As long as the strategy of “war on terrorism” remains the same, it’s against the interests of the Pentagon to admit their strategy isn’t working. In theory that could embolden the enemy. But let’s look at two sides of that. The enemy seems to know better than we do how futile our strategy is in the long run. What they don’t know is how long we’ll be committed to it. So if the Pentagon were to publicly admit their strategy isn’t working, that would be a sign that they may be on the verge of abandoning it, which could be useful information for the enemy. It could lead them to change their strategy.
Unfortunately this dynamic leaves Bush and Cheney with the perfect excuse for not admitting that their war policies were perhaps the most disastrous decisions made in American history. So it’s very convenient for them. To publicly admit their enormous errors could have a negative effect on the war effort. That lets them off the hook.
But it also prevents America and Americans from learning from our mistakes. And this has been the dynamic since the end of World War II. Our policies in the Middle East have caused blowback on a scale that’s unmeasurable. The war between Islamists and the West may not exist otherwise. And this war is shaping up to be far more complex than a war against communism, because the front lines aren’t as clearly marked and terrorist can be anywhere.
After Eisenhower resolved the Suez Crisis, Arabs in the Middle East were cheering and holding up signs that said We Love America. How times have changed.
Our unwillingness to admit our mistakes and learn from them, in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, is just one example of a dangerous dynamic that has been going on throughout the 20th century. Secret policies and covert wars force us to deny the terrible consequences of them. That prevents us from learning our lessons, because the masterminds of these policies are never held accountable to the American people. The truth is restricted to military circles.
And when warfare is essentially never ending, there’s always a war effort and always the need for secrecy. Truth can undermine a war effort. So the full truth is never allowed out of the Pentagon and into the public domain. Or at least it is never admitted publicly until long after the fact. Until things blow over. But that enables them to keep repeating the same errors over and over again. It facilitates error and turns it into a self-replicating meme.
This dynamic gives them the perfect pretext for denying their errors into perpetuity. And there’s always a new mess to clean up, because the dynamic makes messes quicker than they can be cleaned up, even though some of the messes may take decades to evolve into an unsolvable form.
Phi Beta Iota: The truth at any cost lowers all other costs. When secrecy is used to protect decisions rooted in corruption, ideology, or naked financial greed, it is an information pathology (in contradistinction to secrecy necessary to root out legitimate domestic threats). The truth at any cost — including the slight cost of revealing weapons and other system vulnerabilities to the enemy which also means no one can fix them — reduces all other costs.