September 18, 2021

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George W. Bush expresses sympathy for Afghan people, US troops, avoids comment on Biden policy – USA TODAY

3 min read

WASHINGTON – After the world watched desperate scenes of thousands trying to flee Kabul as a triumphant Taliban retook Afghanistan’s capital city, former President George W. Bush expressed sympathy to the Afghan people and U.S. forces on the ground.

“Laura and I have been watching the tragic events unfolding in Afghanistan with deep sadness. Our hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and for the Americans and NATO allies who have sacrificed so much,” reads a joint statement from Bush and former first lady Laura Bush.

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Bush initiated U.S. involvement in Afghanistan in 2001 and launched the broader U.S. war on terrorism, a global effort that still entangles the country’s foreign policy and politics today.

Absent from the former president’s statement is any mention of his time presiding over the conflict or thoughts about the American withdrawal outside of praise for the U.S. personnel overseeing the evacuations. 

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The Bushes encouraged the Biden administration to help prioritize the evacuation of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. during its decades-long involvement in the country, such as interpreters and human rights workers. But the statement does not weigh in on Biden’s stance on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has drawn criticism from other Republicans.

“The United States government has the legal authority to cut the red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises. And we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay,” the couple wrote..

The Bushes also expressed confidence “that the evacuation efforts will be effective because they are being carried out by the remarkable men and women of the United States Armed Forces, diplomatic corps, and intelligence community.”

Speaking directly to U.S. personnel helping with the withdrawal from the country, the couple expressed compassion to the sacrifices of Americans during the conflict.

“Many of you deal with wounds of war, both visible and invisible. And some of your brothers and sisters in arms made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. Each day, we have been humbled by your commitment and your courage.” 

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The Bush administration’s stated rationale for invading Afghanistan in the weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks was to root out the terror group al-Qaida, which had planned the terror attacks. 

Months after the U.S. toppling of the Taliban, Bush then announced greater ambitions in Afghanistan, calling for the U.S. to invest in the country and transform it into a vibrant democracy. Those efforts saw the U.S. spend nearly hundreds of billions of dollars in the country on development and military operations.

Bush also oversaw the U.S. invasion of Iraq starting in 2003, straddling American forces across the Middle East and diverting resources and attention from Afghanistan. 

“In times like these, it can be hard to remain optimistic,” the couple wrote. “Laura and I will steadfastly remain so. Like our country, Afghanistan is also made up of resilient, vibrant people. Nearly 65 percent of the population is under twenty-five years old. The choices they will make for opportunity, education, and liberty will also determine Afghanistan’s future.”

Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.

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