WASHINGTON -- In the 1990s, Afghanistan was allowed to fall to the Taliban and become the global center for the training, indoctrination and seeding of jihadists around the world -- including the mass murderers of 9/11. This week, just three years after a two-month war that destroyed the Taliban, Afghanistan completed its first free election, choosing as president a pro-American democrat enjoying legitimacy and wide popular support.
This represents the single most astonishing geopolitical transformation of the last four years. (Deposing Saddam Hussein ranks second. The global jihad against America was no transformation at all: It existed long before the Bush administration. We'd simply ignored al Qaeda's declaration of war.) But perhaps even more astonishing is how this singular American victory has disappeared from public consciousness.
Americans have a deserved reputation for historical amnesia. Three years -- an eon -- have made us imagine that the Afghan War was easy and foreordained.
Easy? In 2001, we had nothing there. What had the Clinton administration left in place? No plausible military plan. Virtually no intelligence. No local infrastructure. No neighboring bases. The Afghan Northern Alliance was fractured and weak. And Pakistan was actively supporting the bad guys.
Within days of 9/11, the clueless airhead president that inhabits Michael Moore's films and Tina Brown's dinner parties had done this: forced Pakistan into alliance with us, isolated the Taliban, secured military cooperation from Afghanistan's northern neighbors, and authorized a radical war plan involving just a handful of Americans on the ground, using high technology and local militias to utterly rout the Taliban.
Bush put in place a military campaign that did in two months what everyone had said was impossible: defeating an entrenched, fanatical, ruthless regime in a territory that had forced the great British and Soviet empires into ignominious retreat. Bush followed that by creating in less than three years a fledgling pro-American democracy in a land with no history of democratic culture and just emerging from 25 years of civil war.
This is all barely remembered and barely noted. Most amazing of all, John Kerry has managed to transform our Afghan venture into a failure -- a botched operation in which Bush let Osama bin Laden get away because he ``outsourced'' bin Laden's capture to ``warlords'' in the battle of Tora Bora.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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