Here follows a list of widely held myths about Afghanistan.
1. The number of troops
According to the figures often cited in the media, the number of NATO troops in Afghanistan, most of which are American, is near 100,000. Actually, the number is twice as large, as there are more than 104,000 private contractors in that country who carry out many of the missions the military used to carry out itself.
2. We must cut benefits.
One of the clichés of the day, repeated even by several liberal economists, is that we must cut benefits (such as Medicare and Social Security) in order to reduce the deficit, because that is where the big bucks are. Well, is a trillion dollars big enough? We have already spent some $229 billion in Afghanistan and our commitment to stay the course there is estimated to be at least $1 trillion for the next decade.
3. Our money helps build a new Afghanistan.
For counterinsurgency to succeed, we are told we cannot win militarily; we must win over the hearts and minds of the population. To succeed we need to get them jobs and a decent income, eradicate illiteracy and otherwise build a civil society. Several reports show that corrupt Afghans ferret out so much money that ends up in overseas bank accounts (especially in Dubai) that this outflow exceeds whatever we have given them. (The difference is made up by income from the trade in poppy).
4. We seek to help Afghanistan build a democracy.
Yeah, but only as long as they do what they are told by our emissaries. We played a key role in drafting their constitution. We insisted that the government be a Kabul-centered one, which appoints governors and mayors and allows next to no autonomy in a country in which local bonds are strong and the distrust of the national government runs deep. We regularly seek to manipulate the decisions made by the Afghan government and undermine the peace deal Karzai is trying to work out with the Taliban. No wonder they have no real sense of what democracy is all about.
"You cannot fool all of the people..."
Americans are busy seeking jobs or doing theirs, taking care of their children, trying to find a few moments to follow their favorite sports team and have a beer. It hence takes them time before they realize that they are hoodwinked by reports about Afghanistan. But in the longer run -- and by now we have been in this war longer than in any other -- they will see that what they are told about Afghanistan has no connection to the reality on the ground. They are not going to appreciate having been fooled.