Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Things You Can't Say About Afghanistan

Tom Ricks offers a list of "19 true things generals can't say in public about the Afghan war".

Honestly, some of them are common sense - even if a general wants to make a political statement about a military venture, he shouldn't have reached that rank without internalizing the limits on what he can say while in uniform. If you want to become a critic of a war, retire first. Some of the points seem a bit tendentious - more an assertion of controversial opinion than statements of fact. But on the whole, despite so claims such as "the exit deadline is killing us", the overwhelming majority of the "truths" suggest that we aren't achieving our goals, that we don't know how to achieve our goals, even if we could articulate goals and ways to achieve them the goals would be arbitrary and we wouldn't have any meaningful way of measuring progress, and despite the sense that bad things might happen after we depart all we're doing by staying is forestalling the inevitable. Case in point:
We don't know why we are here, what we are fighting for, or how to know if we are winning.
I understand why generals (along with members of the military in general, and pretty much every person in the country) want to "win",1 and that an updated version of "victory with honor" will still be chalked up as a loss in our column, but if a decade into the game the generals are as confused and conflicted as the list suggests it is difficult to view remaining in Afghanistan as an attempt to "win" as opposed to an unwillingness to face reality.
1. Excessive scare quotes, perhaps, but the concepts of what constitutes "truth" and what it would mean "win" within this context are not as well-defined as the terms themselves would suggest.

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