I grew up in a Senate and foreign-policy world where we treated as gospel the notion that -- as Sen. Arthur Vandenberg famously said -- "politics stops at the water's edge." How is it, then, not inconsistent that here on the pages of Foreign Policy, I'm offering a few thoughts now on a "Democratic foreign policy"? Very simply, because today, it is the Democratic Party that almost all alone occupies that once bipartisan space in national security policy, and it is the Democratic Party that today offers the clear-eyed vision of how to best honor our ideas in the world, while the Republican Party, too often in the grips of hard-edged ideology and a determination above all else to defeat President Barack Obama, is almost unrecognizable from its previous incarnation.
Just think, after the 9/11 attacks, the United States, both political parties at home, and most of the world, understood what the United States had to do in order to respond to grave threats. Then, something went terribly wrong and shattered that unity. We went into Afghanistan swiftly and with a clear purpose. We got rid of the Taliban in short order. But we did not finish the job. Our efforts in Afghanistan atrophied, and Osama bin Laden lived to fight another day. The world was with us, but we did not take advantage of it. Instead, George W. Bush's administration entered a more reckless period where our national security policy was driven by ideology without regard to economic cost or sufficient attention to the strain our ideological approach put on alliances and international relationships, as well as our military.
The focus shifted from wars of necessity in Afghanistan and against bin Laden to Iraq, where the rationale was dubious and the effort unfocused. This was a war of ideology, even hubris. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no immediate need to invade, particularly when the real concern was with bin Laden and al Qaeda. We went in without a clear picture of how we were going to get out. It cost over a trillion dollars, a bill that is still coming due, a bill slapped on the credit card of our children and grandchildren.
Our stalled effort in Afghanistan and our unnecessary and expensive effort in Iraq were coupled with a new and bellicose attitude toward friends and foes alike -- the old versus the new Europe; Mission Accomplished; bring it on; and you're either with us or against us. These were the slogans of an unfocused and at times reckless foreign policy.
This was the inheritance of President Obama, who also took on an economy in meltdown. When he took office, we were at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost to both our military and our budget could not be sustained. The president committed to ending one war -- Iraq -- and succeeding in the other -- Afghanistan. He kept those promises. By the end of 2011 our troops were home from Iraq, leaving Iraqis in charge of their own future. We are in the process of forming a new relationship of mutual respect and partnership with a new Iraq.
In Afghanistan, where our efforts were languishing due to lack of attention, the focus has shifted back to building up that nation so it can take on the Taliban and keep al Qaeda from reconstituting itself on Afghan territory. This painstaking but focused effort has been implemented by our military but led by our president. The president supported a surge in troops, a buildup of Afghan security forces, and an aggressive development and political agenda as part of a realistic and honorable strategy to draw down our presence there.
For those who say having a timetable on our efforts in Afghanistan is counterproductive, the simple truth is this is our nation's longest war. We need to put the government and people of Afghanistan on notice that our present level of involvement will not continue indefinitely. While our withdrawal is ultimately conditions-based, conditions will never be perfect, and it is also useful to note that a date certain for withdrawal proved successful in Iraq.
Relations with Pakistan, which is tied directly to our involvement in Afghanistan, remain complicated. Nonetheless, despite our differences and occasional difficulties, we have managed to work together on things that matter, particularly our counterterrorism efforts. The Pakistanis have worked with us in taking on al Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and elsewhere. Our cooperative efforts have not always been smooth, but our successes have been considerable. These counterterrorism battles have made al Qaeda's central leadership much less formidable than it was when Obama took office.