Bad news from Kabul
This report from Salon is the most depressing of a string of depressing stories I’ve seen coming out of Afghanistan.
As the article makes clear, there are all sorts of reasons for the current problems, going back at least to the Russian invasion. But a big one is that the US has not spent the kind of money required to make a success of nationbuilding, and has not provided the kind of security that would encourage other donors to spend either. How much is needed would be hard to tell, but an obvious benchmark would be to return living standards to what they were before the current cycle of wars started. This would cost tens of billions of dollars, whereas the total amount being spent is around $1 billion.
All of this applies even more with respect to Iraq, which was wealthy before the war with the US started in 1991 (even more so before Saddam’s war with Iran). I estimated a few months back that a policy with a reasonable chance of establishing a stable democratic government would require expenditure of between $25 billion and $50 billion, and that the cost of undoing the damage of the last 15 years would be between $100 billion and $200 billion (all of this excludes the costs of military occupation). So far, the aid committed by the US Administration is $2 billion.
The pro-war Weekly Standard agrees, and has even suggested a petrol tax to defray some of the costs (thanks to Jack Strocchi for passing this along). Of course, there is no prospect of this happening. But at least the Standard, unlike most of those who supported the war, is pushing the Administration to take the kind of actions that would be needed to justify it.
It’s possible that the current policy of nation-building on the cheap might work. The atrocious attack on the UN building and, more generally, the shift towards civilian targets on the part of at those fighting the occupation forces may shift public sentiment against them. And perhaps the attacks on civilians are a sign of weakness. But the example of Afghanistan does not provide any grounds for optimism.