Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Madness of American Foreign Policy

The Madness of American Foreign Policy
P. Schultz
June 12, 2013

            I am currently reading a book entitled Little America: The War Within the War in Afghanistan by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. It is illuminating regarding the inanity of our policies in Afghanistan, especially COIN or “counterinsurgency” which is all the rage these days in D.C. and elsewhere. Here is a lengthy passage by way of illustration.

            “The cash spigot was in Washington. Afghan reconstruction funds ballooned to $4.1 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October 2009, and much of it was earmarked for USAID, which was eager to spend every penny. If USAID didn’t use all of its budget, it would have a difficult time asking Congress for as much – or more – the next year. In Kabul, USAID officials assiduously tracked their ‘burn rate.’ In mid-2010, they were thrilled when it reached $340 million per month. The figure became a point of pride and was mentioned repeatedly in internal meetings as a sign of progress.
            “To maintain the spending, USAID needed more programs as large as AVIPA. It authorized a $600 million effort to improve municipal government…that required the contractor it chose to implement ‘performance-based’ budgeting systems with two years, a complicated accounting rubric that even most U.S. cities did not have. There was a $140 million initiative to help settle property disputes – widely regarded as a primary source of local conflicts – by training Afghans to appraise and value land. The agency also planned to spend $475 million to help reconstruct areas in the wake of counterinsurgency operations, $450 million for an agriculture follow-up to AVIPA, $225 million for a clean-water program, and $750 million for increasing electricity production.
            “The reliance on massive projects meant sacrificing Holbrooke’s desire to direct much of the money through Afghan government ministries and local aid organizations. Most of the new work would have to go to giant American development contractors who could employ a lot of people and spend lots of money quickly. Of course, many of those hired were not Afghans but Americans and other foreigners, who commanded steep salaries, ample rest breaks, and comfortable accommodations. They also required protection. Under the new programs, thousands of private security guards descended upon Afghanistan and sucked up large portions of the reconstruction budget. A senior USAID official told me that security, management, and overhead costs had grown to almost 70% of the value of most contracts by late 2010. That meant only 30 cents on the dollar was going to help the Afghans.
            “In many cases, the real figure was even less. The big development firms relied on layers of subcontractors, each of which took a cut. Bribes had to be paid, sometimes to government officials and sometimes to the Taliban. Handing out cash to insurgents to keep them from attacking projects was a common practice. The contractors cared more about finishing their work – and getting paid – than about keeping their funds out of enemy hands. The government payouts were equally disturbing. Instead of demanding large wads of bills, local chieftains sought to control the flow of business and money. In Kandahar, contractors working for USAID and the NATO military command were forced to rely on subcontractors – for security, transportation, construction, and other services – that were linked via patronage networks to the extended Karzai family or its principle rival, former governor Gul Agha Sherzai. The linkages were often not apparent to American contracting officers cloistered at the USAID compounds in Kabul and the Kandahar Airfield. Some of the connections were revealed by a military task force starting in late 2010, but by then millions and millions of dollars had flowed through those corrupt networks. Much of the money wound up in the gleaming desert metropolis of Dubai, parked in bank accounts of Afghan politicians and warlords, out of the reach of U.S. authorities.” [Pp. 197-199, emphases added]

            Lest anyone think that the U.S. is accomplishing anything other than creating more enemies and jihadists in Afghanistan, let them ponder what is actually going on there.

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