Vulcan Revisionism

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Dov Zakheim explains the Pentagon budget in early 2002 / DoD photo by Robert Ward

The Vulcans were the foreign-policy realists of the George W. Bush Administration. Their presence on his campaign team before his 2000 election as President blunted suggestions that the Texas governor lacked sufficient overseas chops. But now one of those Vulcans has come forward to shed some light on the goings-on inside their furnace (they were named for the statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metal-working, in Condoleezza Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, a major steel-making center).

Dov Zakheim was a top Pentagon official during the George W. Bush Administration. He’s written a book on his experiences, A Vulcan’s Tale, due out soon from Brookings, and there’s an excerpt from it in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine. It’s called Confessions of a Vulcan: An insider’s story of how the Bush administration lost Afghanistan. I can already hear him protesting to his fellow Vulcans: Hey, I didn’t write the headline!

He was working as the Pentagon’s top money man — the comptroller — when he was tapped to run Afghanistan’s reconstruction. He wasn’t moving from one high-profile assignment to another: he was expected to do both.

The decision to appoint me reflected not only the administration’s preoccupation with Iraq but its seeming loss of interest in following through on support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The budget reflected the same failure, perhaps even more so. The total value of American reconstruction aid to Afghanistan in the fiscal 2002 budget that the Congress approved amounted to $942.1 million. That was probably $500 million short of what was needed that year, but analysts might have argued that the country could not absorb more money at that time. The initial fiscal 2003 request, however, totaled just $151 million, with foreign military financing reduced to a laughable $1 million.

Well, we had more important things to do in 2003 — like invade Iraq. It’s always reassuring to hear from the inside confirmation of what many of us on the outside were hearing and reporting at the time.