This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Here may be the single strangest fact of our American world: that at least three administrations–Ronald Reagan’s, George W. Bush’s and now Barack Obama’s–drew the US “defense” perimeter at the Hindu Kush; that is, in the rugged, mountainous lands of Afghanistan. Put another way, while Americans argue feverishly and angrily over what kind of money, if any, to put into healthcare, or decaying infrastructure, or other key places of need, until recently just about no one in the mainstream raised a peep about the fact that, for nearly eight years (not to say much of the last three decades), we’ve been pouring billions of dollars, American military know-how, and American lives into a black hole in Afghanistan that is, at least in significant part, of our own creation.
Imagine for a moment, as you read this post, what might have happened if Americans had decided to sink the same sort of money–$228 billion and rising fast–the same “civilian surges,” the same planning, thought and effort (but not the same staggering ineffectiveness) into reclaiming New Orleans or Detroit, or into planning an American future here at home. Imagine, for a moment, when you read about the multi-millions going into further construction at Bagram Air Base, or to the mercenary company that provides “Lord of the Flies” hire-a-gun guards for American diplomats in massive super-embassies, or about the half-a-billion dollars sunk into a corrupt and fraudulent Afghan election, what a similar investment in our own country might have meant.
Ask yourself: Wouldn’t the US have been safer and more secure if all the money, effort, and planning had gone towards “nation-building” in America? Or do you really think we’re safer now, with an official unemployment rate of 9.7 percent, an underemployment rate of 16.8 percent, and a record 25.5 percent teen unemployment rate, with soaring health-care costs, with vast infrastructural weaknesses and failures, and in debt up to our eyeballs, while tens of thousands of troops and massive infusions of cash are mustered ostensibly to fight a terrorist outfit that may number in the low hundreds or at most thousands, that, by all accounts, isn’t now even based in Afghanistan, and that has shown itself perfectly capable of settling into broken states like Somalia or well-functioning cities like Hamburg.