Although there will always be need for government secrecy, the consent of the governed depends on government sharing substantially the whole truth with the public.
No government action is graver than war, and so on no other issue does our leadership owe us more candor.
The Trump administration has not been candid about the state of our unending war in Afghanistan. It has, literally, treated candor as an enemy.
The American people deserve to know where our soldiers are succeeding and where they are failing. It’s not happening. The Defense Department is keeping relevant information from journalists, analysts, and the public at large. Specifically, the Pentagon is cutting off from vital information the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, or SIGAR.
In the most recent April 30 report, the inspector general documents an ever-widening list of topics that it is no longer authorized or able to examine publicly. The most recent suspended data points include “district-stability assessments” relating to the measure of Taliban or government control across Afghanistan and a “narrative assessment about Afghan Special Security Forces misuse by the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior.”
But those are just the latest. Since President Trump entered office in 2017, the list of redacted or removed metrics has steadily increased.
The consequences are clear. As SIGAR Chief John Sopko recently put it, “Almost every metric for success or failure is now classified or non-existent.” Sopko might be exaggerating slightly, but only slightly.
We’re no longer informed of Afghan security force casualties, force strength, and performance assessments. Nor are we informed of the Afghan air Special Forces aircrew numbers, readiness, and air frame availability. Nor are we informed of anti-corruption efforts by the Ministry of Interior. Want more?
The most recent blow to candor, again, was the decision by U.S.-led NATO forces that they will be “no longer producing its district-level stability assessment of Afghan government and insurgent control and influence, expressed in a count of the districts, the total estimated population of the district, and the total estimated area of the districts.”
Such data, NATO says, is “not indicative of effectiveness of the South Asia strategy or of progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan.”
That isn’t up to NATO or the Pentagon to decide. That’s up to Congress, and to the public, to decide.
Trump has long railed against this candor. As the Washington Post reported in January, Trump complains that SIGAR’s research is akin to supporting the enemy. He wants the details hidden.
This antipathy toward public accountability is swampy behavior from a president who promised to drain the swamp. It is also un-American.
The U.S. Constitution vests the power to make war in Congress, the most representative body of the people. If, as now, Congress lacks the information to effectively appraise an ongoing war, then the war is being fought undemocratically — and thus unconstitutionally.
Trump has shown a willingness to alter course when the facts and America’s interest demand it. He should now apply that same ability to SIGAR.