‘The Afghanistan Papers’: The lies behind America’s longest war
In contrast to the bloody debacle in Iraq, the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is still viewed by many Americans as “the necessary war,” said Sarah Jones in NYMag.com. But this is the week that illusion dies. The Washington Post just published “The Afghanistan Papers,” a trove of 2,000 documents obtained after a three-year legal battle with the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The papers reveal in shameful, sickening detail that from its outset, the longest war in U.S. history—18 years and counting—has been an unwinnable “black hole, sucking in money and lives.” The administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump have all falsely insisted the U.S. was making “some progress.” The Afghanistan War has claimed at least 115,000 lives, including 2,400 U.S. military personnel, and cost the U.S. about $2 trillion, said Lara Jakes in The New York Times. Our rebuilding efforts alone have cost $133 billion, more than we spent (even adjusted for inflation) to rebuild all of Western Europe after World War II. And for what? Some scant improvements in Afghan quality of life, and the installation of a “faltering democracy” that the resurgent Taliban will likely overthrow if the U.S. ever leaves.
Good for The Washington Post, said Army veteran Adrian Bonenberger in TheNewRepublic.com, but “you could have just asked us.” Those of us on the ground in Afghanistan knew all along that the war was “an aimless train wreck.” Yes, we built a few schools, medical clinics, and roads, and annihilated countless “high-value targets,” with “the occasional wedding party thrown in.” But the troops being cycled in and out “were fighting and dying to achieve objectives that no elected leader could fully articulate.” The Post titled its scoop after the Pentagon Papers, the leaked documents that in 1971 turned the public decisively against the Vietnam War, said Rod Dreher in TheAmericanConservative.com. The Afghanistan Papers should have the same impact. Let this be the end of Americans “dying in and for Afghanistan. Bring the troops home.”
The impulse to leave is understandable, said Tom Rogan in WashingtonExaminer.com. But our troops in Afghanistan “are no longer taking anywhere near the casualties of the past,” while the Afghan forces we’ve been training and equipping are finally winning battles against insurgents. A sudden U.S. withdrawal would not only jeopardize those gains but also create the “physical and inspirational-ideological space for groups such as ISIS and al Qaida to regroup.” However badly the war has been managed, we invaded Afghanistan for a reason, said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com: to destroy the safe haven and training camps of terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. If we now withdraw, “we had better be ready for what follows us.”
A sudden withdrawal is unlikely, said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. Back in 1971, when the Pentagon Papers were published, the public “could still be shocked that their leaders could be duplicitous.” We’re no longer that naïve. Rather than demanding the end of a war that the public knows we can’t win, we’ve reacted with a collective “resigned shrug.” Maybe it’s the “absence of a draft,” said Ross Douthat in The New York Times, or the dramatically lower casualty rates of our recent conflicts. But with our lack of outrage, Americans have made it clear we will now “accept a war in which there is no prospect for victory, and no clear objective save the permanent postponement of defeat.” ■