"In war, truth is the first casualty."
-- Aeschylus 525-456 BC
As reported by the BBC this month, the Taliban have rejected an offer by the newly installed President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, of Cabinet positions and governorships in three Afghan provinces. The provinces include Helmand and Kandahar, where thousands of American and Western troops have been killed and wounded, particularly since 2009 when President Obama chose to escalate the war in Afghanistan rather than seeking a political solution to end the war.
Five years on and Afghan civilian and security force casualties are at record highs, the Taliban is larger and stronger than it has been at any point since 2001, government and police corruption is massively untamed, and Afghans last year were subjected to their third incredibly fraudulent national election in five years. In fact, the only thing going well for anyone in Afghanistan, besides the Taliban and those on the take of Western foreign aid, are the bumper narcotics crops, which each year produce historic yields.
The Taliban, having been offered power in their home region, have spurned any opportunities for reconciliation and compromise. "Moderates" within the Taliban, whom we could have negotiated with in 2008 and 2009 prior to President Obama's escalation of the war, have been proven wrong and largely eliminated. The hard-line elements of the Taliban, having seen the Taliban weather the full force of the United States of America, see history as repeating itself or, at the very least, rhyming. Like the departure of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, it is now just a question of time before the foreign backed regime in Kabul collapses. Time, among many other factors, was always on the side of the Afghan insurgents.
The Taliban are now in a position to enter and leave negotiations, as they would like, while U.S. leverage continues to diminish in Afghanistan. Our leverage is solely valued by whom we can buy with our money or place in the sights of our weapons. Such leverage was never politically sustainable for very long for the United States.
Frighteningly, as the war continues its devastation of the Afghan people, things may be about to get worse. An axiom of war is that war is uncontrollable, that war is a breeding ground of unintended consequences, and should be accorded such respect. A war begun in Iraq on the non-existent ties between the Iraqis and al-Qaeda succeeded in creating an al-Qaeda branch that never existed until American troops set foot on Iraqi soil. Now, in a cruel twist, one that future Americans will recall with much historical chagrin, the Islamic State, the successor of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is now in operation in Afghanistan. Yet, somehow, the White House, maybe so not to abuse the public perception of the sacrifices of American troops, even as it so wantonly mangled their bodies, minds and souls, declares the war in Afghanistan to have been a success.
By these following marks we should judge the last decade and one half of American war: Direct costs of the post 9/11 wars, per a recent Congressional Research Service report, are greater than $1.6 trillion, of which only 6 percent went to non-military efforts. According to Harvard University, indirect and continuous costs of the wars, including care for veterans, will cost $4-6 trillion over our lifetimes. Already the United States government has paid more than $270 billion in interest payments on debt accumulated for these wars; by 2022 we will have spent $1 trillion in interest alone on the wars. Over 6,000 Americans have been killed and another 50,000 physically wounded. Based on Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs data one quarter million service members suffer from traumatic brain injuries, while the number of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, moral injury, depression and substance abuse numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Correspondingly, at least two veterans of the Afghan and Iraq Wars kill themselves each day, while, according to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 30 percent of Afghan and Iraq vets have contemplated killing themselves. Do the math and you quickly realize more of our soldiers have killed themselves after coming home than were killed by any enemy overseas; a tragedy that won't stop filling veteran cemeteries until this generation of veterans, of which I am one, dies off. Yet the president last night had the gall -- decorum and manners prevent a more explicit and true description of the president's words -- to state not just victory in our wars, wars whose purpose I can only find in the sustainment of a $1 trillion a year national security complex and in the prompting of standing ovations for politicians, but to take credit for the great and loving care American veterans are receiving, a farcical reality conjured up by President Obama's speechwriters.
For such costs we have reaped the forlorn situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, all civil wars with no resolutions in sight; wars that feed parasitic extremist terror groups, like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. And our Global War On Terror? Well, this month we heard from administration officials that Paris is not safe enough for an American leader to visit...
At President Obama's behest, as indicated in his State of the Union Address, Congress will soon take up authorizing further American war in the Middle East. Based upon previous years of debate in Congress and on the campaign trail, little attention will be paid by our elected leaders to the real costs and failed results of our war policies and continued war will be authorized. We should, in turn, expect nothing to change except the numbers of the dead, primarily at home through the barrel of a gun in a veteran's mouth, the gross of money wasted while our poor suffer and the middle class disappears, and, perhaps, another city or two off limits to U.S. presidents. Of course, too, we should expect more lies, because what is war if nothing else than lies? But what we should not expect is acknowledgement of the realities of war as such talk does not engender standing ovations at the State of the Union for this or any other president.