This disconnect between military spin and ground reality is not only dangerous, it is insulting: Americans can handle the truth about the war their government is fighting. Whitewashing the real challenges and problems we face can only make us worse off: it will make our eventual withdrawal more humiliating and surprising, and it will create a need in the public to know what went wrong. What went wrong, however, is years of consistent political and policy failures, on the part of four military commands, two administrations, and the entire civilian foreign policy community. A surprise “defeat,” which can result from such odious spin, will lead not to a sober reconsideration of how to avoid such a catastrophe in the future, but a witch hunt instead. The military should be more responsible in how it handles its public images. And much more importantly, the media—print and TV alike—should quit meekly reprinting whatever briefing they’re given on their embeds.

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Joshua Foust is a military consultant. He is a contributor to PBS Need to Know, a contributing editor at Current Intelligence, and blogs about Central Asia and the Caucasus at Registan.net.