WASHINGTON — The world was a risky place when President George W. Bush was leaving workplace. So on the way in which out the door, he and his nationwide safety staff left slightly recommendation for his or her successors:
India is a buddy. Pakistan shouldn’t be. Don’t belief North Korea or Iran, however speaking remains to be higher than not. Be careful for Russia; it covets the territory of its neighbor Ukraine. Beware changing into ensnared by intractable land wars within the Center East and Central Asia. And oh sure, nation-building is unquestionably more durable than it appears.
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Fourteen years in the past, Bush’s staff recorded its counsel for the incoming administration of President Barack Obama in 40 labeled memos by the Nationwide Safety Council, a part of what has extensively been hailed by each side as a mannequin transition between presidents of various events. For the primary time, these memos have now been declassified, providing a window into how the world appeared to a departing administration after eight years marked by warfare, terrorism and upheaval.
Thirty of the memos are reproduced in “Hand-Off: The International Coverage George W. Bush Handed to Barack Obama,” a brand new guide edited by Stephen J. Hadley, Bush’s final nationwide safety adviser, together with three members of his employees, and set to be printed by the Brookings Establishment on Wednesday. The memos add as much as a tour d’horizon of the worldwide challenges that awaited Obama and his staff in January 2009 with U.S. troops nonetheless in fight in two wars and numerous different threats to American safety looming.
“They had been designed to supply the incoming administration with what they wanted to find out about probably the most essential international coverage and nationwide safety points they’d face,” Bush wrote in a foreword to the guide. “The memoranda informed them candidly what we thought we had completed — the place we had succeeded and the place we had fallen quick — and what work remained to be performed.”
The transition between Bush and Obama got here at a fragile second for the nation, which was within the throes of a worldwide monetary disaster even because it was grappling with different international challenges. However although Obama had assailed Bush’s insurance policies throughout his marketing campaign, notably the warfare in Iraq, their groups labored along with uncommon collegiality through the turnover.
Every of the memos focuses on a unique nation or a unique space of international coverage, reviewing for the brand new staff what the Bush administration had performed and the way it noticed the highway forward.
Within the guide, Hadley and his staff, led by Peter D. Feaver, William C. Inboden and Meghan L. O’Sullivan, add postscripts written within the present day to mirror on the place the transition memos bought it proper or incorrect and what has occurred within the three presidencies since then.
Iraq was central to the Bush administration’s international coverage and nonetheless a festering downside as he was leaving workplace, however his surge of further troops and a change in technique in 2006 had helped deliver down civilian deaths by practically 90%. These strikes additionally paved the way in which for agreements that Bush sealed with Iraq to withdraw all U.S. troops by the top of 2011, a timeframe that Obama primarily adopted.
The Iraq memo, written by Brett McGurk, who went on to work for Obama, President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, provided no recapitulation of how the warfare was initiated on false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, but it surely did acknowledge how badly the warfare had gone till the surge.
“The surge technique reset unfavorable traits and set the circumstances for longer-term stability,” the memo mentioned. “The approaching 18 months, nevertheless, stands out as the most strategically vital in Iraq because the fall of Saddam Hussein,” it added, placing that in boldface. Referring to al-Qaida of Iraq, it mentioned, “AQI is down however not out and a sequence of elections will outline Iraq’s future.”
The memo warned the Obama staff that the scenario may nonetheless unravel once more: “There isn’t a magic system in Iraq. Whereas our coverage is now on a extra secure and sustainable course, we should always count on shocks to the system that can require a versatile and pragmatic method at the least by way of authorities formation within the first quarter of 2010.”
The memo included a warning that might determine in a later debate. Whereas Bush’s settlement referred to as for a 2011 withdrawal, the memo reported that Iraqi leaders “have informed us that they are going to search a follow-on association for coaching and logistical (and possibly some particular operations) forces past 2011.” Obama tried to barter such a follow-on settlement, however talks collapsed and his allies later performed down the notion that anybody had ever anticipated such an extension.
In her postscript to the Iraq memo, O’Sullivan skated flippantly over the false predicate for the warfare (“intelligence that was tragically later confirmed incorrect”) and the mistaken assumptions (“an unanticipated collapse of order and Iraqi establishments”). However she was extra expansive concerning the “shortcomings of the 2003-2006 technique,” which she outlined because the “mistaken perception” that political reconciliation would result in improved safety, insufficient troop ranges, “too aggressive a timeline to transition” to Iraqi management and “a failure to tackle Iranian affect extra straight.”
“America’s expertise in Iraq demonstrates that it’s neither omnipotent nor powerless,” she wrote. “It has the power to assist nations make dramatic modifications. But it surely mustn’t underestimate the numerous time, sources and power that doing so requires — and the overwhelming significance of a dedicated, succesful native companion.” Furthermore, she added, “vital efforts to rebuild nations ought to solely be undertaken when actually important U.S. pursuits are at stake.”
The Bush staff drew comparable conclusions about Afghanistan. “Not often, if ever, had been the sources accorded to Afghanistan commensurate with the objectives espoused,” O’Sullivan and two colleagues wrote in a postscript for that memo. “Policymakers overestimated the power of the USA to supply an consequence” and “underestimated the impression of variables past U.S. management.”
Among the memos underscored how a lot has modified up to now 14 years — and the way a lot has not. Paving the way in which for administrations that adopted, the Bush staff noticed India as a rustic ripe for alliance — and actually its improved ties with India had been seen as certainly one of its international coverage successes — even because it noticed Pakistan as duplicitous and untrustworthy.
The Bush administration spent huge power attempting to barter agreements to get rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and, to a lesser extent, Iran’s, to no avail, very like its successors. However Bush’s aides concluded that diplomatic engagement restrained North Korea from provocative acts and got here to imagine that their mistake might have been anticipating an excessive amount of from the talks.
“An argument might be made that the USA had too intense a concentrate on the North Korean nuclear downside,” the postscript to the North Korea memo mentioned. “Somewhat than searching for to comprise or ‘quarantine’ this system, the Bush administration set a really excessive bar of eliminating this system.”
The memos point out how a lot U.S. policymakers in each events on the time nonetheless held out hope for constructive relations with Russia and China. The memo on China urged intensive private engagement between leaders, crediting Bush’s interactions together with his Chinese language counterparts with creating “a reserve of goodwill” between the 2 powers.
The memo on Russia concludes that Bush’s “technique of non-public diplomacy met with early success” however acknowledged that ties had soured, particularly after Russia’s invasion of the previous Soviet republic of Georgia in 2008. The memo presciently warned about Russia’s future ambitions.
“Russia makes an attempt to problem the territorial integrity of Ukraine, notably in Crimea, which is 59% ethnically Russian and is house to the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet, have to be prevented,” the memo warned 5 years earlier than Russian forces would seize Crimea and 13 years earlier than they’d invade the remainder of the nation. The memo added that “Russia will exploit Europe’s dependence on Russian power” and use political means “to drive wedges between the USA and Europe.”
As enlightening because the memos are, nevertheless, additionally they underscore that main challenges on the worldwide stage are not often solved for good, however as an alternative are bequeathed from one administration to a different, even in developed kind. So, too, are the successes and failures.
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