4 Easy Ways to See How Obama's Strategy in Afghanistan Isn't Working
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American development was supposed to have made it all so much better. But tales abound of small, successful projects in education or health care, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and then dropped without a single visit from USAID monitors afraid to leave their Embassy fortress in Kabul. Regularly, USAID now hands over huge hunks of “aid” money to big, impossibly ambitious, quick-fix projects run by the usual no-bid Beltway Bandit contractors whose incompetence, wastefulness, unconscionable profits, and outright fraud should be a national scandal.
This, too, is a process everyone knows but can’t speak about because it’s not part of the official script in which the U.S. must be seen as developing backward Afghanistan, instead of sending it reeling into the darkest of ages. Despairing humanitarians recall that Hillary Clinton promised as secretary of state to clean house at USAID, which, she said, had become nothing but “a contracting shop.” Well, here’s a flash from Afghanistan: it’s still a contracting shop, and the contracts are going to the same set of contractors who have been exposed again and again as venal, fraudulent, and criminal.
Just as Obama sends more troops and a new commander to fight a fraudulent war for a purpose that makes no sense to anyone -- except perhaps the so-called defense intellectuals who live in an alternative Washington-based Afghanaland of their own creation -- Clinton presides over a fraudulent aid program that functions chiefly to transfer American tax dollars from the national treasury to the pockets of already rich contractors and their congressional cronies. If you still believe, as I would like to, that Obama and Clinton actually meant to make change, then you have to ask: How does this state of affairs continue, and why do the members of the international community -- the U.N., all those international NGOs, and our fast-fading coalition allies -- sign off on it?
You have only to look around in Kabul and elsewhere, as I did this month, to see that the more American military there is, the more insurgents there are; the more insurgent attacks, the more private security contractors; the more barriers and razor wire, the more restrictions on freedom of movement in the capital for Afghans and internationals alike; and the more security, the higher the danger pay for members of the international community who choose to stay and spend their time complaining about the way security prevents them from doing their useful work.
And so it goes round and round, this ill-oiled war machine, generating ever more incentives for almost everyone involved -- except ordinary Afghans, of course -- to keep on keeping on. There’s a little something for quite a few: government officials in the U.S., Afghanistan, and Pakistan, for-profit contractors, defense intellectuals, generals, spies, soldiers behind the lines, international aid workers and their Afghan employees, diplomats, members of the Afghan National Army, and the police, and the Taliban, and their various pals, and the whole array of camp followers that service warfare everywhere.
It goes round and round, this inexorable machine, this elaborate construction of corporate capitalism at war, generating immense sums of money for relatively small numbers of people, immense debt for our nation, immense sacrifice from our combat soldiers, and for ordinary Afghans and those who have befriended them or been befriended by them, moments of promise and hope, moments of clarity and rage, and moments of dark laughter that sometimes cannot forestall the onset of despair.
Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular , is the author of Kabul in Winter . Her new book, War Is Not Over When It’s Over: Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War , about her work with women in post-conflict countries, is to be published by Metropolitan Books in September. She is at work on her next book about what happens when America’s wars come home. To visit her website, click here.