I want to continue commenting on that conversation between Bill Maher and Craig Whitlock because Maher actually has a darker view of the war than even Whitlock has. According to Maher, talking about the incredible sums of money wasted by the Americans in Afghanistan,
“We went there to spend that money. That is where the money was. We wanted to spend that money! “In wars like that money just disappears in giant caseloads of cash. Of course, you’re going to have defense contractors and everybody else say let’s go to the place where the money is. That’s where no one is keeping track of it”
That’s what wars are for. A Hole in the ground into which you throw money. And bodies of course. What puzzles me (a bit) is why conservatives don’t object to that. Conservatives hate government wasting money and nowhere do they waste more of it than in wars.
Yet amazingly, Whitlock says,
“It’s even worse than you think. The documents we got for the Afghanistan papers with testimonials from people who were there in Afghanistan–army officers aid workers etc. said, ‘We were spending money so fast we didn’t know what to do with it. We are building schools when there is no need for it. We built projects that were ghost projects. We were just throwing money at it to say we could do it, even though the whole time they knew it wouldn’t work.”
If you had ever read that brilliant novel, by Joseph Heller, Catch 22, which I thought perfectly described the insanity of war, you would realize this war was much worse. According to Whitlock, “18% of the money went to the Taliban.” And this was before the Taliban was gifted all the military hardware by the retreating American armed forces! Afghanistan was a giant protection racket. You could not move around without paying off the Taliban.
According to Whitlock, there was a racket where one brother was in charge of building a bridge which the Americans paid for and then it was blown up by the Taliban that was led there in that town by the brother of the official who was in charge of building the bridge. As soon as it was blown up he asked the Americans for more money to replace it and they did exactly that. According to Whitlock, “that was kind of Afghanistan in a nutshell.”
Surprisingly, Maher gave credit to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush because they did what Conservatives say they never do, they cut and ran. Reagan in Beirut ran because he said basically, ‘these guys are nuts.’ George H. W. Bush did the same thing in the first Iraq war. He got his limited job done by getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, the country he invaded, and then refused to follow him deeper into Iraq. Many claimed he did not finish the job. How many years and lives and dollars would it have taken to “finish the job?” No, he cut and ran. It was the right thing to do. I agree. Finishing the job would have resulted in another “forever war,” like Afghanistan.
President George W. Bush was asked if the Americans would get stuck in Afghanistan as they had been in Vietnam. Bush, confidently said on national TV, ‘of course not, we learned our lesson in Vietnam. We also learned from the Russians who got stuck there.’ Both dumb wars. Then, despite what Bush said, the Americans got stuck there for more than twice as long as the Russians were there and longer than they were stuck in Vietnam. They might have avoided it if they had more modest goals like George H.W. Bush in the first Iraq War. Nowhere is humility more important, yet rarer, than in wars.
Even in 2021, when President Biden wanted to pull out of Afghanistan many in Washington still wanted Americans to stay longer, even after 20 years there. The leaving was a debacle, no doubt about that, but at least they got out.
Obama was right, let’s avoid dumb wars. And that is almost all wars.