National Commentary

The Afghanistan Papers

“What we are seeing is the culmination of 20 years of bad decisions by U.S. political and military leaders. If anything, Americans should feel proud of what the U.S. government and military have accomplished in the past two weeks. President Biden deserves credit, not blame…Biden alone has had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement…(with) one of the most extraordinary logistical feats in recent memory…The total number of Americans and Afghan allies extricated from the country may exceed 120,000.” — David Rothkopf, The Atlantic.

Its release date pushed up from November to this week, Craig Whitlock’s book, “The Afghanistan Papers, A Secret History of the War,” is a blockbuster on a scale equal to the 1971 Pentagon Papers that catalyzed the nation’s opposition to the Vietnam War to the point of forcing, at last, its miserable end.

This time, it didn’t take the cataloguing of 2,000 pages of unpublished notes and interviews with 428 people over three years to force an early end to the war, but the timing of the book’s release with President Biden’s courageous move to resolutely end the 20-year war, the longest in U.S. history, will have a similar effect on the future course of history.

The same Republican fools who have been insisting that Trump won last November, who have been rallying millions to reject wearing masks or getting vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus, who are now rallying further insurrections against the U.S. democracy…these same Republicans have in recent days been railing against Biden for his decisive move to end the Afghanistan war. Yes, like the impact of their other insane and criminal policies, the war had become, in reality, as many officials were saying behind the scenes for years, “an unmitigated disaster.”

Whitlock’s book, out this week, documents this in spades. “Speaking frankly because they assumed their remarks would not become public,” Whitlock writes, U.S. officials confessed to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that “the war plans had fatal flaws and that Washington had wasted billions of dollars trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.”

The assembled interviews “also exposed the U.S. government’s botched attempts to curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and put a dent in Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade.” Generals admitted they had “tried to fight the war without a functional strategy” and many described “explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public” about how the effort was proceeding.

“No one wanted to admit that the war that started as a just cause had deteriorated into a losing one. From Washington to Kabul, an unspoken conspiracy to mask the truth took hold. Omissions inexorably led to deceptions and eventually to outright absurdities. Twice, in 2003 and again in 2014, the U.S. government declared an end to combat operations, episodes of wishful thinking that had no connection to reality on the ground,” he wrote.

He adds, “How had the war degenerated into a stalemate with no realistic prospect for an enduring victory? The United States and its allies had initially crushed the Taliban and al-Qaeda in 2001. What went wrong? No one had conducted a thorough public accounting of the strategic failures or provided an unsparing explanation of how the campaign fell apart…

“Over two decades, more than 775,000 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan. Of those, more than 2,300 died and 21,000 came home wounded. The U.S. government has not calculated a comprehensive total of how much it spent on war-related expenses, but most estimates exceed $1 trillion.”

And President Biden himself, in his speech definitively declaring the war to be over Tuesday, underscored the toll on American lives of the conflict, including the spiking suicide rate among combatants who were deployed there.

Of all the four U.S. presidents who presided over the longest U.S. war ever, only Biden had a son who actually served in harm’s way there. His passion to end the horrible conflict should be seen as a true badge of honor, personal courage and heroism. He is an extraordinary leader.

Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]