IG Sopko has been speaking truth to power for many years, mostly exposing the utter failure of development projects. But now he has done a comprehensive assessment of the goals and accomplishments of the United States' longest war. The answer is none of the above.
Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.This began, of course, with the George Bush II invasion, and continued through the subsequent two administrations. So B. Obama is just as much on the hook for it as the Republican presidents. The original rationale for the invasion of Afghanistan was to root out Al Qaeda and retaliate for the Sept. 11 attack. Fair enough, but Osama bin Laden was chased into Pakistan after just 3 months. So what was the rationale for continuing to occupy Afghanistan (and for that matter, not invading Pakistan?) after that?
“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged to The Post that the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to.”
This was the same political dynamic that kept the U.S. stuck in Vietnam for 20 years. After the U.S. finally surrendered and left for good, there was a period during which the victorious government sent collaborators to re-education camps and many of them, fearing disposession, fled in a dangerous exodus by sea. So you may judge that was bad, although certainly not as bad as the war itself. But then Vietnam stabilized, became prosperous, and is now an important trading partner of the U.S. No, it's not a democracy but neither was the puppet South Vietnam. In the long run, nothing bad came of the U.S. defeat and it was obvious that there was absolutely no good reason for the U.S. to be there in the first place. (I won't go into the details of the history but major U.S. involvement began after it became clear that Ho Chi Minh would win a scheduled reunification election, and if there is one thing the U.S. couldn't tolerate, it was self determination by colonies.)Yet the interviews show that as the war dragged on, the goals and mission kept changing and a lack of faith in the U.S. strategy took root inside the Pentagon, the White House and the State Department.Fundamental disagreements went unresolved. Some U.S. officials wanted to use the war to turn Afghanistan into a democracy. Others wanted to transform Afghan culture and elevate women’s rights. Still others wanted to reshape the regional balance of power among Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia.“With the AfPak strategy there was a present under the Christmas tree for everyone,” an unidentified U.S. official told government interviewers in 2015. “By the time you were finished you had so many priorities and aspirations it was like no strategy at all.”The Lessons Learned interviews also reveal how U.S. military commanders struggled to articulate who they were fighting, let alone why.Was al-Qaeda the enemy, or the Taliban? Was Pakistan a friend or an adversary? What about the Islamic State and the bewildering array of foreign jihadists, let alone the warlords on the CIA’s payroll? According to the documents, the U.S. government never settled on an answer.As a result, in the field, U.S. troops often couldn’t tell friend from foe.
Baked into our political culture is a warrior mentality, an assumption that it is both the responsibility and the right of the United States to send its military abroad to control the destiny of non-European countries, and that any president who gives up on one of these projects is a coward and a loser. So they can't give up. I have to actually give D. Trump credit for saying he wants to get out of Afghanistan, but with talk and two bucks I can get a cup of coffee. Let's see what actually happens.