A series of classified documents relating to an unpopular war some people call unwinnable are leaked to the media, creating a firestorm of controversy and calls for criminal prosecution of the leakers.
The documents, though a few years old, show the government was not completely truthful with the American people when it came to the conduct of the war. The leaks spark fears support for the war would erode, along with confidence in the government.
Critics of the leak call it a danger to our troops and a boon to our nation’s enemies.
Are these the headlines of today? Yes, but they also were the headlines in June 1971, when the so-called Pentagon Papers were leaked to the media.
The Pentagon Papers, leaked first to the New York Times by former Marine and U.S. military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, were part of a study prepared by the Department of Defense covering America’s involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.
The papers unveiled a series of lies, primarily by the Lyndon Johnson administration, both to Congress and the American people about the conduct of the Vietnam War.
Fast forward to today. This week some 90,000 classified military files were website WikiLeaks regarding America’s war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The documents detail the struggles the U.S. faces in battling a well-entrenched adversary in battles over extraordinarily difficult terrain.
The documents show America and its allies in that conflict were often undermanned and underequipped, highlight a largely ineffective and corrupt Afghan government and detail abuses by the Afghan police and security forces we are trying to train to take over defense of their own country against the forces of extremism.
None of the WikiLeaks revelations seem to constitute the bombshells dropped by Ellsberg back in 1971. Nuggets like the war in Afghanistan has been a struggle, the Hamid Karzi government is weak and corrupt, that some in Pakistan are backing the Taliban and America’s road out of that war will be long and difficult, are hardly news.
The fact the government doesn’t tell the American public everything there is to know about an ongoing war also is no surprise. There is such a thing as operational security, the breaching of which would endanger the lives of our fighting men and women.
Like Ellsburg and his co-Pentagon Papers leaker, Anthony Russo, the person or persons responsible for feeding the media the Afghanistan documents will face prosecution. Charges against Ellsburg and Russo were eventually dropped. The prime suspect in the leaking of the Afghanistan revelations is Army intelligence analyst PFC Bradley Manning.
Parallels are being drawn between the Pentagon Papers and the recent leaks, but today’s world is far different from that of 1971, and the leaks concern a far different war.
Vietnam, we were told, was a war fought to keep communism from marching steadfastly across that part of the world. Vietnam was no direct threat to us, however. There was no chance of Viet Cong gunning people down in the streets of an American city.
But in this post 9/11 world our sense of security has been shattered. The extremists we are fighting in Afghanistan are of the same ilk as those who brought down the Twin Towers and flew a jet into the Pentagon.
We didn’t win in Vietnam. Communism not only did not springboard from Vietnam throughout the region, but it faltered, to be replaced by a socialist-oriented market economy. Incidentally, Hawaii-based Outrigger Enterprises Group recently announced plans to build a luxury resort in Vietnam’s Binh Dinh province. It will feature 210 rooms and suites, 46 private villas and a championship golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones II.
Afghanistan doesn’t figure to be anyone’s idea of a vacation destination anytime soon. The brand of radical Islam being espoused throughout the region will continue to threaten America for the foreseeable future.
The release of the classified Afghanistan documents won’t change that. All it accomplished was to make an already difficult war even harder, and to reiterate what has long been known about America — we’re terrible at keeping secrets.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.