by Pa RockJust as the Pentagon Papers exposed massive amounts of subterfuge on the part of our government in misleading the American public about our reasons for being in Vietnam, the release this week of over 90,000 classified military documents by Wikileaks appears set to rock the foundations of our current misadventure in the Middle East.
I claim no geopolitical expertise in Middle Eastern politics or U.S. military strategies, but I do know that we invaded Iraq without cause (other than to bolster George Bush's pissy ego), and we have been chasing Osama bin Laden (or doing whatever) in Afghanistan for nearly a decade and appear to be in worse shape now than we were going in. We are apparently trying to nation-build around a despot, an objective that is laughable on its face and puts thousands of young American troops squarely at risk from several quarters.
It should have gone like this: establish a plan with clear and achievable goals, execute the plan, achieve the goals, and get the hell out. Unfortunately, ten years in, our goals are ill-defined and subject to change depending on who happens to be leading our war effort at the moment, and what President Karzai had for breakfast on that particular day.
The synopsis of the massive pile of documents indicates that our "ally" in the region, Pakistan, has been cooperating with the Taliban on a fairly open basis, thus thwarting our aims with regard to Afghanistan. Lower level officers, the ones who wrote many of the memos that were released by Wikileaks, knew of this duplicity on the part of Pakistani officials, and they blew the whistle loud, long, and often. Unfortunately our government failed to do anything about the warnings from our troops in the field.
And now our government is outraged by this massive leak of classified documents. Embarrassment is a powerful force.
Why were these missives from the field classified in the first place? Was it to protect lives and safeguard sensitive information that would be critical to the war effort, or was it to bury this intelligence that ran counter to what our government wanted to officially know? My estimation is that it was a burial, and now our government is going nuts because the corpse has been dug up and put on public display.
It's time that we got our act together with regard to Afghanistan. President Karzai has his own agenda, and he is not vested in to concept of creating a democratic state. The country is still largely a feudal realm comprised of tribes with no allegiance to one another or to the concept of a single state. The British threw it together like a really bad crazy quilt. The Soviets tried to subdue it but failed. And now it looks like we are caught up on the same merry-go-round and will fall off, probably sooner rather than later.
What were our goals going in? The stated objective was to capture Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice for his part in the attacks of September 11, 2001. That goal quickly went by the wayside and seemed to morph into some nation-building venture. There was then an influx of western oil companies rushing into the region to sign agreements to handle Middle Eastern oil. There was also talk of securing new oil routes out of the region. Were we there, and are we still there, to serve as a security force for the oil industry? Is one of our primary missions simply to use up armaments and ordinance as fast as possible in order to keep the arms merchants living in luxury?
Or how about drugs? The primary economy of Afghanistan is based on the opium poppy, and the fields are literally everywhere. Heroin derived from the opium poppy is a major drug issue in this country. We fight the Taliban for the freedom of the Afghan people, and at the same time we allow our own citizens to be enslaved by easy access to drugs that have their origins in the fields of Afghanistan. Have we torched one poppy field during the decade that we have been in Afghanistan? Have we?
The war in Afghanistan has been a hard slog with minimal positive results. Perhaps the best outcome has been that many girls and women have had the opportunity to go to school and live as free human beings. Maybe that is an outcome that is worth the time, and money, and blood that we have sacrificed there. If it is, let's say so. Make that the goal, declare it achieved, and try to build support in the world community for protecting those cultural advances.
But we can't be the sole policing force in Afghanistan or Iraq. We can't go door-to-door, house-to-house to weed out dissidents forever. Karzai doesn't want a true democracy. The Taliban is in the hills waiting patiently to return in triumph. And then there is always our "friends' in Pakistan.
Wikileaks has performed a necessary function of informing the public about the Pakistani agenda in Afghanistan, much as Daniel Ellsberg did forty years ago in giving us insight into LBJ's rationale for being in Vietnam.
A little sunshine is a good thing.