The Afghanistan Papers

(every American should read the Washington Post article)

The Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers are disheartening and tragic on so many levels. The U.S. Government has been lying to us about Afghanistan for a long time. (Note: I initially wrote since day 2, but I don’t think that.) Eighteen years of U.S. generals, ambassadors, and envoys rolling out a variation of the following:

Steady progress is being made.

Here’s the Washington Post headline -

AT WAR WITH THE TRUTH

U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it.

By Craig Whitlock Dec. 9, 2019

Personally, the worst part (after the human toll and suffering of course) is that we’ve all known this, and we couldn’t figure out a way to resolve it. The Afghanistan Papers should not be a surprise to anyone. And yet we happily sent Lindsey Graham and his colleagues off to meet with the generals, and we happily let them lie to us about the progress being made. (South Carolina, I don’t want to get into your business, but Lindsey Graham has known this for 18 years. I only mention him because he’s a lifelong neocon interventionist cheerleader.)

I’ve mentioned before that I was in the Army. A long long time ago. I loved it, but I wasn’t very good at it. I have friends who are considering joining the military. My friends sometimes ask for my thoughts. I wouldn’t be able to recommend that anyone serve.

That’s all pretty grim. How about a little grim Catch-22esque dark humor.

The Command and General Staff school(s) must have a special course devoted to deployment optics.

  1. Present a forceful set of objectives. In the next 9 months we’re going to (choose one) - take the fight to the enemy, focus on building the core capacities of our partner forces, secure the villages and towns that want to be a part of the government’s efforts to establish democracy and root out terrorism, etc.

  2. At the mid-way point, issue a variation of making steady progress. If necessary, quietly re-orient the objectives. If your first 4.5 months has been an epic failure, don’t worry. Easy to handle. Just have statements like this on a notecard - plans rarely survive first contact, the battlefield is dynamic and we adapt, it only makes sense to recalibrate as it warms and we head into the military campaign season, we accomplished what we set out to do and now it’s time to build on that progress.

  3. The end of the deployment can be tricky. It can’t all be roses because you know the next commander is inheriting a shit show. Our CGS instructors recommend keeping things pretty bland here. You’ve got that next gig lined up, you’ve done more than enough to secure at least an occasional MSNBC talking head role, and getting troops home to their families is always a winning message. Praise the hard work and sacrifice of your troops and local partners, convey your gratitude for being able to work together with the Afghan people, say that you’re proud of what your troops accomplished, and explain that you’re looking forward to working closely with the incoming unit to continue the difficult but valuable work that lies ahead.

  4. Incoming commander. Praise the efforts of your predecessor and explain that the two of you have coordinated extensively on the handover to identify the route ahead. Present your forceful set of objectives. You can copy your predecessor’s, but you really want to have a good reason for doing that. If you copy them verbatim, someone in the media might suggest you’re just spinning your wheels. You also won’t be able show your boss or explain in your memoirs how you applied decades of experience and readings of Sun Tzu to assess the situation and adapt. You want to leave yourself some room for discreetly suggesting that you saw that something was broken or needed to be fixed. Coordinate with your staff to find a way to do this that does not reflect negatively on your predecessor. Pro tip - pretend a reporter is always on the verge of asking you if your predecessor screwed up or overestimated progress. Always be prepared to immediately respond with absolutely not… Bonus points if you can follow that up with I’m saying the exact opposite. It’s because of their success that we’re now able to…

  5. See 2 and 3 above.

I’m being harsh on the military here. I should clarify that I’m mainly upset with our elected leaders, senior officials, the top brass in the Pentagon, the media, and us as voters. They/we should all be familiar with the Pentagon Papers and how Bush and the neocons got us into Iraq. The system as a whole contributes to repeating these situations over and over. I don’t get a free pass there - in a past life I was a low level foreign service officer. If I’d been sent to Afghanistan, I would have done my time and punched the ticket.

People might roll their eyes at the next part. I think most commanders (most military, but this is about the commanders) signed up to serve and carry out lawful orders to the best of their abilities. Elected leaders may have set a bad policy, but he/she has trained his/her troops and is going to see them through.

The easiest solution to this is to quit invading countries. That’s not likely. I saw someone online say that history will remember the cowardice of all the people who were in positions of power who could have done something to stop the conflict in Afghanistan. Not really. I can’t remember anyone ever suffering a political cost for sending troops into harm’s way. Some books might eventually talk about Bush’s disastrous Iraq decision, but America in 2019 is thrilled that he mischievously gave Michelle Obama a piece of candy. How adorable.