Secret war purposes and justifications

Are the real reasons for fighting in Afghanistan being concealed by the administration?

By Glenn Greenwald
December 15, 2009 3:16PM (UTC)
main article image

(updated below)

In a post yesterday about public opinion and war, I noted that Joe Klein justified the war in Afghanistan by claiming it was necessary to prevent war between Pakistan and India -- a justification and purpose never cited by the U.S. Government.  To justify the fighting of a war for reasons different than the stated official reasons, Klein propounded the highly undemocratic proposition that "some of the best arguments about why this war is necessary must go unspoken by the President."  Yesterday Klein and Andrew Sprung, writing at Andrew Sullivan's blog, both responded to what I wrote -- Klein by pointing to Obama's statements in a 2008 interview about the need to diplomatically resolve the India-Pakistan dispute and Sprung by pointing to statements made by various commentators and experts about the importance of the India-Pakistan dispute in the region.


None of that really disputes, but rather bolsters, what I wrote.  I wasn't disputing Klein's reporting that many people, including inside the administration, privately claim that we need to stay in Afghanistan to prevent conflict between India and Pakistan, nor was I criticizing him for reporting that this was the case, nor was I even commenting on whether that war justification is valid.  My objection is that the U.S. Government, in all the times it explained why this war was necessary, never cited that as a justification or a goal.  If, as Klein and Sprung both claim, that is truly one of the Government's primary goals, then we're fighting this war for reasons different than what the public is being told.  Klein basically acknowledges this ("Over the past few weeks, especially since Obama's West Point speech, I've been struck by the narrowness of the Afghan discussion--by the President and the press"), as does Sprung ("you can argue that the Administration should itself air these concerns more fully").  Indeed, Klein not only acknowledges, but justifies, the disparity between our stated war justifications and our real ones ("some of the best arguments about why this war is necessary must go unspoken by the President").  That is what I find profoundly undemocratic and dangerous.

When George Bush first announced the war in Afghanistan, he justified it almost exclusively with the need to drive out Al Qaeda from that country, a goal that has now essentially been met; indeed, Bush made clear that he would have left the Taliban in power had they met our demands.  There wasn't a word about the need to keep peace between India and Pakistan.  In 2001, when Congress authorized the use of military force "against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States," it cited one goal and only one goal:  "to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."  There's no authorization to use military force to keep peace between India and Pakistan; what, then, is the legal basis for fighting a war for that purpose?  And when Obama announced and explained his escalation in Afghanistan last week, he repeatedly justified it by claiming it was necessary to protect the Homeland from attacks by Terrorists; tensions between Pakistan and India weren't even mentioned, let alone cited as a justification or goal of the war.

The fact that a bunch of super-smart, highly Serious, in-the-know Washington insiders chatter with one another that India-Pakistan tension is a Key Reason for the war -- while the public at large is fed a bunch of melodramatic, scary cartoon claptrap about 9/11 and Terrorists and Al Qaeda -- doesn't undermine the point I made.  It is the point.  Now that there's virtually no Al Qaeda left in Afghanistan, if a primary reason we're now fighting that war is to prevent conflict between India and Pakistan, if that's really the war aim we have, then the President is compelled to say so.  Congress should be asked to declare or authorize a war for that purpose.  That way, the public can actually participate in a genuine debate about whether it wants to support the war given those goals, rather than being hoodwinked by manipulative and ancillary (at best) storylines about big, bad Scary Terrorists who attacked us on 9/11.  The notion that "some of the best arguments about why this war is necessary must go unspoken by the President" is exactly the opposite of what ought to happen in a democracy when a Government tries to persuade the citizenry to support its latest war.



UPDATE:  To address several comments:  I'm neither assuming Klein is correct or incorrect in his claim that India-Pakistan is a major reason for the administration to want to stay in Afghanistan.  Since the administration is not saying this and Klein won't identify who said this, I have no idea if it's true.  My point is that the Government should state its primary justifications and goals for war, and Klein's argument -- that "some of the best arguments about why this war is necessary must go unspoken by the President" -- is wrong, undemocratic and dangerous.  Both Klein and Sprung insist that India-Pakistan is a major reason for the Obama administration to want to wage war in Afghanistan; if that's true -- and I'm not saying it is -- then it should be disclosed.  Secret war justifications and goals -- i.e., misleading the public about why we're fighting -- are wrong for reasons that should be obvious.  I'm not assuming that the Obama administration is doing that, only that Klein is saying they are and then justifying it.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn GreenwaldFOLLOW ggreenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------