Cheney’s War Plan for Afghanistan? Deny Safe Haven To–But Not Destroy–Al Qaeda


According to Dick Cheney, our objective in Afghanistan was, from the very beginning, not about defeating al Qaeda, but rather, defeating the Taliban, while denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan.

At least that’s what he says in a passage explaining why he was talking about Iraq in the days after 9/11. He says,

Although we had discussed Iraq earlier in the day [on September 14], I also took time now to say that Afghanistan, where the 9/11 terrorists had trained and plotted, should be first. I believed it was important to deal with the threat Iraq posed, but not until we had an effective plan for taking down the Taliban and denying al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan. (334)

Note what he describes the goal as being: “taking down the Taliban,” not “taking out al Qaeda.” The al Qaeda-related goal Cheney describes for Afghanistan is simply denying them a safe haven.

And thus–in the context of this discussion about why the Bush Administration focused on Iraq so quickly after 9/11, at least–he excuses himself for letting Osama bin Laden escape at Tora Bora, for letting OBL find a haven in Pakistan that would keep him safe for a decade, and for drawing troops away for use in Iraq before actually beating al Qaeda. It was all in the plan, according to Cheney.

Tellingly, his sole discussion of anything relating to Tora Bora (actually, a strategy discussion that happened a month before the December 2001 battle there) doesn’t call it Tora Bora, doesn’t mention that OBL was holed up there (even though Cheney all-but acknowledged we knew he was at the time), and didn’t admit Bush Administration blunders let OBL get away.

[General Tommy] Franks also reported on the campaign under way to destroy the massive cave complexes in which the Taliban lived and hid. He had about 150 caves on a target list, he said, and estimated the count would go to 1,000. (345)

Cheney separates the discussion of bombing caves in Afghanistan from that describing General Franks making plans for Iraq by 24 pages, obscuring the fact that Franks was focused on developing an Iraq plan at the time he refused to send in American troops to trap OBL in Tora Bora.

Admittedly, Cheney does remember to include taking out al Qaeda among the objectives a few pages after his initial description of US goals in Afghanistan.

Our objective was to take out al Qaeda, take down the Taliban, and prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for further operations. (340)

But it feels so contrived, particularly coming just before this passage insisting that the government remained focused on OBL.

We were also very focused on getting Osama bin Laden. None of us believed that capturing or killing him would end the terrorist threat, but he was the leader of the organization that had launched the 9/11 attacks, and having him in custody–or dead–would be a powerful symbol of our determination. Tracking him down was certainly one of our top priorities. I was gratified that after years of diligent and dedicated work, our nation’s intelligence community and our special operations forces were able on May 1, 2011, to find and kill bin Laden. (341)

If you’re so petty you can’t even mention President Obama’s name in the list of those who managed to finally get OBL, clearly you have either some insecurity that Obama succeeded where you failed, or that first formulation–basically, a whack-a-mole forever war that “denies safe haven” for terrorists in one after another country, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, but never ends the war–was always the plan.

22 replies
  1. Brian Silver says:

    EW, I haven’t read Cheney’s book. But I commend you for having the skill and the stomach to dissect Cheney’s reconstruction of the events and decisions.

    “Osama bin Laden — Wanted Dead or Alive” NOT. That “poster” was never torn down by the Bushies. For example, as late as Nov 13, 2002 – “The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him.” – G.W. Bush. But we have good reason to doubt that OBL remained No. 1 (or even high on the list of priorities).

    Before November 2002, Cheney had already declared in his speech to the VFW on August 27, 2002, that the time for a decision on Iraq was near — that the risk of not acting was becoming greater than the risk of acting. And the new Bush doctrine of preemptive war was about to go to press in the form of a National Security Strategy adopted on September 17, 2002.

    So Bush-Cheney clearly took their eye off the bin Laden target late in 2001 after the Taliban were routed and OBL slipped out of Tora Bora and took haven in Pakistan in December 2001. They had another country to go after, and old scores to settle, and so the new primary target became the Axis of Evil, as declared by Bush in the State of the Union speech in January 2002. And by Fall 2002, the most urgent target had become Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

  2. KWinIA says:

    “our special operations forces were able on May 1, 2001, to find and kill bin Laden. (341)”

    Shouldn’t this be “May 1, 2011”?

  3. MadDog says:

    “(actually, a strategy discussion that happened a month before the most December 2001 battle there)”

    Delete the word “most”?

    As for the subject matter of your post EW, could you at all distinquish Lizard’s cant from PapaDick’s own drivel?

    In the few short paragraphs you’ve quoted, it sounds like PapaDick’s revisionism is still ongoing.

    And based on all the reviews and excerpts I seen thusfar, I can’t fathom whose heads were supposed to explode.

    The ramblings of a sociopathic paranoid who chose to drive the bus continously into the ditch was expected.

  4. scribe says:

    For reasons I might get around to expounding on in more detail, later, Goldsmith’s piece on Deadeye is unmitigated bullshit. Skilled, carefully crafted bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless.

    In short, Goldsmith’s argument is that, if Cheney had played better with others, he might have gotten more of the Presidential dictatorship to which he nightly honed his bone. False: the precedents for (to name a few) torture, eternal imprisonment with out charge or trial, warrantless wiretapping, creating internal secret police/spying systems (like in NYC) and denying relief to those harmed by them were set under Cheney and remain unmolested. They are, like the loaded gun metaphor used in Youngstown, still lying around waiting for some ambitious pol to pick up and use in the next purported “crisis”. Meanwhile, the architects of those plans and policies have been ensconced in government where they can pass on and approve the policies they helped create. To pick one example, the damage the Bush appointees on the DC Circuit have done to habeas (in interpreting the S.Ct. decision in Boumedienne, they’ve effectively eliminated it) is far more than Cheney could have ever hoped for from a legislative suspension of the writ and, since there never has been a suspension of the writ, a non-existent habeas remedy is what passes for habeas.

    Frankly the best I can say about Goldsmith’s piece is that it might represent a residual nub of moral sense rising up in a man who abandoned his (if he ever had any) to get to the jobs where he’s been and now is. More likely, it’s a job application because he feels left out from the big task of building a better dictatorship in his ivory tower in Cambridge and wants back in on the inside.

  5. Petro says:

    EW – in reading between the lines (which you do so well), do you have any inkling of the accuracy of Dreyfuss’ caricature of Cheney in “W.”? Particularly, the darkly comic presentation in the war room about surrounding Iran? (I’m too broke to buy the book, and it would be pretty far down on my list, anyway.)

  6. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Thanks on the “most.”

    One of the reasons why the book is so painful, IMO, is that most parts of it seem to have been written by BabyDick. Say what you will about PapaDick, but he can at least affect charm, and in his prime he had intellectual heft, if used for evil.

    BabyDick has neither of those things on her best day. And pages and pages of this (though not the ones Cheney wrote as stay out of jail propaganda) read like they were written by her.

  7. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: The whole premise of a “tell-all” book wouldn’t have been curmudgeon PapaDick’s “never put anything in writing” idea.

    But PapaDick’s only reptilian soft spot must be for Daddy’s Little Girl, and as an intellectually bankrupt and lazy ideologue, if a book must be written, he might as well get the familial dullard to do most of the work.

    Oh, and fetch my slippers!

  8. Petro says:

    @emptywheel: I would say, yes, it’s worth watching – but I have a penchant for movies… it’s not entirely unsympathetic towards Bush, but its bumbling, frat-boy dry-drunk portrayal is schadenfreudelicious.

    There is a hi-larious scene where Dreyfuss’ Cheney goes off-the-hook and outlines an aggressive strategy to own the ME, prompting the Prez to blurt out something like “you’re scaring people.” The movie’s worth that scene, IMO.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Actually, the only two redeeming parts of the book, so far are:

    1) The story about how Dave, Cheney’s apparently poorly behaved 100-lb Lab, went after Bush’s Scottie at Camp David one day. Rather than calling him to “come,” Cheney took a psatry from the table and screamed “treat” to get him to lay off Bush’s dog.

    2) Apparently Mary, when she discovered that interning at one of the RNCs would involve marching in in stupid uniforms, declared the whole thing too authoritarian (I think the word used was stronger, but I can’t find the passage now). BabyDick, however, loved that aspect of it.

  10. rugger9 says:

    @Brian Silver:
    Shrub may have said that in November 2002, but also remember what he said in March 2002:

    “I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.”
    – G.W. Bush, 3/13/02

    “I am truly not that concerned about him.”
    – G.W. Bush, repsonding to a question about bin Laden’s whereabouts,
    3/13/02 (The New American, 4/8/02)

    You can’t have it both ways, and the evidence clearly points toward the whack-a-mole strategy that kept OBL as a useful bogeyman when poll numbers needed to be pumped up. Remember also that to take out AQ would have embarrassed the Bu$h Administration’s friends in Saudi Arabia [home to 15 out of 19 hijackers, plus it’s where OBL’s $$$ came from, laundered through the UAE] and in Pakistan [where OBL did find safe haven].

    So, maybe Darth has medical bills to pay, doesn’t he know well enough not to poke prosecutor bears? At some point, this obnoxiousness will stiffen Obama’s spine, and attack Yorkie Holder will go after Darth. Then Darth will pull a Gladney and show up in court in a wheelchair.

  11. Mary says:

    @Bay State Librul: that link doesn’t work for me?
    @7 – if that’s the gist of it, that’s Goldsmith. The problem he always saw with the policies was that the gang of torturers wasn’t big enough, not that there was an inherent problem with the torture policy. Even now, knowing all of what he knows, he’s unrepentant over the non-combatants shipped off to GITMO and elsewhere and disappeared and feels that the main thing to get right is to get Congress more tea-party-ee and more on board with disappearing non-combatant civilians around the world and subjecting them to carefully covered up torture in the name of security. NOt a hero – a creepy creepy man.

  12. MadDog says:


    “@Bay State Librul: that link doesn’t work for me?”

    That was a “mobile” link and since I’m not on a “mobile”, it didn’t work for me either.

    Here’s a good link for Goldsmith’s NYT piece.

    And btw, it starts out reading like some 3rd-rate buffoonish doggerel:

    “On March 10, 2004, at the end of a stressful day running the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel…”

  13. Brian Silver says:

    EW, yes thank you for the other Bush quotes. I recall that he said it didn’t matter that much. I started out this morning looking for those quotes and to my surprise found the one from Nov 2002. But we all know what he was really up to after Tora Bora, and that’s prepping for Shock and Awe.

  14. scribe says:

    @rugger9: remember, too, that in 2002-3, he was called “Osama bin Forgotten” by the WH press corps when not in dictation sessions with Bushie’s press office.

  15. scribe says:

    @emptywheel: That’s a dog built for hunting, acting out. Hunting dogs – of most breeds – will go after smaller yappy dogs, cats, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, you name it. And they will kill them, too. My setter does some of the most gorgeous points … on the neighbor’s cat. I have to use both hands on the leash to keep her from killing the cat, but only when the cat decides to leave. Until then, she’ll be locked up pointing and have her nose a foot or two from the cat, but the leash can be slack – she doesn’t lunge until the cat “flushes”.

    Calling “treat” is an effective way, if the dog is trained to treats and/or food-oriented, to interrupt whatever is going on in a way that “come”, “stop” or “whoa” won’t. You’re substituting a greater inducement (treat) for the lesser (killing a smaller animal) and it works.

  16. scribe says:

    @Petro: I think Dreyfus would have paid serious coin to play Deadeye in that film. I saw an extended interview with him in the middle years of the Bush junta and, to be clear, Dreyfus seemed willing to put Deadeye on the meathook all by himself, he was that upset with the misconduct Deadeye was perpetrating.

  17. rugger9 says:

    Good point on the dogs, not something routinely known here.

    Also, good reminder on the press corps stuff, OBL only ever came out when a Two Minutes Hate session was needed due to one more example of Bu$hie incompetence.

    Don’t forget that Perry is Shrub Lite.

  18. P J Evans says:

    A co-worker has a chocolate Lab. Not the brightest dogs in the world, but definitely trainable.

    A friend had a springer spaniel: it was enough of a hunting dog to take a goose at a park. I’ve also heard stories about other small spaniels catching sparrows and the like.

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