Classical statements of just-war theory put the prospects of success at the heart of the moral calculation. Wars are occasions for so much evil that there must be reasons to believe their aims are achievable if they are to be pursued in a just way.
But the U.S. has pursued practically utopian aims in Afghanistan, including the establishment of a strong central government. Under the Obama administration, we tried to use our military to prop up the institutions of a stable country for the Afghans, believing that if they built enough schools and canals, a civil society would just appear around it all. And in a sickening replay of late Vietnam-era follies, officials continued to lie to the public about the level of corruption in the allied Afghan government, and about the effectiveness of its own armed forces against the Taliban.
Of course, what the Post reveals as the attempts of multiple presidents, generals, and other officials to mislead the public has also been half success and half failure. Did you, dear reader, ever believe that a modernizing civil society was starting to flourish in Afghanistan under American tutelage? No. Of course not. The lies were not credible. But I suspect that, like me, you haven’t decided to hold one president or another particularly responsible for pursuing an unattainable — and thus by definition unjust — objective in Afghanistan. And in that sense, the strategy of lying to the public has succeeded.