Home > Uncategorized > The Afghanistan Papers Expose a History Of Lies – posted 12/28/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 1/16/2020

The Afghanistan Papers Expose a History Of Lies – posted 12/28/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 1/16/2020

During this primary season, foreign policy has been superficially discussed. With so many pressing domestic concerns, it is understandable. Still, foreign policy matters and the newly exposed Afghanistan Papers show why.

The American people have been systematically lied to for 18 years by our civilian and military leaders. We have been sold a false narrative of progress in Afghanistan. Even worse, our leaders have known that narrative was false but they have persisted with the lies.

The Washington Post recently reported on over 2000 pages of confidential government documents now in its possession about the war in Afghanistan. The documents include previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

The Post won release of these documents, now known as the Afghanistan Papers, through a three year legal battle they fought under the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents the Post exposed come from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, also known as SIGAR, a federal agency created by Congress in 2008 to investigate waste and fraud in the war zone. In 2014, SIGAR launched a Lessons Learned project meant to diagnose policy failures in Afghanistan. The Lessons Learned staff interviewed over 600 people with firsthand experience in the war.

The Post began seeking the Lessons Learned interviews in 2016. SIGAR refused disclosure, saying the documents were privileged. The Post then sued SIGAR in federal court to compel the release of documents.

SIGAR has now released the transcripts from 428 of the interviews as part of the 2000 pages released. This was before a court decision which is still pending in the federal court in Washington, DC.

The Afghanistan Papers show that the United States government officials have never had a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan. Douglas Lute, a three-star Army General who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015:

“What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

There are good reasons Afghanistan has been called “the graveyard of empires” and the Learned Lesson interviews are illustrative. Our war fighting strategies were fatally flawed. Enormous sums of money were wasted trying to rebuild Afghanistan. The attempt to curtail runaway Afghan corruption failed as has the effort to build a competent Afghan army and police.

The Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani governments have been kleptocracies. The U.S. government threw vast sums of money their way and then acted surprised that corruption delegitimized their regimes. The Obama Administration essentially ignored Karzai ballot-stuffing his way to re-election in 2009.

I am not sure which regime was more corrupt, the old South Vietnamese government or our current Afghan partners, but both lacked legitimacy in the eyes of their respective masses. There was never a chance of winning hearts and minds.

All along, U.S. military commanders have struggled to articulate any clear rationale for why our troops were in Afghanistan. Craig Whitlock, a reporter from the Post put it this way:

“Was Al-Qaeda the enemy, or the Taliban? Was Pakistan a friend or an adversary? What about the Islamic State and the bewildering array of foreign jihadis, let alone the warlords on the CIA’s payroll? According to the documents, the U.S. government never settled on an answer.”

It has been impossible for U.S. troops to know who was a friend and who was a foe.

The cost has been astronomical. Since 2001, more than 775,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan, many repeatedly. Of these, 2300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action. In the 18 years of the war, Neta Crawford, a professor at Brown University, calculated, with an inflation adjustment, that the Defense Department, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion.

During the 18 years of the Afghanistan War, U.S. government officials, both civilian and military, have argued the war is going well, no matter the real battlefield situation. This has been equally true under George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump. Instead of any honest accounting, we have gotten rosy pronouncements they knew were false while they hid evidence the war was unwinnable.

John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, acknowledged to the Post that the documents show “the American people have consistently been lied to”.

Since the Afghanistan Papers were published, they have been compared to the Pentagon Papers and the comparison is valid. Both expose official lying. Both wars were and are quagmires with Afghanistan an even longer quagmire than Vietnam.

The problem though, as I see it, is that critical analysis stops there. Why the repetition compulsion with war? I agree with those who see the decision to invade Afghanistan as an essentially irrational, emotional response aimed at satisfying the collective psychological need for revenge for the 9/11 attacks.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats have critically evaluated this failure. The Trump Administration had promised to extricate the U.S. from Middle Eastern wars but they remain as sucked in as Bush and Obama were. Since early 2019, the U.S. has deployed roughly 14,000 more troops to the region.  This is a reversal of Trump’s promise to extricate.  Trump is now considering sending thousands more troops to the region to. counter the alleged threat from Iran.

For a long time, there has been a mistaken tendency to see Afghanistan as the good war and Iraq as the dumb war.

At a deeper level, we should be examining the endless billions of dollars spent on military adventures built on lies. The American people have meekly submitted to this military overreach for years. The Pentagon asks, both political parties oblige. We have given a blank check to the military with no critical evaluation of results achieved.

It is hard to imagine any president or Congress standing up to the powerful vested interests of the Pentagon, the secret intelligence agencies, and the military-industrial complex. These interests have a permanent investment in perpetual war, somewhere or anywhere.

When Senator Bernie Sanders argued in 2016 that climate change was our greatest national security threat, he did not get much traction. He was laughed at. The merit of that argument is now evident. But we still shovel money at the Pentagon.

I have to laugh when I hear that Medicare for All or a Green New Deal are unaffordable. Is anyone looking at what we are spending money on?

Considering the history of lies from Vietnam to Afghanistan, a complete reorientation of foreign policy should be on the agenda. Next time, we might want to have a rationale before we intervene someplace.

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