With Afghanistan, it always seems to be more and worse. More American (and NATO) troops "surging" in, more Taliban control in the countryside, more insurgent attacks, more sophisticated roadside bombs, more deadly suicide bombings, more dead American and NATO troops, more problems with U.S. supply lines into Afghanistan, more civilian deaths from American and NATO military operations, more U.S. bases being built, more billions of U.S. dollars needed for military operations — Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently indicated that the build-up of U.S. forces alone in that country in the next fiscal year could cost an extra $5.5 billion — and, of course, yet more reports and studies indicating that everything yet tried to "stabilize" Afghanistan has gone desperately wrong.
And always these are followed by the insistence that more of the same militarily, a further build-up of coalition military forces, another five or 10 or 20 years of foreign "training" programs for Afghan forces still "not ready for the task" — no one asks how Taliban fighters, no less "Afghan," prove so ready to fight without years of American training — is the only context for future success in "reconstructing" that country. Ann Jones, who was a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006 and wrote a moving book about the experience, Kabul in Winter, suggests just why this essentially repetitive formula, which will now pass as part of the new thinking of the Obama era, is bound to lead to more of the same. In her recent piece, "The Afghan Scam," she focuses on the "reconstruction" part of the formula, which is almost never given the spotlight, and shows just why, all military matters aside, it’s such a hopeless shuck. She writes:
"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."
Can this, nonetheless, be the path the U.S. will head down in the year to come? It seems so.