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Post-Conflict Policy Crafted in Lens of Bush’s Foreign Policy Failures

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

Executive Summary

George W. Bush’s foreign policy failures within Afghanistan and Iraq must be taken into consideration when drafting an effective strategy for wars and post-conflict scenarios. The avoidable failures of the two-decade war in Afghanistan have resulted in thousands of deaths, millions of displaced people, and trillions of dollars in debt for the United States, requiring a thoughtful strategy to avoid long-term destruction of another state in future conflicts. The following article argues for a shift in counterterror conflict strategy from pure militarization to incorporating large sums of timely humanitarian aid, assistance, and security to rebuild the state and slow the regrowth of insurgency groups.

Bush’s Counterterrorism Approach

George W. Bush’s hawkish approach proved to be a short-term counterterrorism success, leveraging strong diplomatic and military channels. After 9/11, Bush launched an attack on al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and countries harboring the terrorist groups, aiming to destroy the leadership and infrastructure of the two groups (1). He quickly leveraged diplomatic channels to pressure the Pakistani president to break ties with the Taliban, conducted handfuls of airstrikes on extremist sanctuaries, directed covert action through the CIA and special forces, and empowered the Northern Alliance (the Afghan military front) (2). As a result, the Taliban government was overthrown, al-Qaeda was weakened drastically as hundreds of their members were killed, and the Northern Alliance was able to take control of most of Afghanistan, including Kabul (3). At the time, the war on terror was perceived as a massive success by Americans as there were very few American lives lost.

Bush’s Failures Allowed al-Qaeda and the Taliban to Strengthen

The Bush administration’s success quickly reversed due to the lack of a post-conflict strategy for nation-building and humanitarian assistance. The overhaul of the Taliban government meant the installation of new leaders; however, the institutions were extremely weak and required assistance and security. The Bush administration tunnel-visioned on defeating terrorist groups and shifted their attention and resources to Iraq to defeat al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein (4). The abandonment of the vulnerable and new Afghan government and the inability of the Northern Alliance to assert authority over the entire state led to the swift regrouping of the Taliban (5). This immediate failure in the reconstruction process opened the doors for the Taliban to retake control over southern and eastern Afghanistan and attack aid workers and government officials, leaving large regions of the state without assistance (6).

The post-conflict instability continued to worsen due to a lack of resource allocation and troop presence by the United States. After Saddam Hussein was toppled in Iraq, there was a collapse of public order and widespread violence broke out (7). The instability gave room for insurgency groups to rise and motivated members to join radical Shiites, Sunni rejectionists, and al-Qaeda foreign fighters (8).

Military Costs Increased, Aid Decreased

The failures of the Afghanistan war can be largely attributed to the lack of timely aid after the defeat of the Taliban in late 2001. Compared to other American wars, Afghanistan was under-resourced with only $1.75 billion in aid throughout the first few years, and the most aid was distributed ten years later in 2012, rather than initially when success and stability were the most likely (9). This can largely be attributed to the administration tunnel visioning on defeating the terrorist groups rather than nation-building after war.

A primary example of inadequate resource allocation was the Ring Road initiative, aimed at rebuilding Afghanistan’s 3,200-kilometer loop that connects its largest cities (10). The road system is essential to Afghanistan’s future; it holds the ability to improve economic conditions and increase access for smaller communities (11). The Afghan war left the state with destroyed roads, buildings, and homes, and the United States and their allies began allocating money for the Ring Road initiative and other rebuilding priorities (12). The United States spent three billion dollars on the road, but never finished the project (13). After 16 years of war and instability, the road remains deteriorated and symbolizes a failed priority of the United States in Afghanistan rebuilding.

After insurgency groups strengthened in 2002, United States military spending began to rise drastically. Contributing more aid at the beginning, and incorporating that into post-conflict strategy, would likely avoid a substantial portion of military costs that have stretched across nearly two decades. Aid must be allocated and distributed as soon as possible in combination with a strong troop presence to ensure the highest chance of stability and suppression of insurgency groups.

The Humanitarian Impacts of Prolonged Wars

The two-decades-long war resulted in drastic humanitarian impacts. Total casualties between the Iraq and Afghanistan wars totaled nearly half a million in 2017, with civilian deaths in Iraq at around 200,000 and 40,000 in Afghanistan (14). Militant groups are accountable for a large sum of these deaths, but the United States and its allies also share some responsibility.

The effects of these wars can also be felt within the region owing to an increased prevalence of refugees and internally displaced persons. For Afghanistan, the war caused 2.6 million refugees and 1.8 million internally displaced persons (15). The war in Iraq caused far fewer refugees at 360,000, but 2.6 internally displaced persons (16). Surrounding states such as Pakistan and Turkey host the majority of the refugees prior to resettlement (17). The failures in the war on terror have had generations-long humanitarian effects of death and displacement and was ultimately preventable had there been a constructive and timely post-conflict strategy.

Policy Recommendations

In a world with increasingly common conflict, the United States must craft an effective counterterrorism strategy that implements a strong post-conflict plan featuring enhanced security, substantial assistance, and large amounts of aid. The United States must avoid these costly mistakes in the future to prevent another decades-long war with massive impacts such as thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people. With this in mind, the United States post-conflict strategy must:

  1. Keep Troops in the Area and Request Peacekeepers from the United Nations

After the counterterrorism strategy is achieved, the Department of Defense should keep troops in the area to allow the Afghan government to rebuild its institutions and strengthen control over the state. Peacekeepers should be requested and deployed to local communities to strengthen stability. The troops should not be there for offensive purposes; the troops should simply hold defensive roles and act as a deterrent measure for insurgency groups to prevent attacks or taking control of regions.

  1. Allocate Aid Quickly and Effectively

Assistance given by USAID must be distributed as soon as possible to alleviate hardships faced by citizens and communities. As seen with the Bush administration, they failed to consider what steps to be taken after weakening the insurgency groups and ultimately decided to continue their hawkish military approach and reroute resources to Iraq instead of assisting in Afghanistan. A more holistic approach to the situation with the intent to rebuild the state, rather than engaging in war then leaving them vulnerable, would have steered the bureaucracy to provide sufficient aid. The failure to distribute enough aid at the beginning does not provide relief and gives room for insurgency groups to rise and recruit others who are unhappy with the situation. Any future post-conflict scenario must give the citizens billions in aid to effectively rebuild after a war.



  1. Brands, Hal. What Good is Grand Strategy? Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2014.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Ellis, Sam. How the US Failed to Rebuild Afghanistan. Vox, 2018.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Crawford, Neta. Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency. The Watson Institute at Brown University, 2018.

  15. Ibid.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Ibid.



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