We Need a Congressional Commission on the War in Afghanistan

Congress should call for an Afghanistan War Commission immediately. It is time for the politicians, contractors, and military officers who planned and executed the war in Afghanistan to face the music. For too long, Congress has neglected its duty to hold the executive branch accountable for the policies it is charged with enforcing. 

The American withdrawal from Afghanistan was a debacle. Afghans falling from aircraft, haphazard withdrawal from Kabul and Bagram Air Force Base, and the suicide bombing that killed a dozen Marines, a soldier, and a Navy corpsman—to say nothing of the total implosion of the Afghan National Army—demand a full accounting from those in charge of these operations. 

But a review of the retreat from Afghanistan is, ultimately, of only secondary importance. The American people deserve a full recounting of the war itself.

Why did America invade Afghanistan? Why didn’t the Bush Administration take the Taliban’s offer to turn over Osama bin Laden to a third party? Why did American forces stay even when it was obvious Bin Laden had fled after the battle of Tora Bora? Why couldn’t the CIA find Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, in a decade and a half of searching? Why did more than 40 percent of the reconstruction funds spent in Afghanistan simply get laundered into the hands of local warlords and even to the Taliban itself?

Instead of asking why Americans were denied first priority in the evacuation out of Afghanistan, or why America took in tens of thousands of Afghan “refugees” even after the Taliban announced a general amnesty, Congress has gone completely silent. This is unacceptable.

The era of congressional acquiescence to an “invade the world, invite the world” foreign policy needs to end. So, too, does the era of quiet compliance in the face of outright corruption. Our generals can’t win wars, but they never have any difficulty winning seats on corporate boards. According to the Washington Post, the eight generals who commanded American forces in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2018 have gone on to serve on more than 20 corporate boards.

To take one example of the spiritual gut rot in America’s general class: Lt. General Douglas Lute. He was Barack Obama’s ambassador to NATO, the Afghanistan war czar, and deputy national security advisor for seven years. In 2015, he admitted in an internal memo that the military was “devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan—we didn’t know what we were doing there.” He admitted to massive waste as well. The Obama Administration was “pouring money into huge infrastructure projects to obligate money that was appropriated to show that we could spend it.”

The most damning self-indictment, however, was this: “If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost. Who will say this was in vain?”

According to his LinkedIn profile, today Lute is the CEO of Cambridge Global Advisors LLC, a senior advisor to Jones Group International LLC, a board member and special advisor for the International Centre for Sport Security, a consultant for Tiedemann Advisors, a board member for the Center for International Private Enterprise, a board member for Thomson Reuters Special Services, the Robert F. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Social Sciences at West Point, and a senior fellow at the Belfer School at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

In a decent country he would have been stripped of his pension, thrown into prison, and barred from public life. 

A republic that does not punish failure does not deserve the name. Malfeasance, lying, and grifting by those entrusted with the public good cannot go unpunished. Otherwise the regime will rot from the inside out. Which is exactly what is happening in America today.

The American people need answers. Congress is in the perfect position to provide them. A congressional commission would be just the beginning, but it is something.

Congress possesses subpoena power. It can compel witnesses to testify, especially those who are no longer in executive branch service. Congress, in the form of the House and Senate intelligence committees, has the power to declassify documents as well. They can start by revealing the names of the more than 90 percent of top officials interviewed by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) whose names were censored by the executive branch. Congress has only used its powers of declassification once since 1977—when Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) released the Carter Page memo.

This is unacceptable. Congress has the power to hold the military accountable and to put pressure on the executive branch to come clean to the public in the face of massive institutional failure. Congress should use that power. It cannot continue shirking its constitutional role to regulate the armed forces and to hold them accountable for failure. It holds the power of both the purse and to declare war for a reason. If Joe Biden won’t declassify the entirety of the SIGAR reports, known as the Afghanistan Papers, then Congress should play hardball and hold up Pentagon funding. 

The Afghanistan Papers, a series of after-action reports collected by SIGAR, uncovered and published by Craig Whitlock at the Washington Post, contain a treasure trove of damning indictments against America’s foreign policy establishment. America’s generals were more than willing to praise the war effort in public, while providing much more honest (and cynical) analyses in private.

The revelation of the Afghanistan Papers in December of 2019 quickly disappeared into the news cycle in the face of the mainstream media’s COVID hysteria. With the exception of a sparsely attended hearing led by Rand Paul (who isn’t even on the intelligence committee), Congress did nothing with the revelations of outright perfidy by those holding the public trust in Afghanistan.

It makes sense for Democrats to stonewall efforts to probe the Afghan War. Biden, after all, is responsible for the disastrous exit. The Republicans, however, have no excuse. If they really cared about winning elections and taking power, Senators Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and James Risch (R-Ida.) should make holding the Obama, Biden, and crypto-Democrat George W. Bush Administrations accountable for the military failure that happened on their watch.

And if they won’t hold the Pentagon’s, State Department’s, and White House’s feet to the fire, then the American people should hold them accountable. We cannot allow Afghanistan to disappear from the public consciousness with nary a whimper. The 9/11 Commission should be the model. Make our public servants answer. It will require dragging them away from cushy board meetings and academic gigs, yes, but it must be done.

Without accountability we cannot have a country.

About Josiah Lippincott

Josiah Lippincott is a former Marine officer and current Master's student at the Van Andel School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. You can find him on Twitter at @jlippincott_

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

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