In his 2002 State of Union Address, President George W. Bush says Iraq, Iran and North Korea constitute an “axis of evil,” and claims that “by seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.” The President warns that the three could provide WMD to terrorists, blackmail the United States, or attack its allies. Speaking of the war on terror, the President says: “What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that, far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning … If we stop now – leaving terror camps intact and terror states unchecked – our sense of security would be false and temporary.”
Though no one has fully documented and quantified the reality of 2002, there is no question that U.S. efforts in Afghanistan slowed as the 2003 Iraq war began to be prepared: by the end of the year, rotations of forces to Afghanistan had virtually halted and the preponderance of intelligence and special operations assets had been shifted. More important, all of the attention of the decision-makers and war planners shifted to Iraq.
Some might take from this the lesson that military forces were not large enough then to take on the “two war” mission, as they might bemoan today both the so-called cutbacks and shift to a single war focus. Perhaps we should examine though why the United States can barely field and support 150,000 troops on the ground given the overall size of the military. And lost in the shuffle is the question of the actual terrorist or blackmail threat of WMD, powerful and frightening images then, but falsehoods equally perpetrated a decade later.