Despite all the revelry and excitement that comes with a new year (and a new decade), the American government’s addiction to endless war continues, and with it, the same old web of lies…
As President Trump prepares to deploy an additional 3,500 troops to the Middle East following the assassination of Iranian major general Qassem Soleimani, the lessons of the Afghanistan Papers should be dominating the public conversation. In 2014, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) began a series of interviews — aptly named “Lessons Learned” — with over 600 government officials leading the effort in Afghanistan. These findings depict a chilling account of how the U.S. engaged in a feckless war resulting in trillions of dollars wasted and hundreds of thousands of lives lost.
- The real winner: Osama bin Laden.
In a 2015 Lessons Learned interview, Jeffrey Eggers, former White House staffer and retired Navy SEAL, told SIGAR, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”
Scott Horton, editorial director of Antiwar.com, also describes this in his 2017 book, “Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan,” writing, “Osama bin Laden must have died content, knowing that his plan to bog the U.S. down in such a long, bloody and expensive war… was at the very pinnacle of its success at the time he was finally put down…”
Horton also points to Rolling Stone’s 2010 interview with bin Laden’s son, Omar: “My father’s dream was to bring the Americans to Afghanistan… I was in Afghanistan when Bush was elected. My father was so happy. This is the kind of President he needs — one who will attack and spend money and break the country… As soon as America went to Afghanistan [my father’s] plan worked. He’s already won.”
- No one knew why we were there.
A black cloud of lies, conflicting agendas, and fabricated narratives of success has hung over the war in Afghanistan since its inception. Just six months after the beginning of the war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote in a memo to several other top officials, “We are never going to [leave] Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something… that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave.”
Compare this with remarks from other officials, and the picture becomes less clear.
In 2015, Douglas Lute, the retired lieutenant general once dubbed America’s “War Czar” in Iraq and Afghanistan, told SIGAR, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan… We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
That same year, an unspecified government official admitted, “With the AfPak strategy there was a present under the Christmas tree for everyone. By the time you were finished you had so many priorities and aspirations it was like no strategy at all.”
- It’s time to stop nation-building.
Within months of the beginning of the war, the U.S. began attempting to shove a strong central government down the Afghan peoples’ throats, complete with roads, bridges, schools, and (last but not least) a U.S.-backed president, Hamid Karzai.
By 2007 — following three assassination attempts and a deadly riot in Kabul — Karzai’s regime had become synomymous with corruption, waste, plunder, and fraud; the U.S. scheme had backfired, as the conditions for a Taliban resurgence were spread across the nation like poppy seeds.
“Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently… may have been the development of mass corruption,” former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker commented. “Once it gets to the level I saw… it’s somewhere between unbelievably hard and outright impossible to fix it.”
As if an entire failed government was not enough, U.S. officials indulged their obsession with wasting taxpayer dollars by drowning the small country with more aid than it could possibly hold. According to the Post, one USAID official said “he was expected to dole out $3 million daily… in a district roughly the size of a U.S. county,” a region he described as “mud huts with no windows.”
- History definitely repeats itself.
The spectre of Vietnam hovers over Afghanistan, from the all-too-familiar denials that it, too, would escalate into another drawn-out quandary, to the government’s systematic manipulation of the public into believing the war effort was more successful than it actually was.
“There is not, and there will not be, a mindless escalation,” said President Lyndon Johnson in a series of remarks upon receiving the National Freedom Award in February of 1966. Fast forward to November of 2001, and one can hear an equally confident Rumsfeld joking, “All together now — quagmire!” — the Bush administration’s way of mocking concerns that the early war effort showed symptoms of Vietnam Syndrome.
Then, in an October 2006 article titled “Afghanistan: Five Years Later”, Rumsfeld, despite intensifying casualties and human rights abuses on both sides, gave a glowing report on the war, citing the defeat of the Taliban regime, the tripling of Afghanistan’s economy, the vaccination of over 5 million Afghan children, and “the first democratic presidential election in [the nation’s] history.”
Heralding the piece as “brilliant,” Rumsfeld and his team made sure the article reached every ear in Washington. The document was rushed to reporters and even published on the Pentagon’s website.
Ten years later, however, former Army colonel Bob Crowley admitted to SIGAR interviewers, “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.”
- It’s time to end this insanity once and for all.
According to Brown University’s Costs of War project, over 800,000 people have died in America’s post-9/11 wars due to combat-related causes alone, including 335,000 civilians. Earlier this year, the Afghanistan government reported 20,135 civilian casualties (14,693 injured and 5,442 killed) from landmines, explosive remnants of war, and victim-activated explosive devices. The project also acknowledges that “deaths from malnutrition… a damaged health system and environment likely far outnumber deaths from combat.”
These wars have cost America $6.4 trillion ($2 trillion in Afghanistan alone). If you had 6 trillion dollar bills, you could lay them end-to-end and circle the Earth 23,350 times. You could also go to the moon and back 1,217 times, or the sun and back three times. History teaches us that nation-building and attempting to police the world lead to one place: bankruptcy court.
Let the Afghanistan Papers serve as a painful lesson that the greatest threat to life and liberty is perpetual war. It’s time to bring our troops home.