It seems that US efforts to build up Afghan security forces are now classified. The report of the decision to withhold information on the mission of the US military in support of Afghan forces comes at a very interesting time. Granted, Afghans must now defend their country after the official end of US military involvement and subsequent US troop withdrawals and they may still need help. But the report comes at a very interesting time in the annals of the US in Afghanistan. It comes alongside an announcement that a long time USAID contractor who was given large amounts of funding for work in Afghanistan has been suspended pending investigations into its use, or rather, alleged misuse, of that federal funding.
It seems that assistance to Afghan forces, assistance that will cost US taxpayers and families a high price in potential casualties and loss of further treasure, must now be classified, although one is hard pressed to find a sound reason anywhere in the report for the decision.
Classified, as in no one can see what is going on in a place already fraught with allegations of massive corruption and a track record of failed programs that have made the US look less than effective in its foreign policies. Classified, meaning the American people cannot know what is going on.
It may indeed be reasonable to insist that Afghanistan still needs US assistance in moving forward and that the Afghan security forces are not quite ready to do it on their own. It is an argument that has been made for the last decade, one that never seems to change in a country that cannot even easily form a government that can hope to function and which has allowed many of the projects that the international community brought to it to fall into disrepair. Afghanistan is Afghanistan, after all. That one-liner is used by both Afghans and ex pats who have worked there and is usually followed by that knowing and cynical smile reserved for the ultra-wise of this world.
But here’s the thing: if information on the US efforts to build up security in Afghanistan can be classified, then information on US efforts to assist in the security of other troubled countries, of which there seem to be so many these days, can also be kept from the American people. Oh, wait a minute, perhaps it already is. How would we know? And even worse, how many of us would care? Would it make any difference? I believe it would.
Because, you see, that very well paid USAID contractor that is now suspended and suspected of wrong doing was part of a system that did not really want the light of day to be shone on what was happening. While its information was not classified, information on what happened in some of their programs that was not good was obscured in ways. That allowed what was wrong to go on long after it should have. It often seemed more beneficial to pick and choose what details were allowed to see the light of day concerning programs and projects than for everything to be held up to the light of day for real inspection, and possible course corrections that would have made a difference. Very few dared to challenge the culture of selective reporting that was the favored modus operendi. In the process, great damage to our international reputation, our people, and the national fiscal well-being was done.
The troubling thing about being a democracy in these modern times is that unless the people can know exactly what their government is doing, they are really not a democracy. Further, in military matters or the reconstruction and development of post conflict places like Afghanistan, American treasure, both in fiscal and human terms, will continue to be squandered if bad policies are not reviewed and remedied.
When the high fiscal cost of becoming involved in such places like Afghanistan and Iraq is considered, and when one looks at the number of our honored dead, or the honored wounded, who must now face lives which bear the scars of the duty they honorably gave to their country, surely we should not accept that matters of military involvement by our country anywhere in the world should be completely classified.
Nor should we be afraid of looking at what is going on in such matters with anything less than transparency and honesty. It may be the best security measure available to us.