The first of 20,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops are scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan next month to re-win the war George W. Bush neglected to finish in his eagerness to start another one. However, “winning” the military campaign against the Taliban is the lesser half of the story.
Going into Afghanistan, the Bush administration called for a political campaign to reconstruct the country and thereby establish the authority of a stable, democratic Afghan central government. It was understood that the two campaigns — military and political/economic — had to go forward together; the success of each depended on the other. But the vision of a reconstructed, peaceful, stable, democratically governed Afghanistan faded fast. Most Afghans now believe that it was nothing but a cover story for the Bush administration’s real goal — to set up permanent bases in Afghanistan and occupy the country forever.
Whatever the truth of the matter, in the long run, it’s not soldiers but services that count — electricity, water, food, health care, justice, and jobs. Had the U.S. delivered the promised services on time, while employing Afghans to rebuild their own country according to their own priorities and under the supervision of their own government — a mini-Marshall Plan — they would now be in charge of their own defense. The forces on the other side, which we loosely call the Taliban, would also have lost much of their grounds for complaint.
Whatever the truth of the matter, in the long run, it’s not soldiers but services that count.
Instead, the Bush administration perpetrated a scam. It used the system it set up to dispense reconstruction aid to both the countries it “liberated,” Afghanistan and Iraq, to transfer American taxpayer dollars from the national treasury directly into the pockets of private war profiteers. Think of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater in Iraq; Louis Berger Group, Bearing Point, and DynCorp International in Afghanistan. They’re all in it together. So far, the Bush administration has bamboozled Americans about its shady aid program. Nobody talks about it. Yet the aid scam, which would be a scandal if it weren’t so profitable for so many, explains far more than does troop strength about why, today, we are on the verge of watching the whole Afghan enterprise go belly up.
What’s worse, there’s no reason to expect that things will change significantly on Barack Obama’s watch. During the election campaign, he called repeatedly for more troops for “the right war” in Afghanistan (while pledging to draw-down U.S. forces in Iraq), but he has yet to say a significant word about the reconstruction mission. While many aid workers in that country remain full of good intentions, the delivery systems for and uses of U.S. aid have been so thoroughly corrupted that we can only expect more of the same — unless Obama cleans house fast. But given the monumental problems on his plate, how likely is that?
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Ann Jones wrote at length about the failure of American aid in Kabul in Winter (Metropolitan Books), a book about American meddling in Afghanistan as well as her experience as a humanitarian aid worker there from 2002 to 2006. For more information, visit her website. For a concise report on many of the defects in international aid mentioned here, check out Real Aid (pdf file), a report issued in 2005 by the South African NGO Action Aid.
Copyright 2009 Ann Jones
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