Told you so 166

Light breaks where no sun shines, as the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote prophetically of the Obama administration’s collective mind when it finally notices the glaring futility of the Afghan campaign.

The Washington Post reports:

The hugely expensive U.S. attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan has had only limited success and may not survive an American withdrawal, according to the findings of a two-year congressional investigation … [It] calls on the administration to rethink urgently its assistance programs as President Obama prepares to begin drawing down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan this summer…

The report, prepared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority staff, comes as Congress and the American public have grown increasingly restive about the human and economic cost of the decade-long war and reflects growing concerns about Obama’s war strategy even among supporters within his party.

[It] describes the use of aid money to stabilize areas the military has cleared of Taliban fighters — a key component of the administration’s counterinsurgency strategy — as a short-term fix … But it says that the enormous cash flows can overwhelm and distort local culture and economies, and that there is little evidence the positive results are sustainable.

Why couldn’t they foresee it? Was there nobody in the White House or the Pentagon or the State Department who could take a long hard look at the Afghans and their “culture” and see how things were and will remain? No economist with six Ivy League degrees who could explain that when poor and primitive people are suddenly showered with money they won’t know what to do with it? –

One example cited in the report is the Performance-Based Governors Fund, which is authorized to distribute up to $100,000 a month in U.S. funds to individual provincial leaders for use on local expenses and development projects. In some provinces, it says, “this amount represents a tidal wave of funding” that local officials are incapable of “spending wisely.” … The fund encourages corruption.

The plan was that the Afghan government would “eventually take over this and other programs” – such as training and making proper use of an army and police force, and spreading literacy, and – Oh, who knows what else – setting up factories to improve and exploit nanotechnology and any number of other cockamamy schemes – but have now discovered to their dismay that the said government “has neither the management capacity nor the funds to do so”. Nor, let it be added, the will and power to change the time-honored custom of corruption.

The report also warns that the Afghan economy could slide into a depression with the inevitable decline of the foreign military and development spending that now provides 97 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

But as the natural state of such an economy is one of depression, that should be nothing for Americans to worry about. True, some Afghans will find to their wonder that they actually miss the Americans and all the military and “development” activity that provided the locals with employment and opportunity for rip-offs and other little treats and luxuries, but they’ll soon get over it as they return to the old ways.

The “single most important step” the Obama administration could take, the report says, is to stop paying Afghans “inflated salaries” — often 10 or more times as much as the going rate — to work for foreign governments and contractors. Such practices, it says, have “drawn otherwise qualified civil servants away from the Afghan government and created a culture of aid dependency.”

Which is something the socialist West has become very good at. And in Afghanistan in particular, the US has outdone itself in lavishing care on the populace regardless of expense, using the military as the care workers.

Even when U.S. development experts determine that a proposed project “lacks achievable goals and needs to be scaled back,” the U.S. military often takes it over and funds it anyway

The report … calls for “a simple rule: donors should not implement [aid] projects if Afghans cannot sustain them.”

If they were really to follow that rule, it would mean no aid money going there at all. So they won’t follow it.

Next come more surprises which should not be surprising from a Senate committee –

Last week, the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan said in a separate report that billions of dollars in U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in both countries could fall into disrepair over the next few years because of inadequate planning to pay for their ongoing operations and maintenance. That report warned that “the United States faces new waves of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Foreign aid expenditures by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan, about $320 million a month, pale beside the overall $10 billion monthly price tag for U.S. military operations. But Afghanistan is the biggest recipient of U.S. aid, with nearly $19 billion spent from 2002 to 2010. Much of that money has been expended in the past two years, most of it in war zones in the south and east of the country as part of the counterinsurgency strategy adopted by Obama just months after he took office.

And all of it wasted in the long view, every penny spent and yet to be spent –

The strategy, devised by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, calls for pouring U.S. development aid into areas that the military has cleared of Taliban fighters to persuade the population to support the Afghan government.

So there are still corners of the collective mind in which the light is not breaking. Why does the good general think that the Taliban won’t come back to the areas it has been cleared away from when the US military care-workers are gone? Why does he or anyone believe that there is any significant difference between the Taliban and the Afghan government?

Anyway, the committee which is about to reveal its unsurprising-surprising report knows the score now, however reluctant it is to admit its findings:

Evidence of successful aid programs based on “counterinsurgency theories” is limited, the Senate committee report says. “Some research suggests the opposite, and development best practices question the efficacy of using aid as a stabilization tool over the long run. The administration is understandably anxious for immediate results to demonstrate to Afghans and Americans alike that we are making progress. … However, insecurity, abject poverty, weak indigenous capacity, and widespread corruption create challenges for spending money.”

In other words, there is no real progress to demonstrate. None that will last even for a season. Just temporary window-dressing here and there at vast expense.

The report is gently but unmistakably critical of the “whole of government” approach implemented by Richard C. Holbrooke, who served as Obama’s special representative for the region until his death in December.

So Holbrooke was the blind man leading the blind in the cerebral dark.

From the beginning the Afghan project was doomed to failure. A tin flashlight of common sense should have made the hopelessness of it plain enough.

Instead the blind men went on waging what is probably the most pointless war in US history. And no doubt more treasure yet will be poured into the black hole of the Afghan corruptocracy, because all US administrations are addicted to giving aid. It is an ineradicable national superstition that aid does material good to the recipient states and “spiritual” good to the American soul. In fact, it does neither. It is simply an added burden on an over-burdened American economy, and some added Os to the totals of the Swiss bank accounts of Third World rulers.