The consensus on the WikiLeaks dump of secret U.S. military documents is that they revealed almost nothing new.

We’d already been reading for years that Pakistan’s intelligence service is too cozy with elements of the Taliban.

We’ve already known that anti-terrorism raids sometimes kill civilians, compromising the effort to win over the Afghan people to the counter-insurgency cause.

And we already knew that Gen. Stanley McCrystal’s rules of engagement designed to minimize civilian casualties were putting the lives of U.S. troops at risk, making it harder for them to complete their missions and causing a rift between the people fighting the war and the ones setting policy.

What the document dump and the ensuing arguments don’t reveal is just what we are expecting to accomplish in Afghanistan and why we don’t have a plan to get out.

The WikiLeaks documents repeat what we’ve been hearing for a long time.

The website’s impresario, Julian Assange, compares his revelations to the Pentagon Papers, but that’s absurd.

The Pentagon Papers was a top-secret Defense Department study on the history of American involvement in Vietnam that was leaked to The New York Times in 1971. The comprehensive report revealed that a secession of presidents, from Truman through Johnson, had consistently lied to the public and Congress about the aims and conduct of the war.

The WikiLeaks release brings us thousands of raw intelligence reports from the field, which individually may or may not be accurate, but collectively present a picture much like the one that we have already been hearing from official sources since the war began.

Basically, we know that after initial success at removing the Taliban from power, al-Qaida and the Taliban have survived as an insurgency movement on both sides of the mountainous border with Pakistan, and they are getting stronger, not weaker, as our commitment to the conflict grows.

The Afghan government is too corrupt and ineffective to take up the burden of holding territory and protecting the population, and even in the rosiest scenario it won’t be ready to step up into a leadership role for several years. That’s “years” — added onto what’s already the longest war in U.S. history.

In a column published in this newspaper on June 29, Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and Vietnam War veteran who teaches history at Boston University, wrote that a democracy isn’t able to fight such a long war. It creates a military class, which bears all the sacrifice and loses respect for civilian government.

Bacevich said that the intemperate comments by McCrystal and his aides in a Rolling Stone article were just a glimpse into that tension.

The war started under the last president, but Barack Obama has put his mark on it.

Obama began his national campaign as a peace candidate, relentlessly pointing out that he’d been against the war in Iraq before his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and would not have voted to authorize George W. Bush to commit troops there, as she had.

But Obama also said that he supported the Afghan war, and promised to expand it by drawing down troops in Iraq. This might have helped him avoid political traps during the campaign, but it has put us in a different kind of trap now.

Despite a promise of beginning to withdraw forces from Afghanistan next summer, administration officials have left themselves with enough wiggle room to stay in or even expand forces if the current effort is unsuccessful, and according to a military official quoted in the Rolling Stone piece, could request more troops even if we are successful.

This open-ended commitment to a war that has already lasted too long and is going to last even longer is what led Maine’s two congressional representatives to vote against a supplemental appropriation budget for war funding.

While our economy is in shambles, we are spending $7 billion a month on a war with little evidence of success so far, and not much expected in the near term.

In a letter to Obama, 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree. D-Maine, called for a plan that will result in the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and an end to the war.

You don’t need a secret document dump to know why Pingree is right.

But a response to her letter would be something new, after all.


Greg Kesich is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6481, or: [email protected]