Early Sources of the 2021 Afghanistan Withdrawal Failures: Analysis of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama Administrations
This research paper addresses the 2021 Afghanistan War withdrawal failure after two decades of US efforts in Afghanistan. It looks at the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations for early sources of exit strategy failures. It questions why the US failed to plan and execute a successful exit strategy when the essential post-Vietnam military doctrine was written to guide the US and keep it from committing the same mistakes made during the Vietnam War. The war started under the Bush administration, and according to the doctrine examined, a clear exit strategy should have been formed with its initiation. Obama inherited the war with intentions to end it, but then found it difficult to fully withdraw from Afghanistan after he authorized significant troop surges. The purpose of this study is to determine where the Bush and Obama administrations abandoned the cautions of post-Vietnam doctrine and to identify factors that contributed to exit strategy failures under each administration. The research found that Afghanistan is another example of the implications that come with distancing foreign policy decision-making from the Rational Actor Model (RAM) in the early stages of a war, and points to the importance of applying doctrine to withdrawal strategies. Graham Allison's Bureaucratic Politics Model (BPM) best explained how decisions were formed under both administrations. Under Bush, opportunities for a clear exit strategy ended with the war in Iraq, and the Iraq War was a political outcome representing the preferences and relative influence of central players and their bargaining skills. President Obama spent nearly his entire time in office trying to set withdrawal timelines and meet strategic objectives built largely under the advisement of central military leaders who drifted from post-Vietnam doctrine. This study suggests that neither administration made exit strategy decisions based on organized, careful analyses of situations but instead made many decisions by "muddling through", as often is the reality of bureaucracies. Bureaucratic conflict was a considerable factor in the capability of the US to establish a clear exit strategy under the Bush and Obama administrations.