Europeans Debate Leaked Afghanistan War Logs

The leaking of a massive cache of classified Pentagon documents on the war in Afghanistan has been on the front pages of newspapers and magazines across Europe. Although there have been many sensational headlines, the overall media reaction in Europe has been surprisingly subdued, especially considering that European media elites rarely miss an opportunity to criticize the United States.

To be sure, many European newspapers and magazines have published stories with strong anti-American undertones, and some European commentators are saying the leaked documents show that the United States is guilty of war crimes in Afghanistan.

But most European media outlets concede that the war logs contain few surprises, and commentators across the continent are divided over the actual significance of the documents. In any case, although European public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to the Afghan war, the leaked documents are unlikely to cause America’s main European allies in Afghanistan to cut and run, as many European commentators are proposing.

What follows is a brief selection of media commentary from some of America’s main European allies in Afghanistan.

In Britain, the left-wing Guardian newspaper, in an opinion article titled "A History of Folly, From the Trojan Horse to Afghanistan", writes that “by recording failure in meticulous detail, the leaked war logs bear devastating witness to our incompetence. … The logs are shot through with the arrogance of the hi-tech warrior and the glee taken in murdering leaders from the air. If enough Taliban are killed, says the machine, the enemy must surely run out of men.”

The Economist magazine, in an opinion article titled “Afghanistan War Logs: At Least They Know the War Isn’t Going Well,” writes: “What the documents show is that the military’s internal intelligence doesn’t make the war look any better than it looks to the press and other outsiders. This will likely widen the gap between the necessarily optimistic official pronouncements of military commanders and the Obama administration, and the public’s assumptions about what those officials are telling each other in private. In other words, it’s likely to create an increased impression of hypocrisy on the part of officials who continue to proclaim that the war is going well and that its challenges are manageable.”

The business daily Financial Times, in an article titled “Leaked Files Raise Fresh Doubts on War” writes that there are “clear signs that the documents, while not strikingly revelatory, could fuel doubts on Capitol Hill and elsewhere about whether Pakistan or Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan can ever become reliable partners for the U.S.”

The left-wing tabloid Daily Mirror, in a commentary piece titled “WikiLeaks Exposes the Brutal Truth on Afghanistan,” writes: “Julian Assange is an oddball but he deserves a medal for exposing what’s really happening in Afghanistan. The 90,000 U.S. secret documents explode any lingering belief that modern warfare is like a giant computer game, smart bombs zapping the baddies. War is a dirty, nasty, grisly and degrading confrontation. ... A deadline must be set to bring home British forces from an unwinnable £4billion mission. Not 2014 or 15 but the end of next year, when the Canadians go, or 2012 at the latest.”

The center-right tabloid Daily Mail, in an article titled “Washing the Dirty Linen of a Dirty Conflict in Public Could Actually Save Lives,” writes: “The only way forward is for President Obama to start a political process, involving the Taliban and its leader Mullah Omar, which gives our departure a figleaf of dignity. If he fails to do this, he will betray his responsibility to his own people, to his allies and especially Britain, and to the Afghans. ... If we wait for military success before starting a political negotiation, a lot more good people will die uselessly. It is time to talk, and start packing.”

Many media outlets accuse the United States of covering up civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The Guardian, in an article titled “How U.S. Marines Sanitized Record of Bloodbath,” writes that “war logs show how Marines gave cleaned up accounts of incident in which they killed 19 civilians.”

The center-right Daily Telegraph, in an article titled “Wikileaks Afghanistan: Suggestions U.S. Tried to Cover up Civilian Casualties,” says “fresh evidence suggesting that U.S.-led forces attempted to cover up civilian casualties in Afghanistan has emerged through leaked military documents.”