Issue in Focus
Feb 14 2020
Describing how the Pentagon presented information to the American public about Afghanistan, Army Col. Bob Crowley, who served as senior counterinsurgency adviser in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, told investigators: “Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible. Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”
As memorable as the phrase “self-licking ice cream cone” is, it also reflects something that is deeply disturbing. Col. Bob Crowley gave this quote to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko. Created by Congress in 2008 to combat the usual waste, fraud, and abuse that accompanies any government spending program, SIGAR expanded its mission in 2014 to produce a “Lessons Learned” report that would diagnose the nation building policy failures in Afghanistan.
The Lessons Learned staff went on to more than 600 people with firsthand knowledge of the war in Afghanistan, including Col. Crowley. They produced seven reports concluding that the U.S. government greatly overestimated its ability to build and reform government institutions in Afghanistan.
But the most disturbing parts of the Lessons Learned project were not revealed until The Washington Post began using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the original interviews gathered to produce the reports. That is when the disturbing pattern of mistruths and falsifications became apparent. As Sopko told The Post, “The American people have constantly been lied to.”
I remember 9/11 as if it were yesterday. My daughter Eliza was a baby at the time. Shortly thereafter we undertook the war effort in Afghanistan. What we were told was there was a clear objective. The clear objective was to retaliate against al Qaeda and to make sure the Taliban was not strong enough to launch other attacks against the United States.
Since then 19 years have elapsed. My baby daughter Eliza is now in college. We’re still there. That war is still going on. The Taliban is still a thing. What is our objective?
When the United States has been in a war this long, when that war has cost us as many lives as it has, when it has cost us tens of thousands of casualties, when we’ve been lied to over and over again about what its purpose is we must conclude that there is no objective, that there is no end in sight.
Let’s get out. Nineteen years is too long. Let’s end it.