Pixel Tracker

Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 9:51 pm | Fair 36º

 
 
 
 

Joe Conason: Leaking to Avert Disaster

WikiLeaks papers reveal the war in Afghanistan must end with reconciliation rather than victory

The outpouring of tens of thousands of classified military documents by WikiLeaks is not precisely comparable to the publication of the Pentagon Papers — but in at least one crucial respect, it may be more valuable.

Joe Conason
Joe Conason

While the Pentagon Papers revealed the duplicity of American policy-makers in the senseless Vietnam War, their release came too late to save many lives or change the course of that conflict. The WikiLeaks disclosures may have arrived in time to influence policy and prevent disaster.

It is true that the lightly classified memoranda and cables in the WikiLeaks trove contain very few facts unknown to anybody who has followed the course of the war. We know that the Afghan conflict is complex and difficult, with a corrupt government in Kabul; a war-fighting policy that seems to alienate civilians while endangering our troops; and a Pakistani ally whose behavior and motives often seem questionable. And we should know that the Barack Obama administration inherited this troubled and perhaps impossible situation from President George W. Bush, whose decision to invade Iraq within a year after striking back at the Taliban may have been catastrophic.

But however responsible Bush is for the creation of this quandary, it is now Obama’s problem to solve. The usefulness of the WikiLeaks papers will lie in the debate they should inspire among political leaders and a public that neither supports the war nor demands withdrawal — with essential facts that ought to be understood by everyone.

First, the documents display the inglorious chaos of counterinsurgency warfare, especially the assassination program targeting militant Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. While that program has achieved some valuable “kills,” the specific accounts of civilian deaths, including small children, are deeply disturbing.

Although military leaders candidly remind us that civilian casualties are inevitable, the question raised here is whether the entire program is counterproductive. Or is it true, as advocates would claim, that using the drones and rockets actually reduces the collateral damage caused by more traditional methods of making war?

Second, it is critical to understand the price of this war in spent resources as well as lost lives. While the Bush administration squandered trillions of dollars in Iraq, without any perceptible benefit to U.S. security, the price of our involvement in Afghanistan was slowly accruing, as well. Neglect of the war effort there over the past nine years has undoubtedly raised that price.

How will the Obama administration — and the war’s supporters in the Republican Party, as well — define the war’s objectives so that its enormous human and fiscal cost will be justified?

Finally, the most important diplomatic aspect of the WikiLeaks documents is their confirmation of a story that has been published many times — namely, the American suspicion that Pakistani military intelligence is connected with central elements of the Taliban. The Pakistanis routinely deny this accusation, as they have long done, and the White House says this is old news that has been superseded by improved relations.

But nobody believes that Pakistan’s secret services have cut off the relationships with Afghan Islamist leaders that began during the war with the Soviet Union. Nor does anyone expect that they will, given the geopolitical realities of Pakistan’s ongoing conflict with India.

The ultimate issue raised by the relationship between Islamabad and the insurgency, as well as the parallel relationship between the insurgency and the Kabul government, is a simple question. If the Pakistanis can advance their interests by maintaining communications with the Taliban, and if the Afghans believe that they can do likewise, then why is the United States alone unable to open such talks?

A central principle of counterinsurgency warfare is that most conflicts are settled by negotiation and reconciliation rather than victory — and the WikiLeaks papers suggest that this complex and vexing war must be ended that way, too.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >