Knowing that Afghanistan is a failure

Simon Jenkins writes in the Guardian that the Wikileaks war logs are significant. But will the media war cheer-leaders be listening?

Is it the death of war? In Vietnam the horror of fighting was brought to TV screens in real time. Such was the reaction that American citizens withdrew their consent. In the 1980s computers were said to have restored the aloofness of battle by enabling armies to fight and defeat an enemy by remote control. They could locate the foe, direct fire and drop bombs with pinpoint accuracy.

That thesis is now threadbare. There is no such thing as a secure computer, let alone an accurate one. Every jot of information is leaky, permeable, corruptible, accessible, free-to-air. Computerisation and miniaturisation have stripped command of all secrecy and rendered every success or failure vulnerable to WikiLeak. As a result, like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, computers can change sides and become… the enemy.

Far from defeating the enemy, technology is portrayed as shielding soldiers from the immediate result of their actions, hence distorting tactics and corrupting strategy. By recording failure in meticulous detail, the logs mock the moral basis for so-called wars among the peoples. Like Vietnam’s TV images, they leave the Iraq and Afghan conflicts as bloodthirsty killing fields, devoid of rational justification.

The war logs are not so much sensational as relentless. Most of the material was known. It is the detail that bears devastating witness. Afghanistan 2001 now enters firmly into the pantheon of folly, from the wooden horse to Napoleon in Moscow to Vietnam. Indeed it bears the added crassness of coming two decades after the Russians committed the exact same folly in the same place.

In 1971 the Pentagon papers revealed the deception of the Johnson and Nixon governments during the Vietnam war. The papers were credited with collapsing US morale as the war drew to a close. The Afghanistan logs convey a different message. They show George Bush, Tony Blair and their generals to be so dazzled by their massive military (and intellectual) firepower that they thought they were invincible against a tinpot Taliban.

Anyone who visited Kabul in the past eight years knew that a western war of occupation would end in tears. The Taliban were a concept, not an army. Al-Qaida was an unwelcome guest, but only the Taliban were likely to expel it. Mujahideen would ooze from the rocks if provoked and never stop fighting until the infidel was expelled. Pakistan, long holder of the key to the Afghan door, had a powerful interest in backing the Taliban, an interest promoted and financed by the CIA in the 1980s. All this was known – and is now confirmed.