Iraq without any clear provocation.
But even as officials looked for ways out of significant rebuilding efforts at the beginning of the war, the Bush administration was publicly proclaiming its generosity toward Afghans. A State Dept. archive notes that as early as Oct. 1, 2001, the U.S. was making overtures toward its support for reconstruction efforts, pledging a meager $840 million in aid for the post-Taliban government. The war began just six days later.
Providing small amounts of economic aid — but little else — was also part of the plan, according to the memo. In handwritten edits made by Rumsfeld, the suggestions of providing equipment and food to war-struck Afghans was crossed out, while “providing money” was left intact.
In the weeks and months that followed, President Bush was careful not to use the word “reconstruction,” instead focusing his public statements on Afghanistan’s “security,” “order” and “safety.”
While touting the U.S. commitment of money to support the Afghan government’s rebuilding efforts, Bush officials were also resisting a congressional effort to increase the amount of aid provided, and human rights activists in the country were complaining that help was coming at a rate that was too little, too late.
President Bush appears to have accepted the necessity of a rebuilding plan in Afghanistan by April of 2002, but still would not publicly say how much the U.S. would commit to that effort, even as the U.N. was warning that Afghanistan would need up to $15 billion to recover from the invasion.
The Congressional Research Services shows (PDF) that the U.S. has since spent over $453 billion in its Afghan occupation, and more than $1.2 trillion total on the wars launched since Sept. 11, 2001.