“We spent about 2.3 trillion dollars on this war. Two trillion of it went directly to US contractors. So while this was a horrible war for many people, some people got very rich off of this war. The contractors’ stocks went through the roof. There was a 1,500 percent return on their stock prices during these 20 years. A lot of profits were made in this war selling the kind of products that the US government would buy, but not what the Afghan people actually needed.” — Joe Cirincione
Today we continue our Reflections on Afghanistan series, interviewing those with a deeper story to tell than the superficial narrative offered up by establishment sources.
Reading about Afghanistan now, it’s heartbreaking to see the consequences of the return of the Taliban to power. After the deaths of over two thousand of our soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghans, the country is basically back to where it was before we invaded in 2001.
Already, DC elite are pointing theirs fingers at others, everyone is trying to cover for their mistakes, and some major players in the war effort over the years remain conspicuously silent. The unspoken “I guess we fucked up” is deafening.
For obvious reasons, many who led the war effort would prefer we not look too deeply into exactly what happened. Yet we must. The Afghanistan debacle turned out to be an eerie re-enactment of the tragic stupidity of Vietnam, and if we don’t learn from this now then it’s reasonable to assume another re-enactment lurks just around the corner.
The problem isn’t simply about irresponsible leaders, profits for the defense industry, or corruption within the Afghan government. The problem is also our military paradigm: the way we rely on brute force as the sole conduit of problem-solving in situations where brute force alone does less good, and can do more harm, than would an integrative approach to the problem. We destroyed things in Afghanistan, but we created very little. We waged war, but we did not wage peace. Even worse, most of the people who were leading the effort wouldn’t have a clue what any of that means.
Ah, how fooled we are by fancy military uniforms and expensive pinstriped suits. Wouldn’t you have an expensive suit if you were a highly paid defense industry lobbyist? The costumes add to the glamour, the illusion that any of those people necessarily knew anything at all about what was really going on among the people of Afghanistan, or gave anything but a passing thought to the moral implications of the war.
My guest for this episode of Conversations with Marianne is Joe Cirincione, a distinguished fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in Washington DC. Previously Joe worked for the US House of Representatives on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Government Operations. I first knew Joe because of his work on nuclear issues, a topic I look forward to discussing with him further in another episode. He’s a great guy and this is an important conversation.
In our conversation we talk about Afghanistan, the military industrial complex, President Biden, Pakistan, China, and more. The only way we’re going to transform the world is if we stop farming out our thinking, and our conscience. Don’t think these subjects are things other people should think about, but not you. That’s the kind of thinking that got us here. Let’s change our thinking about the power of citizenship so that citizens can change the world.
The audio of the interview: