by Daniel DePetris | December 09, 2019
Anyone with eyes can see quite clearly that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is an unmitigated failure.
The war in Afghanistan, now in its 19th year, is about as protracted and bloody as it has ever been. Throughout the entire conflict, hawks have told skeptical voters to sit down, be quiet, and leave it up to the professionals. For years they’ve said victory is supposedly just around the corner and that we’re making progress. And yet all the while, the situation on the ground tells a vastly different story. Still, those of us on the outside have never truly been able to witness the full gravity of Washington’s extravagantly expensive misadventure in Afghanistan — because the national security bureaucracy has a knack of keeping bad information hidden away in a vault.
No longer. After a three-year court battle, the Washington Post was able to get its hands on classified government documents that demonstrate the catastrophic nature of the war. The paper reports that “senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”
Based on 2,000 pages and 428 interviews with American officials, the documents expose two disturbing key themes: For one, the United States had no clue what it was doing in Afghanistan, and even worse, government officials lied to voters every step of the way.
The picture that emerges is one of three successive administrations stubbornly resistant to confronting the depth of their mistakes, all too proud or scared to admit their failure. As Gen. Douglas Lute, the Afghanistan war czar in the Bush and Obama White Houses, summarized: “If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction … 2,400 lives lost … Who will say this was in vain?”
What Lute worries about has already come to pass. A majority of the public and a majority of veterans don’t believe the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting. It’s not hard to see why the numbers are so high: There have been too many mistakes to count.
The U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan has issued report after report detailing some of those mistakes, and yet for all intents and purposes, they are swept under the rug or minimized by the foreign policy establishment. Whether it was pouring tens of billions of dollars into a poverty-stricken country that had no capacity to absorb the investment, attempting to construct a Western-style government in a nation that has never known democracy, fighting opium by paying farmers to destroy their own crops, or professionalizing an Afghan national police composed of thieves and drug addicts, the U.S. has made every error we could possibly have imagined.
The biggest error of all, however, was of the political and foreign policy elite in Washington who were stupid and arrogant enough to believe the U.S. had the capability or responsibility to police the world and rebuild a failed nation.
One can’t help but read the interviews reported by the Washington Post and not feel a sense of unbridled anger and dread — anger because senior policymakers and military officers have been misleading the public about the war all these years, and dread because the people who perpetuated this dishonesty will almost certainly not be held accountable.
The pages reveal a concerted attempt at the Pentagon and the White House to downplay problems, stifle bad news, and spin a cockamamie narrative about success based on flawed metrics and reasoning. U.S. troops were dying in the field while commanders back at headquarters and officials in the briefing room were assuring everybody that the war was going according to plan. Meanwhile, mistakes at the top were made over and over again — mistakes that those on the ground paid for with their lives.
It’s time for policymakers to stop trusting the failed foreign policy establishment and instead listen to veterans such as Nate Anderson, a former Green Beret and executive director of the advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America. Anderson concludes that “This report affirms what we have been saying for some time now: After almost two decades of war with no clear path to victory, it is past time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.”
Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. His opinions are his own.