The Afghanistan War

The Afghanistan War

(posted by run75441)

The Washington Post has over the last 7 days published a detailed account based on many secret documents they have spent years obtaining to provide an accurate account of what has happened during what is now the longest war the US has been engaged in. It is an impressive account, which I have tried to follow, although with finishing a semester I did not read every word of it. But it is a serious and important serious series, just reaching its conclusion today, along with lots of commentary in the WaPo Sunday Outlook section.

One extremely serious bottom line on both of them was lying by US officials, just rampant and all over the place for both wars. WaPo Outlook had an especially useful column by Lauren Kay Johnson who was US military PR person in late 2009-early 2010, soon after Obama came in. Lies, lies, lies.

The obvious comparison is with the Vietnam War, and much does carryover such as corruption and bad excuses for continuing with unlikely improvement outcomes. Vietnam was bigger and deadlier, well over 2000 dead per year in Vietnam compared to about 100 Americans dying in Afghanistan per year. Easy to pay no attention to them.

So aside from much lower US deaths, maybe the other big difference from the Vietnam War is the shift to drones, perhaps not unconnected to the first. While this almost certainly reduced the US deaths, it also led to less knowledge on the ground that was there in Vietnam (see “They Marched into Sunlight” by David Maraniss, old friend of mine).

Obviously, a big difference between the two wars is that Vietnam beyond some point engendered a massive anti-war protest movement, while the longer Afghan war has not even to now triggered anything like the protests the Vietnam predecessor brought. Certainly both the far lower death rate and lower costs lie behind this.

But the similarities are clear and must be recognized. This has been a corrupt, ultimately hopeless war that people at many levels of the US govt have just routinely lied about. One difference between the two wars is the big role of opium in Afghanistan, with the money in it being hugely important, while it played a more minor matter in the earlier war.

Another looming question coming out of these reports and especially important for Dems, is the role of Obama. Unfortunately, he looks somewhat like LBJ in the Vietnam War, although not identical. The similarity is both inheriting their war from a predecessor, being subjected to accusations of needing to show toughness and not Communists or Muslim radicals, keeping each to attempt to make intermediate deals keeping the war going while not going all the way as the super hawks wanted, and allowing both those who wanted more war and those wanting less to whine.

For Obama the ultimate of this came with Libya, where he was pressured by many outsiders, including the old colonial powers UK and France, with Hillary Clinton transmitting these outside demands. Obama took a middle route, namely the much-mocked “leading from behind” where the air forces of UK and France were leading the way in with massive outside support including the Arab League (complicated, not going to get into details of that, but Arab Spring was going on).

On the politics of it, I note Newt Gingrich (or some other high GOP of the time) in a single sentence criticized him for being a wimp and only “leading from behind” rather than going in all out, while also, in the same sentence criticizing him for going in at all, implicitly the later Trump critique.

So, yes, Libya became a mess, is still one to this day, and which made Obama loath to go all in in Syria. Although he did set up the deal with the Syrian Kurds in NE Syria leading to the defeat of Daesh/ISIL after Trump took office. But, hey, he got 8 Benghazi hearings that eventually led nowhere.

But then, we have him imitating LBJ at a later stage. Rather than pulling out as Joe Biden of all people was basically advising him to do, he played to the hawks while people like Trump were claiming he was not even a US citizen. His “surge” was not all that big, but enough to stick him into the war for the rest of his presidency. This was one of the biggest mistakes Obama made.

Which Brings us to Donald Trump. He campaigned on opposing this war and got support from some leftists due to this and similar promises elsewhere. The bottom line is despite a lot of so-far failed negotiations with the Taliban; he has not gotten anywhere, and there are now more US troops in Afghanistan than when he became president. This is also true in other parts of the world.

What almost nobody is commenting on and while I did not read every single word of the generally excellent WaPo series; there was a completely justified reason for the beginning of this war. Al Qaeda attacked the US on 9/11/01, killing nearly 3000 Americans, with them being protected and housed by the Taliban regime then there. Many people have forgotten that when G, W. Bush invaded Afghanistan to bring regime change there, he had the support of well over 90 percent of the US population, including me. The invasion was successful and the government was overthrown.

Which gets us to the critical point: we should have declared the real victory we had achieved and withdrawn soon after, arguably, possibly, with some moves to pursue bin Laden, but not necessarily as he had built the mountain caves he initially retreated to, and Saudi intel was not giving us the info on them at that time.

G.W. Bush became distracted with the completely idiotic invasion of Iraq. Once that got going, Afghanistan was forgotten, and embarrassing, which it has remained ever since unfortunately.

The harder question I see here is the massive momentum of the US mil/intel complex. Once it gets going anywhere, it is just so hard to overcome and stop. There was from a thoughtful perspective or an argument to get out soon after the Taliban were overthrown in 2001. Instead we got this massive momentum of needing to get the right successor regime, fix things up, etc., etc., etc. Given the Bush admin had become refocused on the totally idiotic invasion of Iraq, an exit simply did not happen.

In the end, we did not leave when we could have with honor and success. Given how these things go, even with newly elected presidents, with both parties calling for us to leave, we remained there with more troops than ever.

In any case, as a bottom line, I thank the Washington Post for having provided this highly detailed account of what has happened with the now-long US war in Afghanistan.

Barkley Rosser

PS note: Certain parts of the script were written as of 12/15, but it did not get finished and go out until 12/16.