A Vulcan's Tale: How the Bush Administration Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan

A Vulcan's Tale: How the Bush Administration Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan

by Dov S. Zakheim


View All Available Formats & Editions
Usually ships within 1 week


A firsthand account of how the Bush administration mismanaged its Afghan campaign, A Vulcan's Tale shines new and important light on the events and people behind the headlines in the immediate years following the September 11 attacks.

The "Vulcans," so named by Condoleezza Rice, were eight foreign policy experts who advised George W. Bush during his 2000 presidential campaign. After Bush assumed the presidency, the Vulcans helped shape the administration's foreign policy following 9/11, including the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. All were veterans of past administrations, having served under either Ronald Reagan or George H. W. Bush, and they included among their ranks Dov Zakheim. Made comptroller and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense in 2001, Zakheim was also named the DoD's coordinator for Afghan civilian reconstruction in 2002.

In A Vulcan's Tale, Zakheim draws on his own participation and intimate knowledge to analyze how the United States missed critical opportunities while it struggled to manage two wars, particularly the seemingly endless endeavor in Afghanistan. In his view, the Bush administration's disappointing results in Afghanistan were partly attributable to the enormity of the challenges, certainly. But flawed leadership and deficiencies of management, understanding, and forethought all played their parts as well.

The power of the purse proved to be especially damaging. The Office of Management and Budget was slow to fund Defense's efforts at the outset of the Afghan conflict and then inadequately funded the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, casting the die for several additional years of conflict. The invasion of Iraq siphoned off critical resources for Afghanistan, thereby further complicating that country's reconstruction.

Even with public policy of the highest order, the devil still lurked in the details, as the DoD's "money man" was soon to discover while he struggled to fund and manage the reconstruction of civilian Afghanistan. A Vulcan's Tale is an authoritative, candid but fair account of how a wise and admirable goal can be waylaid by insufficient funding and ineffective coordination, with the result of faulty —or, at best, incomplete —implementation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780815721222
Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
Publication date: 05/26/2011
Pages: 335
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Dov S. Zakheim served as the under secretary of defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Defense from May 2001 to April 2004. He also served in various Defense Department positions during the Reagan administration, including deputy undersecretary for planning and resources. Zakheim is the author of Flight of the Lavi: Inside a U.S.-Israeli Crisis (Brassey's).

Read an Excerpt

A Vulcan's Tale

How the Bush Administration Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan
By Dov S. Zakheim

Brookings Institution Press

Copyright © 2011 Brookings Institution Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8157-2122-2

Chapter One

Nation Building and the 2000 Campaign

One afternoon in late August 2002, my personal assistant, Claudia Valente, told me that the secretary of defense wanted me in his office. I walked in unsure of the subject, which was unusual because I generally had a pretty good idea of what Donald Rumsfeld wanted to discuss before I went in to see him. I figured he probably wanted to discuss Iraq. General Tommy Franks, the commander at Central Command, whose purview covered the Middle East ranging from Pakistan to the Mediterranean, had recently been flooding my office with requests for funds to cover a host of requirements for what clearly looked like an upcoming military operation. Meanwhile, the situation in Afghanistan appeared to be very much under control. Operation Anaconda, which had been launched the previous March to drive al Qaeda and the Taliban from their remaining strongholds in eastern Afghanistan, appeared to have been a success, and the Taliban fighters were fleeing into Pakistan. It was now a matter of solidifying the Afghan Transitional Administration under President Hamid Karzai, set up and appointed by an Afghan loya jirga in June.

When I walked into Rumsfeld's office, I saw that this was not going to be a one-on-one meeting. Several people were sitting around the table, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; Doug Feith, my counterpart as under secretary of defense for policy; and Dick Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Feith and Myers seemed to be smiling at me, and I could not understand why. Rumsfeld solved that puzzle rather quickly. For some time I had been working with the State Department to raise funds and materiel support for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Now Rumsfeld told me he wanted me to do more: I was to be the Defense Department's civilian coordinator for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, acting as the department's interagency and international focal point for nonmilitary matters in that country.

At first, I could not understand why the comptroller should be asked to take on a policy job of this sort. It seemed a natural for Feith, given his leading policy role. But Feith was clearly immersed in planning on Iraq, and since he and I had a close working relationship, he seemed comfortable having me look after Afghanistan.

In a sense, my taking on this additional job—I continued to serve as the department's comptroller and chief financial officer—said much about the administration's evolving priorities. Afghanistan was yesterday's news; it was okay for someone outside the "policy chain of command" to look after the nuts and bolts of reconstruction.

In a very personal sense, I found myself in a strange position as well. The last thing I thought I would be doing in a Bush administration was helping to oversee a major, and critical, nation-building project. To explain why, however, I must go back to the beginning—to the land of the Vulcans.

When Texas governor George W. Bush began to gather his network of informal national security and foreign policy advisers around him in 1999, neither he nor they initially had much to say about nation building. The concept had come to be associated with the Clinton administration's failed efforts in Somalia and with its attempts to stabilize the Balkans, especially Bosnia. Most Republican conservatives opposed the Bosnia adventure, arguing that the Europeans were better suited to taking care of their own backyard. Some argued, too, that the American record in creating effective governance in occupied states was nothing short of dismal. From the Philippines in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to numerous forays into Haiti, including nearly nineteen years when that impoverished island was governed by the United States Marine Corps, through Somalia, Haiti (again), and Bosnia, there were really only two unequivocally successful cases of American nation building, Germany and Japan. In both cases the United States and its allies had virtually razed both countries and then had remained long and spent much to guarantee that the changes made under occupation would stay changed once occupation ended.

Bush himself certainly seemed disinclined to raze enemy countries and then spend decades and billions reshaping them. Rather, he spoke of a more "modest" and humble American stance in the world. Condoleezza Rice, who led the small team of advisers whom she had dubbed the Vulcans, went further when she articulated a decidedly negative view of nation building in a major article that appeared in the January 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs. It was not that Bush was channeling Rice or that Rice was channeling Bush; they seemed simply to be of a similar mind. And why not? George W. Bush was George H. W. Bush's son, and Rice had served on Brent Scowcroft's National Security Council staff in that administration. Given the realpolitik approach to international affairs that both the senior Bush and Scowcroft took while they held office, both the younger Bush and Rice seemed born to realism.

Condi had asked me, as well as several of the other Vulcans, for comments on her draft Foreign Affairs piece. I, for one, had no problem with it, having argued along similar lines in numerous op-eds throughout the 1990s. Moreover, at about the same time that the Rice article appeared, I produced a piece for the Council on Foreign Relations entitled "Humanitarian Concerns Alone Do Not Justify Military Intervention." In that essay I asserted that "America's uniqueness ... certainly cannot be forced down the throats of those unwilling to emulate us, no matter how long our forces patrol the streets of their cities and towns." I showed the article to Condi before it appeared in print; she, in turn, had no problem with it.

My attitude to humanitarian intervention, and its inevitable nation-building aftermath, did not preclude all such interventions. I felt that true genocide, as opposed to ethnic cleansing that let people live but displaced them, did justify a military response by the United States. In particular, the case for intervention in Rwanda was far stronger, in my view, than the case for intervention in Bosnia, although if the Clinton administration had not blocked the United Nations from sending peace enforcers to Rwanda, there would likely have been no need for sending combat forces. Nor, I felt, would genocide have taken place.

Governor Bush, on the other hand, seemed to have a more nuanced attitude toward the subject. Once at a meeting of the Vulcans and other senior advisers in the governor's mansion in Austin in the early spring of 1999, Bush asked whether we would have advocated intervention in Bosnia. All but two of us supported the intervention. I was one of the two dissenters. The other was Dick Cheney. The governor responded by stating that his heart was with the minority, but his head told him it was the right thing to do. Now that the United States had committed itself, he considered withdrawal to be out of the question.

Among the Vulcans the two strongest supporters of the intervention in Bosnia were Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. Richard, who had a long and distinguished career in government, had played a major role advising the Bosnian Muslims during the negotiations that led to the 1995 Dayton agreement, which brought an end to the three-year-old war in Bosnia. Paul was a strong supporter of humanitarian intervention against dictators.

I had worked for and with both men for many years. I had met Paul in the late 1970s, when he was a deputy assistant secretary of defense. Like his boss, Harold Brown, Paul was far more hawkish than the Carter White House for whom he nominally worked. His portfolio was what then was termed "regional affairs." It enabled him to study the balance of forces in the Gulf region at a time when the shah of Iran was a strong U.S. ally, while the Soviets, with ties to Iraq's Saddam Hussein, were a potential threat to Iran and the Gulf. I likewise had analyzed that regional balance in a study I completed while on the staff of the Congressional Budget Office; Paul advised and supported my effort.

It was Paul who recommended me to Richard Perle when Richard was nominated to be an assistant secretary of defense in the first Reagan administration. Richard, who had earned the press nickname "Prince of Darkness" during the quasi-theological arms control disputations of the 1970s, was a soft-spoken, thoughtful, and unpredictably creative policy thinker with a fondness for fine food and good cigars. I became Richard's all-purpose special assistant taking on a wide variety of assignments, worked for him for two years, and remained a good friend.

After leaving the Reagan administration in 1987 as deputy under secretary of defense, I became a consultant to the secretary and the under secretary of defense for policy. Initially, these positions were held by my two former bosses, Caspar Weinberger and under secretary for policy Fred Charles Iklé. After the 1992 election, I remained as a consultant, primarily to the then under secretary for policy, none other than Paul Wolfowitz.

Paul and I had remained in close touch after he left the government in 1993, and at times we shared the same platform. In February 1998, for example, we both testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, composing what the Hill terms a "panel" of two. I arrived a few minutes before the hearing began, while Paul rushed in late, clearly short of breath. The committee chairman, the venerable Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who was soon to be replaced by the man sitting next to him, John Warner of Virginia, looked up and admonished Paul in these words: "Dr. Zakheim, you really shouldn't have kept us all waiting, Dr. Wolfowitz has been sitting here for some time." Senator Warner tried to cover the microphone as he explained to Thurmond that he had berated the wrong person. But Thurmond would have none of it: "Don't you tell me what to say," he practically shouted into the mike. Paul heaved a sigh of relief; I just sat there.

At the hearing Paul highlighted the need to support the Iraqi opposition, especially the Iraqi National Congress (INC), whose most visible face was a man named Ahmed Chalabi. Some time thereafter I met Chalabi at Richard Perle's home in Chevy Chase, a Maryland suburb of Washington. (Richard, like Paul, was among Chalabi's leading supporters around town.) Chalabi seemed friendly enough; after all, I was a friend of Richard's. But I was not entirely comfortable with the polished, urbane Iraqi Shia exile. His clothes, like his English, were impeccable. He was bright, as mathematics PhDs generally are. But his manner, unctuous enough to transform a run-of-the-mill snake-oil salesman into a multimillionaire, put me on guard.

During the campaign some dissident Iraqi Sunni generals approached me to complain that the INC was a Shia preserve. I asked several leading INC proponents why Sunnis were not included in any significant way among the INC's leadership; I never got a straight answer. That left me both puzzled and suspicious. Then I heard that the Jordanians, among them King Abdullah, whose word I trusted, considered Chalabi to be a crook. There had been a "banking" incident some years earlier, and Abdullah was sure that Chalabi's protestations of innocence were feigned.

I learned, too, that Chalabi had been going around Washington beguiling some of Israel's strongest supporters with visions of an oil pipeline from Iraq to Haifa. I did not believe a word of it; I was certain that Chalabi's efforts were nothing but a ploy to persuade Israel's most vociferous proponents to back his vision for Iraq. (To my mind, proof that Chalabi's promises were meaningless arrived in the form of the 2003 Iraqi temporary constitution, drafted while he was in the interim government. That document bestowed citizenship on all Iraqi refugees except those who had been members of a large Jewish population that had been in the country since 586 BCE, when the First Temple was destroyed, until the early 1950s, when most emigrated to Israel under pressure from the Iraqi regime.)

In any event it was Wolfowitz who asked me in late 1998 whether I was interested in joining the Bush campaign team—the one condition being that I could not advise any other potential candidate. I had no problem agreeing to Paul's proviso. Thus it was that upon becoming a member of the Vulcans, I found that the two men who had helped me most during the earliest stages of my career, and who welcomed me into the Bush camp, were the most diametrically opposed to my views about intervention and nation building.

Most of the other Vulcans fell somewhere in between support for and opposition to nation building or regime change. They, as well as less official advisers such as Richard Haass (then with the Brookings Institution, now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and, during the first Bush term, director of the State Department Office of Policy Planning) could be described as "realists," although they were not as openly opposed to military interventions as I was. During the campaign, and indeed not until after 9/11, was there anything remotely unsavory about the term "realist" among the Vulcans. The other four Vulcans, Richard Armitage, Robert Zoellick, Robert Blackwill, and Stephen Hadley, like Rice and indeed Wolfowitz and Cheney, had all served in George H. W. Bush's administration, which was renowned for the hard-headed realism that governed its foreign policy. Only Perle and Wolfowitz were neoconservatives, although Paul denied, seemingly in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that he really was a "neocon." (Paul seemed to do so largely on the basis that he was not an active supporter of Israel's conservative Likud Party, whereas most neocons, the majority of them Jewish, were.)

Wolfowitz, a tall, good-looking, and soft-spoken man, certainly was not conservative in the ordinary American sense of the word. But most neocons are not really conservative either, at least with respect to domestic issues. Moreover, like many neocons, he was not a particularly religious man; I do not recall him ever discussing "values" issues, which are the lifeblood of "social movement" conservatives. Nor do I recall him expressing any views about smaller government, tax reduction, or any of the other issues that define fiscal conservatives. Paul's political leanings actually were closest to those of a Henry Jackson Democrat. "Scoop" Jackson was the long-time, hawkish, anti-Soviet, pro-big-labor, pro-Israel senator from Washington state, whose leading staffer had been Richard Perle. Paul moved in Scoop Jackson's orbit, although he never worked in his office, as some later claimed.

Not only were almost all of Paul's generation of neocons once Democrats, but they also were only once or at most twice removed from Henry Jackson or his closest ideological ally in the Senate, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. Neither senator was Jewish, and neither ever described himself as a neocon. Both men were complex thinkers and strategists who did not fit into a neat little box invented by others, yet the neocon label has stuck to both men posthumously if inaccurately. It has often been used, too, particularly by those whose anti-Semitic leanings are not far below the surface, as a codeword for "Jews."

Apart from Wolfowitz and Perle, the Vulcans with whom I was most personally familiar were Armitage, Hadley, and Blackwill. I had worked alongside Rich Armitage when we both served in the Weinberger Pentagon. Armitage, a former naval officer who served three tours in Vietnam, had been one of my staunchest supporters during the trying period when I led the opposition to Israel's development of the Lavi fighter aircraft.5 We remained in close touch when he served as an ambassador in the administration of the senior Bush and then when he established a successful international consulting practice with offices down the street from my own business address in Roslyn, Virginia.

Rich had first entered the Pentagon as an expert on East Asian affairs. By the time he left in 1988, as assistant secretary for international security affairs, his expertise also included the Middle East. In the Bush 41 administration he added the former Soviet republics to his portfolio, and by the time he joined the Vulcans he was also an expert in defense management. He made little secret of the fact that he hoped to be part of an effort to transform the Pentagon's archaic 1960s-era management system to a more efficient version suitable for the twenty-first century.

Although Rich was among those who supported America's military role in the Balkans, he was a dyed-in-the-wool realist. Over the years that I knew him, he never discussed international relations in ideological terms. He joined many neocons in urging the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but he did so because he viewed Saddam as a threat to Iraq's neighbors, and worried about Saddam's possible acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. I never once heard him expatiate on the desirability, let alone the possibility, of the democratic transformation of the Middle East.


Excerpted from A Vulcan's Tale by Dov S. Zakheim Copyright © 2011 by Brookings Institution Press. Excerpted by permission of Brookings Institution Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Dov Zakheim's unerringly honest and well-written book does two critical things. It gives us the best and closest look into how the Bush team operated in Afghanistan. It also gives us the best brief ever of how even the best policy succeeds or fails in the details, in the implementation." —Leslie H. Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations and New York Times columnist, former assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs

" A Vulcan's Tale is a lively and absorbing read. Dov Zakheim has spent decades working closely with the men and women who made U.S. foreign policy under George W. Bush. His tale of why the reconstruction of Afghanistan fell so short has the impact and credibility that only an insider's account can. But well beyond Afghanistan, this is a book for anyone who seeks to understand why our policy reach so often exceeds our grasp." —Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton University, former director of policy planning at the U.S. Department of State

"Dov Zakheim is someone I have known and admired for many years. Make no mistake, this is a fascinating tale told by someone who not only is good at recounting a story that will be debated for many years to come, but also because he is honest to a fault. Zakheim takes the reader through the many twists and turns in the development of national policy that cost the United States dearly in terms of our most precious resources." —General James L. Jones, US MC (ret.), former national security adviser, former commander European Command, former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps

"Zakheim has produced a must-read for policymakers and students of statecraft alike. In readable prose, he provides a reflective insider's account and analysis of the cost of lack of alignment between policy and implementation during the Bush administration. He convincingly argues that Afghanistan's tragedy was avoidable and that the inherited processes and structures of decisionmaking in Washington must change if the use of instruments of U.S. power is going to lead to productive outcomes for the world and the American public." —Ashraf Ghani, chairman, Afghan Transition Coordination Commission and former minister of finance, Afghanistan

" A Vulcan's Tale by Dov Zakheim is a great contribution to the memoirs emerging from the war on terrorism. Zakheim had two full-time jobs: He was the Pentagon's comptroller and its reconstruction coordinator. The reader will learn about the bureaucratic politics of financial management, the perils of nation-building, and the fascinating world of international fundraising. An outstanding tale, frankly told." —Joseph J. Collins, professor of national security strategy, National War College, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations

"This vivid and sobering account of intervention and nation-building experiences should be compulsory reading for policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic." —Ana Palacio, former foreign affairs minister of Spain, former senior vice president and general counsel of the World Bank Group

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews