Lies have become as much a weapon of war as guns or bullets. In every conflict fought by American soldiers since Vietnam, generals and politicians have found it necessary — or convenient or politically expedient — to hide the truth from the American people by obfuscating, exaggerating, or obscuring an accurate assessment of the progress — or lack thereof — being made in prosecuting the war.
But why is that? Are the American people really all that fragile that support for the war and for our troops would disappear with a dose of reality?
Certainly, hiding some truths from the enemy is necessary. But listening to John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, you would think that even the most mundane information is spun by PR flaks at the Pentagon to make it appear all in Afghanistan is a bed of roses.
All that’s missing are GI’s handing out chocolate bars to the orphans.
“I’m inspector general for reconstruction, not for how well a job we did on the warfighting, but on the training in the military we look at … there was a disconnect almost from my first trip over there,” Sopko told Congress yesterday.
In response to a question from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Elliot Engel about the so-called “Afghanistan Papers,” published last month by the Washington Post, Sopko said, “The problem is there is a disincentive really, to tell the truth.”
“We have created an incentive to almost require for people to lie,” Sopko said. “I don’t want to sound like something from Burl Ives in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but there is an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue … mendacity and hubris.”
You’d think after 20 years of war the Pentagon would get it right. Instead, the changing nature of command appears to be making the problem worse.
The reason neither the president nor the Congress nor the American people get the unvarnished truth, Sopko says, is that every new commander sent to Afghanistan has a mission to show success. It’s not so much that they are lying to us, but that they are lying to themselves.
“You create from the bottom up, an incentive because of short time frames, you’re there for six months, nine months or year to show success. That gets reported up the chain and before you know it, the president is talking about a success that doesn’t exist,” Sopko testified. “I think that’s a good issue to look at — not whether there was lying, but why? And what does that tell us about the way we do business? Whether it’s in Afghanistan or maybe here in the United States.”
To his credit, Donald Trump is trying to get the U.S. out of Afghanistan, to bring to troops home, and leave the country to the Afghans. But like LBJ and Vietnam, even the minimal requirements for withdrawal are being blocked by the enemy. Even talking to the Taliban is proving to be difficult. And getting the elected Afghan government to sit at the same table with their enemy is proving to be a lot more troublesome than previously imagined.
Any kind of ceasefire may help bring Afghan officials into the peace process, as it would presumably require a matching commitment from Afghan security forces to temporarily lay down arms.
“The signals from Doha point toward the Taliban edging closer to a deal with the Americans that would kickstart a peace process,” said Graeme Smith, senior consultant with the International Crisis Group.
“The Taliban have not launched a major urban attack anywhere in the country for two months. Such a calibrated pause is highly unusual. While insurgent attacks continue in rural areas, this suggests the Taliban do not want to spoil the ongoing diplomacy.”
The peace process is not immune to the same sort of prevarications that the Pentagon is known for. Peace is always “right around the corner” in any recent war we’ve fought. Whatever solution is found to end Afghanistan’s agony and allow U.S. soldiers to finally leave will not fulfill any of the promises made by presidents Bush or Obama — that much is certain to be true.