Want the Truth about Afghanistan? Get the Generals Off TV!
Alexander Ward and Quint Forgey with Daniel Lippman / National Security Daily
“Twenty years later, they still can’t accept that they’re culpable in keeping this war going long, and also the fact that they may have been part of the problem,” — Rep. Ruben Gallego
(September 2, 2021) — Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a former Marine infantryman who served in Iraq, has a message for the retired generals talking about Afghanistan on TV: You’re part of the problem.
None of them solved the Afghanistan riddle during two decades of war, and yet the former flag officers are littering the airwaves with criticisms of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw.
They deserve more blame for the failures of the war than requests for comment and counsel, Gallego believes.
“Twenty years later, they still can’t accept that they’re culpable in keeping this war going long, and also the fact that they may have been part of the problem,” he told NatSec Daily, singling out David Petraeus and H. R. McMaster. “It’s ridiculous to see [them] walking around and giving an opinion about why we should maintain a military presence, when they’re the reason why we even have this problem in the first place.”
“They conducted the war incorrectly. … They hid real-time data from Congress and the American public about how weak the Afghan government was,” he continued, “and now they still come out as if their hands aren’t involved in the problems that they created.”
NatSec Daily reached out to Gallego, a House Armed Services Committee member, after seeing him tweet that his TV hits on Afghanistan have been bumped for coverage of Hurricane Ida or the Texas abortion law.
“Maybe this is not the media’s fault,” he said. “Maybe it’s a true reflection of the American public ” not caring deeply about the war, “and the ones missing that are the policymakers, the warhawks, the think tankers. We might be the ones missing the point that Americans want us to disengage from all these foreign entanglements that they don’t necessarily have any type of long-term connection to.”
What to do about that disconnect ahead of the next foreign sojourn? One idea Gallego has is a “war tax” so that “every time we go to war, people understand that what we’re doing is costing us money.” Gallego noted that instead, past presidents promoted tax cuts while troops were fighting overseas at great cost to the taxpayer.
Another proposal was a national volunteer program, where everyday citizens could help out at VA facilities or bases during a war.
In the meantime, Gallego argues that any low-level enlisted service member or officer has more wisdom to impart on the last 20 years in Afghanistan than the men who wore large fruit salads on their chests.
“The biggest frustration is the fact that the DC media elites don’t see what we see,” he said. “They see these guys as heroes and as these all-knowing geniuses when we know better. But nobody listens to us because we don’t have the gold-star lapels.”
Alex Ward is a national security reporter and anchor of “National Security Daily.” Before joining POLITICO, Ward was the White House and national security reporter at Vox. He was also an associate director in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security where he worked on military issues and U.S. foreign policy.
Quint Forgey is a breaking news reporter for POLITICO who previously worked as a digital producer and editorial intern for POLITICO, a news intern for The Wall Street Journal, an associate producer for Louisiana Public Broadcasting, and a national reporting fellow for the Carnegie-Knight News21 program.