Afghanistan a Predictable Disaster
On Sunday, August 15th, the Taliban took over Kabul and won the war in Afghanistan. The war with the United States and a few allied countries, that is. Years earlier, they had won the war with Russia. Our TV news media showed helicopters coming and going from the American embassy like bees swarming around their nest, clouds of smoke from burning documents, and American personnel rushing to get onto a plane and fly home before the airport is overrun. Videos from that airport show swarms of Afghan citizens hoping to escape to a place where their assistance to the American forces might not be a death sentence. A bevy of grim State Department spokesmen have quietly insisted this was not another Saigon evacuation, but the resemblance was unmistakable.
About a year ago, the Washington Post revealed a trove of documents indicating that our military and intelligence leaders had systematically misled the president, congress, and the American people about the war in Afghanistan. Approximately 2,442 American soldiers died, along with a number of “contracted civilians” estimated to be more than double that number. Can you say mercenaries? It is estimated that the Pentagon employs more than 600,000 contractor companies. Eighteen generals were sent to command the war, and none of them was successful… at winning the war. Most of them, however, were successful at gaining promotions, plush Pentagon offices, or seats on the board of defense contractors.
On September 10, 2001 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney told a press conference that “according to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 Trillion in transactions” by the Department of Defense. America’s adversary, Rumsfeld warned, was not China or Russia. “It’s closer to home: It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy.” Those statements might have attracted more attention in the press had not the next day’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon happened. Perhaps it was a mistake to undertake a “War on Terror” when what was really needed was a “war on error” in the Pentagon.
The Pentagon has never been audited, but cursory investigations have found that more than $21 Trillion (approximately equal to our pre-Covid national debt!) are inexplicably missing, mostly due to “unsupported adjustments.” The first-ever Pentagon audit failed in 2017, according to the auditors, because the records were “riddled with so many bookkeeping deficiencies, irregularities, and errors that a reliable audit was simply impossible.” A Forbes magazine investigation found “stonewalling and concealment” and unsupported and unexplained adjustments totaling 54 times the level of spending authorized by Congress. In 2015 the army was allocated $122 billion, but the Treasury Department made a cash deposit of $794.8 billion to the army’s account, an amount greater than the Pentagon’s entire military appropriation for the year. At the same time, army records showed accounts payable, or bills due, amounting to $929.3 billion. A July 2016 report by the Department of Defense’s own inspector general found that the Pentagon’s Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) based in Indianapolis could not account for $6.5 Trillion in 2015.
A few years ago, West Point announced it was discontinuing its ethics classes. I can’t help but wonder what they are teaching now. Tim Bakken, a civilian instructor at the academy for twenty years, has shed some light on the situation in his recent book The Cost of Loyalty. He characterizes the environment at West Point as rife with fabricated admissions data (favoring sports stars), rampant cheating, epidemics of sexual assault, archaic curriculums, and shoddy teaching. Still, our military academies produce officers who maintain their privileges at any cost. The “good ol’ boy” network of West Point grads is a very exclusive elite pervaded by chronic deceit, Bakken writes, and its insular culture elevates blind loyalty above all other values. Profiteers and crooks are never held accountable.
A recent survey indicated that our military is the most admired entity in America today. That’s curious in a society that heaps so much value on winning the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup, or an Olympic medal. Our military has not won a meaningful conflict since World War II. I am a Vietnam veteran, and I appreciate the lower-ranked personnel, but not the Generals and Admirals, or the heads of those contracted companies, all of whom are riding a gravy train that is carrying our country toward financial and moral bankruptcy. I favor cutting our “Defense” budget in half, providing for education and health care, and paying down the national debt.
John Ketwig is the author of …and a hard rain fell: A G.I.’s True Story of the War in Vietnam.
(Macmillan, 1985) and Vietnam Reconsidered: The War, the Times, and Why They Matter (Trine Day, 2019).