by Randolph T. Holhut
August 6, 2010
THE WAR AGAINST SECRETS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Some have argued that there's little that's new about the U.S. war on Afghanistan in last week's document dump by WikiLeaks. These people are wrong.
The release of 92,000 pages of classified material chronicling how the Afghan war was waged by the United States and its NATO allies between from 2004 through 2009 contains plenty of damning material that shows how this rat hole of a war is rapidly sucking down our blood and treasure with little to show for it.
The New York Times called it "an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal."
The Guardian of Great Britain described the documents as "a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and NATO commanders fear neighboring Pakistan and Iran are fueling the insurgency."
Germany's Der Speigel said that "never before has it been possible to compare the reality on the battlefield in such a detailed manner with what the U.S. Army propaganda machinery is propagating."
These three publications, which were all given first crack at the documents by WikiLeaks, are being understated in their portrayal of what's in them. It is the journal of an unwinnable war, written by the men and women who are fighting it, and the words written by these soldiers are completely at odds with the spin provided by our government.
That the war in Afghanistan is going far worse than has been previously claimed is not shocking. As columnist Glen Greenwald wrote for Salon.com last week, "this leak is not unlike The Washington Post series from the [previous] week: the broad strokes were already well-known, but the sheer magnitude of the disclosures may force more public attention on these matters than had occurred previously."
That's why the Obama Administration condemned the release of these documents, but their claims of national security being threatened are bogus. According to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a small amount of information has been withheld from publication because it might endanger local informants or give away genuine military secrets.
"We are not pacifists. We are transparency activists who understand that transparent government tends to produce just government," Assange said last week on the news program "Democracy Now!" "That is our modus operandi behind our whole organization: to get out suppressed information into the public where the press and the public and our nation's politics can work on it to produce better outcomes," Assange said.
But that's the last thing that the White House, and the Pentagon, want to see. That's why they are so afraid that the propaganda game is over and that the American people - whose support for the Afghan war is waning by the week - might find out the truth about how badly things are going and starting pushing for a quick withdrawal of American forces.
At the same time, the U.S. House last week voted in favor of $59 billion measure to fund President Obama's additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan and other programs. The final vote was 308-114, with 12 Republicans and 102 Democrats voting in opposition. With the new war spending, the total amount of money that Congress has allotted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 surpasses $1 trillion.
Yet for all that money and all that manpower, little progress is being made. More American soldiers are dying than ever before. The Taliban controls more territory and are using more roadside bombs and hitting more convoys and bases, even in Kabul. Our supposed allies in Pakistan are helping the Taliban, and al-Qaida has decamped from Afghanistan and is setting up shop in Asia and various parts of Africa such as Yemen and Somalia. A recent poll of Pakistanis showed only 11 percent of them think of us as allies; more than half consider America their enemy.
Afghan civilians are still being killed indiscriminately by aerial and land bombardments. The training of Afghan security forces is not going well, and they are said to be too incompetent and corrupt to do their jobs. And the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai still lacks any legitimacy.
These are all things that have happened since the time period covered by WikiLeaks. President Obama can't blame them on the Bush Administration. He owns this record, yet he and his Administration seem more worried about WikiLeaks than the growing stench of failure surrounding this war.
As Defense Secretary Robert Gates said a few days ago, "I think we need to re-emphasize the message that we are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011." That deadline, set by President Obama for the start of a withdrawal of U.S. forces, has become meaningless - especially after reports that plans to hand over security to Afghan forces by the end of this year have been dropped.
And, in case you were wondering about Iraq, President Obama is reportedly getting ready to go back on his promise to withdraw U.S. combat brigades from that country by the end of this month. There will still be 50,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq come Sept. 1, but they will be called "advisory and assistance brigades," and - surprise! - they'll still be carrying out combat missions as needed.
So, it looks more and more like American involvement in Afghanistan (and Iraq) is not going to end any time soon, no matter how bleak the chances are for anything remotely resembling success.
This kind of duplicity is why we need more, not fewer, leaks of material on the U.S. and NATO war effort in Afghanistan. It will take lot of work to change the minds of those who still believe the Afghan war is winnable, and secrecy only enables and strengthens them.
AR Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years, and this publication's leading contributor for 13 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.