Reaching the limits of our endurance in Afghanistan
We have it all wrong. We did not learn from our mistakes. There were countless signs of a complete unraveling, and now it has been undone. First there was the Rolling Stone article that broke the story about the division in the chain of command. Our military did not have confidence in our political leaders, and they were publicly voicing their concern. McChrystral was swiftly fired in one of Obama’s most decisive actions at the White House.
Tonight, it just got a whole lot worse. In just a few hours, Americans will wake up to news that exposes the most damaging evidence about our entire military operation. On Sunday, formerly classified military documents became public, and as the scope of our failures become evident to the world, they will hopefully force Obama to make swift decisions about how we end the war. The report, in exhaustive first hand accounts, details Pakistan’s involvement with the Taliban, the use of heat seeking missiles by the Taliban against Allied Forces, Afghan police raping and killing civilians, and many more gruesome, and incredibly embarrassing details. In addition, there are damaging examples of American troops being completely unprepared for enemy fire, without the proper resources to fight back. The New York Times takes the liberty to conclude, and it does not take an advanced analysis to decipher, that after $300 billion dollars spent on the war, the Taliban has never been stronger.
How bad does it need to get before change happens? Imagine if there was a draft or everyone above a certain age had to join the military. Would this war still exist? Would young American soldiers be tossed into the front-lines of the battlefield without the proper equipment or necessary intelligence to defend themselves? It is clear now, more than ever, that we are not safer. To think of all the lives that were lost in the name of protecting our country. Imagine waking up tomorrow, a parent of a soldier who was lost while participating in Operation Enduring Freedom, and seeing this report. How would you feel? Your son died, and you were told it was to help protect our country, but after almost a decade of fighting, we are actually in a worst position.
Almost forty years ago, another damaging report was released by the New York Times. In the Pentagon Papers, the report makes clear that several U.S administrations had deliberately deceived the American people, escalated the war, and lied about bombings, amongst many other damaging details. Our president and many others, who Americans trusted to have their best interest, was lying. In a reflection piece from twenty five years after the Pentagon papers were released, Time Magazine discussed what Americans should take away from these reports:
If the Government and the public come to understand the atmosphere, the pressures, the false and strained hopes, and the futile decisions that pervade the whole secret history of Vietnam, the wrong decisions may not be made again — or at least not so easily.”
How did the wrong decisions get made so easily once again? In an article by Neal Gabler in the Boston Globe on Sunday, he outlines a theory for these poor decisions: a case of the Best and the Brightest part 2.0. The term, which stems from David Halberstam’s award winning book, which describes how government officials who came from the wealthiest backgrounds and attended the most prestigious schools, led us into the war in Vietnam, and gave us all the wrong advice, should be part of the conversation again. As Gabler writes,
Like The Best and the Brightest 1.0, these folks — guys like Larry Summers, outgoing budget director Peter Orszag, and Tim Geithner, on the economic side; and William J. Lynn 3d, deputy secretary of defense, and James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, on the foreign side — are Ivy-educated, confident, and implacable realists and rationalists. Like their forebears, they have all the answers, which is why they have been so unaccommodating of other suggestions on the economy, where economists have been pressing them for more stimulus, or on Afghanistan, where the president keeps doubling down his bets.
We all understand that change is difficult, but there are no excuses anymore. What we are doing in Afghanistan is not working, and now more than ever, our president needs to learn from the history books, and dramatically change the course of action.