The surprise announcement from the Taliban that we’re about to sign a peace deal with them is being slightly overshadowed this week. While I’m sure plenty of people have been waiting for us to pull out of that quagmire, the release of a stack of Pentagon documents regarding the war will provide even more reason for concern. Assuming this is all true (and it certainly looks legitimate), the Pentagon and the rest of the government have been lying to us for years about how much of a “success” the war has been. And honestly… are we really all that surprised? (WaPo)
The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction told Congress Wednesday that U.S. officials have routinely lied to the public during the 18-year war by exaggerating progress reports and inflating statistics to create a false appearance of success.
“There’s an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue . . . mendacity and hubris,” John F. Sopko said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The problem is there is a disincentive, really, to tell the truth. We have created an incentive to almost require people to lie.”
As an example, Sopko said U.S. officials have lied in the past about the number of Afghan children enrolled in schools — a key marker of progress touted by the Obama administration — even though they “knew the data was bad.”
So what else does the IG say they’ve been lying about? Increases in life expectancy for Afghanis, increased opportunities and freedoms for women, civilian casualty numbers and even the opinions of some of our own generals on the progress being made. (At least one General was on record as saying “he didn’t know what we were doing in Afghanistan” and that the war was “likely unwinnable.”)
Of course, our government has something of a history when it comes to honesty in reporting on our efforts in foreign wars. Look no further back than Vietnam. Many of the pictures painted by both the Johnson and Nixon administrations were quite rosy even after it had started to become obvious that we would never tame that country. There were equally optimistic messages about the conflict in Korea, sometimes being released even as Chinese backed forces were overrunning some of our outposts. As my father always used to tell me, bad things happen in war. But the government doesn’t always like to talk about it.
When talk of the ceasefire was seriously heating up at the end of last year, I wrote about the futility of remaining in Afghanistan and the need for us to be honest with ourselves and the rest of the world. Not only honest about our plans to withdraw but about our utter failure to transform that country into anything resembling a vibrant democracy and the home to a free people.
I’ll toss some props to Erick Erickson for his bleak but honest assessment of a war that has almost undeniably turned out to be a failure of each of our objectives beyond killing Osama bin Laden.
[It] turns out our military leaders do not know why we are in Afghanistan either. The government continues to be corrupt. In fact, corruption is systemic and endemic to the various tribes and political classes inside Afghanistan.
The American government failed at the core task of taking out the Taliban. The American government further failed to establish a sound government capable of taking out the Taliban after we left. We are now failing by propping up a kleptocracy that has no desire to change.
The situation already looked like a lost cause when the government was lying to us about how bad it was. The truth only reinforces that impression. The leadership in Afghanistan is corrupt, perhaps even more so than the local government in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. And that applies to the government we helped establish as well as the Taliban. Our allies in that country are riddled with people who are only awaiting the opportunity to take some of our troops out. Even some of the ones we count as reliable friends chain young boys to their beds to use as sex slaves.
It’s time to go home, even knowing that the American-backed government will almost immediately collapse, the Taliban will go back on all of their promises and the country will return to how it’s always been. The sad truth is, we didn’t wind up changing Afghanistan. But for nearly twenty years now, Afghanistan surely ended up changing us.