THE AFGHAN WAR AND PUBLIC OPINION: A COMMENT
"On Sunday, The New York Times and two other newspapers published summaries and excerpts of tens of thousands of documents leaked to a website known as WikiLeaks. The documents comprise a vast array of material concerning the war in Afghanistan. They range from tactical reports from small unit operations to broader strategic analyses of politico-military relations between the United States and Pakistan. It appears to be an extraordinary collection.
Tactical intelligence on firefights is intermingled with reports on confrontations between senior U.S. and Pakistani officials in which lists of Pakistani operatives in Afghanistan are handed over to the Pakistanis. Reports on the use of surface-to-air missiles by militants in Afghanistan are intermingled with reports on the activities of former Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, who reportedly continues to liaise with the Afghan Taliban in an informal capacity.
At first glance, it is difficult to imagine a single database in which such a diverse range of intelligence was stored, or the existence of a single individual cleared to see such diverse intelligence stored across multiple databases and able to collect, collate and transmit the intelligence without detection. Intriguingly, all of what has been released so far has been not-so-sensitive material rated secret or below. The Times reports that Gul’s name appears all over the documents, yet very few documents have been released in the current batch, and it is very hard to imagine intelligence on Gul and his organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, being classified as only secret. So, this was either low-grade material hyped by the media, or there is material reviewed by the selected newspapers but not yet made public. Still, what was released and what the Times discussed is consistent with what most thought was happening in Afghanistan.
The obvious comparison is to the Pentagon Papers, commissioned by the Defense Department to gather lessons from the Vietnam War and leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the Times during the Nixon administration. Many people worked on the Pentagon Papers, each of whom was focused on part of it and few of whom would have had access to all of it.
Ellsberg did not give the Times the supporting documentation; he gave it the finished product. By contrast, in the WikiLeaks case, someone managed to access a lot of information that would seem to have been contained in many different places. If this was an unauthorized leak, then it had to have involved a massive failure in security. Certainly, the culprit should be known by now and his arrest should have been announced. And certainly, the gathering of such diverse material in one place accessible to one or even a few people who could move it without detection is odd.
Like the Pentagon Papers, the WikiLeaks (as I will call them) elicited a great deal of feigned surprise, not real surprise. Apart from the charge that the Johnson administration contrived the Gulf of Tonkin incident, much of what the Pentagon Papers contained was generally known. Most striking about the Pentagon Papers was not how much surprising material they contained, but how little. Certainly, they contradicted the official line on the war, but there were few, including supporters of the war, who were buying the official line anyway....
The WikiLeaks seem to show that like sausage-making, one should never look too closely at how wars are fought, particularly coalition warfare. Even the strongest alliances, such as that between the United States and the United Kingdom in World War II, are fraught with deceit and dissension. London was fighting to save its empire, an end Washington was hostile to; much intrigue ensued. The U.S.-Pakistani alliance is not nearly as trusting. The United States is fighting to deny al Qaeda a base in Afghanistan while Pakistan is fighting to secure its western frontier and its internal stability. These are very different ends that have very different levels of urgency....
The WikiLeaks, from what we have seen so far, detail power, interest and reality as we have known it. They do not reveal a new reality. Much will be made about the shocking truth that has been shown, which, as mentioned above, shocks only those who wish to be shocked. The Afghan war is about an insufficient American and allied force fighting a capable enemy on its home ground and a Pakistan positioning itself for the inevitable outcome. The WikiLeaks contain all the details".
George Friedman, "WikiLeaks and the Afghan War," 27 July 2010 in www.stratfor.com
"Nearly 40 years ago, the US government was rocked by the publication of what came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers”. In one of the most remarkable leaks in American political history, the documents – a hitherto secret official history of the Vietnam war – were handed to the New York Times. The leak was devastating because it revealed that Lyndon Johnson’s administration had systematically lied over a number of years on aspects of the Vietnam conflict. It played a big role in turning US public opinion further against the Vietnam conflict.
Four decades on, the Obama administration has been hit by what, at first, seems no less remarkable a leak – this time over the way the US has prosecuted the war in Afghanistan. Some 75,000 US military logs have been disclosed, revealing the chaos and mayhem of a war that has had limited strategic success. As leaks go, it may well be the biggest in the history of US intelligence.
Leaked files raise fresh doubts on war - Jul-26Documents show darker side of conflict. Today’s disclosure has one thing in common with its famed predecessor: it comes at a moment of huge public disaffection with the course of the war. In June 1971, the US was 18 months away from its decision to withdraw from Vietnam. Today, President Obama may be moving towards a similar verdict on the ill-fated Afghan conflict. The very fact that such a vast quantity of secret documents has been leaked can only add to the impression that US war management is in disarray.
That, however, is where comparisons end. For in terms of their content, the leaks of 1971 and 2010 are different. The Pentagon Papers of 1971 were drawn up by officials at the heart of US policy-making – and publication exposed how the American people had been lied to. Today’s leaked despatches are low level intelligence reports that are more granular and scattered in their nature. They throw more light on how the Nato military effort has killed innocent civilians. They show how the Taliban has enhanced its insurgent capability. Above all, they indicate how the Pakistani intelligence services are playing a double game, backing the Nato effort while colluding with the Taliban. But there is little here that we did not know before.
Still, that should not diminish their significance. This trove is one more millstone round the neck of a US strategy which has this year seen rising fatalities and a change of commander. It adds more urgency to the question Mr Obama must soon answer. Can the US military effort continue? Or is it time for Plan B?"
Leader, "Afghanistan Leaks," 26 July 2010 in www.ft.com.
The voluminous leaks of American military cables from the Afghanistan theatre which have been very recently published by the Australian online journal, Wikileaks, has resulted in a great deal of comment in the American and European press and media. Much of it, of a nature similar to that of the bien-pensant leader in the Financial Times of Monday last. What is then one to make of this 'event'? Does it (AKA the leaks and the content revealed by the same): i) reveal to the general public anything which was not known previously? ii) can it be said to have a negative impact upon the support of the war effort in Europe and the United States? I venture to say that the answer to both of these queries is an emphatic 'non'. And, that the entire matter is merely an example in our decadent age of what the great Anglo-Irish poet once referred to as the tendency in modern life of:
'if folly link with elegance / no man knows which is which'
William Butler Yeats, 'The Old Stone Cross'.
In point of fact the entire episode is what in Braudelian terms would be called a 'mere event', une eventment. AKA, something of the most fleeting importance. All of the alleged revelations that the cables make mention of are of things such as that the Pakistani Military Intelligence was and is on a sub rosa basis providing assistance to elements of the Taliban. Such has been widely known for upwards of fifteen years now. Since, pace Ahmed Rashid and others, ipso facto the Taliban was created by Pakistani Military in the very first place. Similarly, it has been widely known and reported in the Western media that American Drone attacks have been killing innocent civilians in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also widely known is the fact that the Taliban have been undefeated on the battlefield by NATO forces.
As per our other contention: that the so-called revelations by WikiLeaks will result in a decline in the support for the War? This is both unlikely and unproven by events so far. Au fond, public 'support' for the war, has been soft by its nature. No NATO country is sending draftees to Afghanistan. And, in point of fact there are only three or four countries besides the Americans whose troops can actually be said to be engaged in real combat in that country. Given the relatively low rates of casualties (as compared to say those of the Vietnam War), and, the relatively low cost of the war (in GDP terms again as compared to the Vietnam War), it is difficult to see that public opinion, per se, will suddenly in the absence of any other strong outside variable cause a change in the current American strategy. What may, and, indeed is I believe the only variable which might result in a change in the current American strategy, is a change in elite, American opinion about the war. Something which is of course the vrai raison as to why the USA decided to quit the Vietnam debacle in the Spring of 1968. As per the accounts of both Dean Acheson and Townsend Hoopes clearly show. The publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1970, had little to do with this decision as the chronology clearly shows. Similarly, it is quite likely that come say 2012 or 2013, that the current or any future American Administration will decided that it is time indeed to 'cut our losses', and regardless of the consequences both regionally and elsewhere as well as the prestige factor, to follow a policy (in the words of Churchill) of 'Scuttle'. However, make no mistake, if such a thing does indeed occur, it will not be because of this WikiLeaks episode. All this evenment shows is that there is still a need for the employment of Lettres de Chachet in our day and age.