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Anyone with a conscience watching events unfold in Afghanistan must be heartbroken. Many of us are wishing there was more effective action we could take in this troubling time. Sadly, in the midst of this crisis, there is really little we can do to enhance the security and freedom of the Afghan people. But, if we draw the wrong lessons from this tragedy, we will likely repeat this mistake with similar dangerous results.
People in America are coming to understand the impacts of allowing the Big Lie (that the last election was stolen) to go unchecked. We are starting to wake up to the ongoing threat of political violence because of how we dealt with the aftermath of the January 6th attack on the US Capitol. We must also wake up to the horror brought by acceptance of the Long Deceit.
Decade after decade, administration after administration, our leaders lied to us. The Afghanistan Papers received much less sustained attention than the Pentagon Papers. Many brave reporters have given us powerful insights into how the reality of our longest war never matched the spin from the top. The headline that ran with the Washington Post report read, “A secret history of the war - at war with the truth. U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it." The Long Deceit was paid for by the American taxpayers but perpetrated by leaders who are supposed to serve us. Instead, the top political leadership of both the Democratic and Republican parties sold us a lie (not bad intelligence, not a mistake, but a pattern of deceit) that they knew was far from the truth we deserved. We were told again and again that our nation’s sacrifice in blood and treasure was worth it because we were building a stable government in Afghanistan. This was always a mirage.
Informed consent is as essential to democracy as the peaceful transfer of power, but it is not possible without accurate information. When our leaders lie to us, they are creating the illusion of consent not allowing informed citizens to make our voices heard.
The so-called experts showed limited respect for local traditions in Afghanistan and pompously suggested that we could impose our model of governance on a complex, ancient, and proud people. The Long Deceit supported a policy that was never going to work. Whether we had left ten years ago, or ten years from now, the outcome would have been similar because we were never building peace, just a house of cards propped up by our military might. The illusion of US-supported government stability was toppled with such speed because it was never real.
We must now recognize that this combination of ignorance and arrogance comes back to bite us (and those we say we care about) repeatedly. Some have wrongly suggested that the US military is leaving Afghanistan because our nation is “war weary.” No, our people are instead becoming “war wise.” That is, bit by bit, failure by failure, we are starting to see the limitations of our vast military power.
I served as executive director of Veterans for Peace (I’m a veteran organizer, not a military vet). The proud veterans I worked with often spoke about their powerful journeys from enthusiastic recruits through painful personal and often tragic experiences that taught them to doubt the whole war system. Our massive military-industrial complex has become a machine that feeds on itself and all of us - spending taxpayer money on lobbying to secure even more taxpayer money. And, they do this while knowingly lying to us. The results are predictable. Massive defense contractors line their own pockets and those of their former military allies serving on their Boards while sowing the seeds of violence all over the world.
Beware the experts who will be trotted out in the coming days. Remember that many of these same people were strong advocates for our disastrous wars. Those with a vested interest in keeping us addicted to enemies and keeping the dirty money flowing through the revolving door they personally benefit from will foolishly suggest that the problems of Afghanistan could have been solved if we just devoted a few more years, a few more billions of dollars, and a few more lives of those they purport to represent. No, the very real challenges of Afghanistan could never be solved by more Americans with guns. These experts will quickly attempt to define the limits of acceptable debate focusing solely on the troubling withdrawal process. Let’s remember to also consider how we got to this point in the first place. We must reflect on the power of the Long Deceit. They told us we were building a stable unified nation. Nonsense.
Many seem to want to believe that our vast military power is some kind of healing balm that can build stable societies and cure the world’s ills. Instead, our weapons are very good at destroying buildings and killing people, but we never were building peace, or justice, or respect for women’s rights in Afghanistan. We were attempting to impose our model of governance in an arrogant manner that clearly illustrated we lacked the ability to learn from our previous well-documented mistakes.
Let this terrible moment - and the painful tragedy yet to come - be a wake up call. Administration after administration promoted the Long Deceit. We must attempt to finally learn the clear and important lesson. War doesn’t work to establish peaceful, functioning, democratic societies. Imagine if the same amount of money, ingenuity, and effort had been put towards fighting the climate crisis. We would have done much more to build real and lasting peace and to enhance our own security.
I hope we can honor our veterans by making sure we never make the same mistakes again. It is time for those who oppose the Big Lie to speak out against the equally dangerous Long Deceit.
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness...What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction...And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory." -- Howard Zinn