Daniel Ellsberg: The counter-insurgency plan in Afganistan is similar to Viet Nam Pt3


Story Transcript

DANIEL ELLSBERG, FMR. US MILITARY ANALYST: There is no victory ahead for us in Afghanistan if we put a million troops over there. We might quiet the place down while they’re there to a considerable extent, and when we leave it will be not better than if they had never been there—not better. And certainly the 80,000, 100,000, 200,000 troops will bring no kind of success whatever. Then, you know, what might he do? Well, he might do what Lyndon Johnson did in exactly the same situation. His vice president, while I was in the Pentagon in 1964-65, his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, was speaking internally just as strongly against that escalation as Joe Biden is alleged to do right now. Didn’t help very much. Johnson understood. As he said to his mentor, Richard Russell, they’ll never give up. If I was them, I wouldn’t give up. The bombing, that won’t do anything. Didn’t do anything for us in the past. But he did it. What he did succeed in doing was leaving office—earlier than he had wanted, but leaving office without being charged by the right wing with having lost a war, having shown weakness, unmanliness. He succeeded to that degree. A lot of people paid the price of that success, more than Lyndon Johnson did. But he did succeed. And as a matter of fact, Richard Nixon did, too. He had not lost the war in Vietnam by the time he’d left in 1974. And I think it was almost a matter of luck that the war was brought to an end when it was, rather than years later. If the BBC is not wrong, then we have perhaps decades of war ahead for us. And the test, what will make it shorter than otherwise, if some officials take the advice that Craig and, I think, Wilkerson’s example earlier has made clear, the advice that I’ve been giving, if someone’d bring out these costs, the truth, the realities, at the cost of their careers, to the extent necessary to get it out, which will cost them their career, that could make a difference. It could shorten the war. If we demand of Congress a performance we have not seen in any previous war, that they abide by their oath of office, which is the same one I took as a Marine lieutenant and as a State Department and Defense Department official, same oath for every officer, which is not an oath to the president, it is not an oath to the secrecy system, it is an oath solely to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, which has been ripped up over the last eight years, violated earlier—. I think the difference with Johnson was I think it was not his intention, as he violated the constitution, to displace the Constitution forever, to just get rid of it. Cheney was unusual, and Addington, and some of the others. I think that conscientiously they believed what was best for the United States was a different form of government, which is what they delivered, which was not the Constitution of the United States. That was a violation of the oath they had taken, and they are not being held accountable by the Congress, which in effect, then, is endorsing that new form of government to the extent they do not define what has gone before as criminal. When President Obama says, “Don’t tell me to prosecute people for this. Let the past be the past. We’re going on from there. We’re not torturing,” he’s defining torture—which is illegal under many international treaties and under domestic law and under the US Constitution—as a policy matter, a choice, which he could decide to change next year. We weren’t doing it, and now we are doing it when he’s found out. “We’re not doing it,” he tells us, which is to say that if he’s succeeded by another president who has a different set of priorities as to what is needed or what is acceptable, whatnot, they can cite Obama’s failure to prosecute as evidence that there’s not a question of legality here. Okay? That’s just one example of where Obama has done what I predicted he would do, which is to forgo any attempt to roll back the imperial presidency or to eschew the abusive and unconstitutional powers bequeathed to him by his predecessor. And I didn’t single out Obama when I made that prediction; I said no president has ever done that, and he won’t do it. That prediction, unfortunately, has been upheld. Now, Obama’s broken a lot of his campaign promises, but one he made, which was to make Afghanistan the good war, the necessary war, the right war, that’s the one he’s chosen not to break so far. So it does put it up to us. And, finally, that brings back—I’ve said we need to make demands of Congress, and I’ll emphasize we need to make demands of Congress. What is asked for from us? The acceptance of this by the American public to some extent can be ascribed to ignorance. But there comes a point, as in Germany, when one can question how willful that ignorance is. How hard would it have been to learn more? In the age of the Internet, ignorance is a really eroding excuse for going along with this stuff. The possibility of learning what’s going on is available to us, to the public, now with computers in a way that simply was not true before. We are being tested. And the truth is that up till now, we pretty well qualify as an imperial public, a public pretty well indoctrinated and reliable from the point of view of the imperial managers. If we need to be fooled, it ain’t hard to do it. And most people don’t need to be fooled. And when this stuff does come out, as torture came out in 2004 in the Abu Ghraib pictures and in Sy Hersh’s work and other things, it was not a factor in the debates of that year, the election debates, which led for a second term for George W. Bush. Not a landslide, but roughly half the country bought him as a manager of torture. Well, that’s us. And which of us can say we did all that we could? And the truth is that some people in this room can say that. But how many people can say they have individually done all that they could and risked themselves to change this course of events and these values? Well, the answer is: not very many. But as humans, that is up to us, and I do totally agree with Wilkerson and with others: if there is a change from this disastrous course, which may be made even more disastrous in the next weeks as we hear this decision, or may not, it will be because of people outside the executive branch, that is, us. Either we change our way of lives and act responsibly to change this pattern of action or it goes on.


Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg is a former US military analyst employed by the RAND Corporation who precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of US government decision-making about the Vietnam War, to The New York Times and other newspapers. His recent book is entitled, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.