Afghanistan Is the Ideal Destination for Would-Be War Profiteers

News & Politics

Please say this isn't happening again:

After the legendary corruption of the Iraq occupation—private contractors fashioning spurs for their cowboy boots from stolen Iraqi gold, vanishing pallets of shrink-wrapped cash—you'd think the US government would be keeping an extra-close watch on the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. But you'd be wrong. Who says so? The guy in charge of rooting out corruption. Even as the Obama administration steps up spending in Afghanistan, it's shortchanging the government auditors responsible for ensuring that taxpayer dollars don't wind up in the pockets of swindlers and opportunists.

Afghanistan already places fifth in Transparency International's annual ranking of the most corrupt nations in the world. The US plans to spend nearly $14 billion there over the next financial year on military operations and reconstruction projects, up from about $11 billion this year. Yet Arnold Fields, the official charged with keeping track of this money—as well as foreign investment in US-sponsored programs—says in an interview with Mother Jones that he lacks the tools for the job.


Perhaps more so than Iraq, Afghanistan is an ideal destination for would-be war profiteers. As Fields told members of the House Armed Services Committee in March, "Iraq had much more upon which to build…We are really constructing as opposed to reconstructing in Afghanistan." At the time of the US invasion in 2003, Iraq boasted the world's third-largest oil reserves, a per-capita annual income of $4,000, an average life expectancy of 70 years, and 74 percent literacy. Afghanistan, by contrast, has no natural resources to speak of, per-capita annual income is just $800, life expectancy is a dismal 45 years, and only 28 percent of the population can read or write. It has precious few paved roads, no railways, and only four airports with runways suitable for large aircraft. Its mountainous, landlocked geography is a haven for insurgents. Moreover, whereas Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed a corps of competent technocrats, Afghanistan's civil society has been decimated by more than 30 years of uninterrupted warfare. Much of the countryside is now under the sway of tribal warlords and devoted to harvesting opium, by far the country's most lucrative industry.

Corruption thrives in such conditions.

No kidding.

If this happens in yet another administration somebody might get the mistaken idea that it's a feature, not a bug.

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