Margaret Valenti writes on The Afghanistan Papers released by The Washington Post that prove there is no reason for the U.S. to be at war with Afghanistan anymore.
The Washington Post very recently released documents held by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and wrote a damning piece about the war in Afghanistan that questions the whole strategy of The War on Terror and what the U.S. did or did not do in the region compared to what needed to happen. They call the documents The Afghanistan Papers. It took the Post multiple lawsuits and Freedom of Information requests over a three-year period to get their hands on this information.
What they found was that the U.S. government lied to the public for years about The War on Terror: why the U.S. continued the war and whether the U.S. is winning or losing. Within the first couple months of the U.S. being in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda left. During the Obama administration, Seal Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden. The question now is what is the U.S. still doing in Afghanistan? Originally, the U.S. was there to bring justice to the three thousand people killed on 9/11, a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that is one of the deadliest in U.S. history.
Following the departure of Al Qaeda and the death of Osama bin Laden, it became about bringing stability to a region ravaged by The War on Terror and removing any remaining aggressors in the region. The problem, however, became that the U.S. had no way of bringing stability to a region it did not fundamentally understand. That problem became clearer that no matter which side the U.S. backed; it was never the right decision. There were no bad guys vs good guys in The War on Terror, it simply became about which side could the U.S. receive the most benefit from and come away with a clean conscience.
The War On Terror
It is a myth to believe that The Middle East can never achieve stability, that is simply a justification for the U.S. near constant presence in the region. There are so many different political figures and leaders in the region with wide ranging agendas, some are terrorists while others are world leaders and everyone in between. Those people made it and still make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to make any progress in the region.
That progress, to the U.S., would look like finally achieving democratic stability in the region without any terrorists taking over in the power vacuum that would ensue if the U.S. left. However, the U.S. began to realize that there was no plan to leave, nor would there ever be one. The U.S. will never get what it wants in Afghanistan – the democracy that we know in the U.S. The worst part is that now no one in any senior levels of the government can figure out a way to exit Afghanistan gracefully without risking a resurgence of terrorist behavior. Obama and Trump tried, and both failed.
Donald Rumsfeld, who was Defense Secretary at the Pentagon at the time the war started, wrote several memos on the topic. One such memo from 2002 obtained by the Post reads “we are never going to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something going on that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave.” The memo ends with Rumsfeld writing “help!”
A Way In, But No Way Out
The U.S. has no reason for being in the region for as long as it has but has no way to get out without harmful repercussions for the people of Afghanistan and U.S. interests in the region. To anyone who reads these papers, who feels the effects of 9/11 and The War on Terror whether it be in their homes or as a nation, it is frustrating to learn that even from the beginning the U.S. not only had no idea what to do in the region but increasingly became aware that there would be no way out. “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who supervised the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush and Obama administrations, in his interview with SIGAR. The New York Times referred to him as the “War Czar.”
Not even the man leading the efforts from The White House can tell the U.S. with assurance now that anyone in the government had any knowledge of what they did in terms of The War on Terror in Afghanistan. He is not the only one. Bob Crowley, an Army colonel and counterinsurgency advisor to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told SIGAR interviewers that “every data point was altered to present the best picture possible . . . Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that . . . everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.” Essentially, everything that the government told the public was either a half-truth or a lie.
The head of SIGAR, John Sopko, acknowledged to the Post that “the American people have constantly been lied to.” Even Michael Flynn gave an interview to SIGAR, stating that different government officials would say to reporters that “everybody did a great job. We’re all doing a great job. Really? So, if we’re doing such a great job, why does it feel like we’re losing?”
No Critical Reception
It feels like they are losing because there is no progress to report on, as was the case for years and still is. It is Vietnam all over again and yet there is hardly any news coverage around The Afghanistan Papers. The revelations listed in these papers are as mind blowing as The Pentagon Papers, yet the media and the public at large overlooked them as impeachment looms over us all like a cloud. In any other administration, these papers would be a bombshell and they would take over the news cycle for days even weeks and they would receive critical debate.
There was a huge struggle to access them and now that they are here it seems as if no one really cares. These papers require more critical attention and debate than they are currently receiving, only then will the country be able to acknowledge the truth of what is happening in The War on Terror: nothing. Both Obama and Trump promised to get the U.S. out of the war and still the U.S. is stuck in an endless war with no way of winning and no goal to fight for. Most of the 2020 presidential candidates also promise to get the U.S. out of the war but how will they do that?
Many people can argue around in circles about the reasons why the U.S. cannot seem to leave the war in Afghanistan, and the War on Terror as a whole: the government would need to balance the budget if it did that, which is an extremely tall order, the U.S. sees itself as the protector of democracy around the world, war time presidents are popular, and/or the region would destabilize if the U.S. pulled out now. It is political.
However, the most inexcusable part of the entire campaign is that the U.S. went into a country blind to the history and culture with no expectations or back up plan. Now, the U.S. has nothing to show for the billions of dollars and endless deployment of U.S. troops since the death of Osama bin Laden. Thanks to the work of Craig Whitlock at the Post, that fact is now available for the public to see for themselves in hundreds of interviews and documents.
The death toll on both sides of the conflict, including civilians in Afghanistan, sits at an estimated 157,000. Where the government goes from here is up to the next President, but how to supply stability in the region and get the U.S. out of the war in Afghanistan should be a top priority. The public should not stand for the ongoing deployment of both human and economic resources spent by the U.S. over the past eighteen years when for years now there was and still is near nothing to show for it. We should be as outraged as people were when The Pentagon Papers came out. Enough is enough.