Afghan Crisis Must End America’s Empire of War, Corruption and Poverty

Yves here. Michael Hudson made a point similar to the one made in this post, based on the release of archival documents from the USSR. When the Soviets left Afghanistan, they were worried that there was a path to success for American that wasn’t open to them: foreign aid spending on a scale to improve the quality of life for the Afghan people. Instead, as this and other articles have documented, the funds instead went in considerable degree to open corruption (blatant skimming and non-performance by contractors).

By Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq

Americans have been shocked by videos of thousands of Afghans risking their lives to flee the Taliban’s return to power in their country – and then by an Islamic State suicide bombing and ensuing massacre by U.S. forces that together killed at least 170 people, including 13 U.S. troops.

Even as UN agencies warn of an impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the U.S. Treasury has frozen nearly all of the Afghan Central Bank’s $9.4 billion in foreign currency reserves, depriving the new government of funds that it will desperately need in the coming months to feed its people and provide basic services.

Under pressure from the Biden administration, the International Monetary Fund decided not to release $450 million in funds that were scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan to help the country cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. and other Western countries have also halted humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. After chairing a G7 summit on Afghanistan on August 24, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that withholding aid and recognition gave them “very considerable leverage – economic, diplomatic and political” over the Taliban.

Western politicians couch this leverage in terms of human rights, but they are clearly trying to ensure that their Afghan allies retain some power in the new government, and that Western influence and interests in Afghanistan do not end with the Taliban’s return. This leverage is being exercised in dollars, pounds, and euros, but it will be paid for in Afghan lives.

To read or listen to Western analysts, one would think that the United States and its allies’ 20-year war was a benign and beneficial effort to modernize the country, liberate Afghan women and provide healthcare, education and good jobs, and that this has all now been swept away by capitulation to the Taliban.

The reality is quite different, and not so hard to understand. The United States spent $2.26 trillion on its war in Afghanistan. Spending that kind of money in any country should have lifted most people out of poverty. But the vast bulk of those funds, about $1.5 trillion, went to absurd, stratospheric military spending to maintain the U.S. military occupation, drop over 80,000 bombs and missiles on Afghans, payprivate contractors, and transport troops, weapons and military equipment back and forth around the world for 20 years.

Since the United States fought this war with borrowed money, it has also cost half a trillion dollars in interest payments alone, which will continue far into the future. Medical and disability costs for U.S. soldiers wounded in Afghanistan already amount to over $175 billion, and they will likewise keep mounting as the soldiers age. Medical and disability costs for the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could eventually top a trillion dollars.

So what about “rebuilding Afghanistan”? Congress appropriated $144 billion for reconstruction in Afghanistan since 2001, but $88 billion of that was spent to recruit, arm, train and pay the Afghan “security forces” that have now disintegrated, with soldiers returning to their villages or joining the Taliban. Another $15.5 billion spent between 2008 and 2017 was documented as “waste, fraud and abuse” by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

The crumbs left over, less than 2% of total U.S. spending on Afghanistan, amount to about $40 billion, which should have provided some benefit to the Afghan people in economic development, healthcare, education, infrastructure and humanitarian aid.

But, as in Iraq, the government the U.S. installed in Afghanistan was notoriously corrupt, and its corruption only became more entrenched and systemic over time. Transparency International (TI) has consistently ranked U.S.-occupied Afghanistan as among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Western readers may think that this corruption is a long-standing problem in Afghanistan, as opposed to a particular feature of the U.S. occupation, but this is not the case. TI notesthat, “it is widely recognized that the scale of corruption in the post-2001 period has increased over previous levels.” A 2009 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that “corruption has soared to levels not seen in previous administrations.”

Those administrations would include the Taliban government that U.S. invasion forces removed from power in 2001, and the Soviet-allied socialist governments that were overthrown by the U.S.-deployed precursors of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the 1980s, destroying the substantial progress they had made in education, healthcare and women’s rights.

A 2010 report by former Reagan Pentagon official Anthony H. Cordesman, entitled “How America Corrupted Afghanistan”, chastised the U.S. government for throwing gobs of money into that country with virtually no accountability.

The New York Times reported in 2013 that every month for a decade, the CIA had been dropping off suitcases, backpacks and even plastic shopping bags stuffed with U.S. dollars for the Afghan president to bribe warlords and politicians.

Corruption also undermined the very areas that Western politicians now hold up as the successes of the occupation, like education and healthcare. The education system has been riddled with schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. Afghan pharmacies are stocked with fake, expired or low quality medicines, many smuggled in from neighboring Pakistan. At the personal level, corruption was fueled by civil servants like teachers earning only one-tenth the salaries of better-connected Afghans working for foreign NGOs and contractors.

Rooting out corruption and improving Afghan lives has always been secondary to the primary U.S. goal of fighting the Taliban and maintaining or extending its puppet government’s control. As TI reported, “The U.S. has intentionally paid different armed groups and Afghan civil servants to ensure cooperation and/or information, and cooperated with governors regardless of how corrupt they were… Corruption has undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan by fuelling grievances against the Afghan government and channelling material support to the insurgency.”

The endless violence of the U.S. occupation and the corruption of the U.S.-backed government boosted popular support for the Taliban, especially in rural areas where three quartersof Afghans live. The intractable poverty of occupied Afghanistan also contributed to the Taliban victory, as people naturally questioned how their occupation by wealthy countries like the United States and its Western allies could leave them in such abject poverty.

Well before the current crisis, the number of Afghans reporting that they were struggling to live on their current income increased from 60% in 2008 to 90% by 2018. A 2018  Gallup pollfound the lowest levels of self-reported “well-being” that Gallup has ever recorded anywhere in the world. Afghans not only reported record levels of misery but also unprecedented hopelessness about their future.

Despite some gains in education for girls, only a third of Afghan girls attended primary school in 2019 and only 37% of adolescent Afghan girls were literate. One reason that so few children go to school in Afghanistan is that more than two million children between the ages of 6 and 14 have to work to support their poverty-stricken families.

Yet instead of atoning for our role in keeping most Afghans mired in poverty, Western leaders are now cutting off desperately needed economic and humanitarian aid that was funding three quarters of Afghanistan’s public sector and made up 40% of its total GDP.

In effect, the United States and its allies are responding to losing the war by threatening the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan with a second, economic war. If the new Afghan government does not give in to their “leverage” and meet their demands, our leaders will starve their people and then blame the Taliban for the ensuing famine and humanitarian crisis, just as they demonize and blame other victims of U.S. economic warfare, from Cuba to Iran.

After pouring trillions of dollars into endless war in Afghanistan, America’s main duty now is to help the 40 million Afghans who have not fled their country, as they try to recover from the terrible wounds and trauma of the war America inflicted on them, as well as a massive drought that devastated 40% of their crops this year and a crippling third waveof covid-19.

The U.S. should release the $9.4 billion in Afghan funds held in U.S. banks. It should shift the $6 billion allocated for the now defunct Afghan armed forces to humanitarian aid, instead of diverting it to other forms of wasteful military spending. It should encourage European allies and the IMF not to withhold funds. Instead, they should fully fund the UN 2021 appeal for $1.3 billion in emergency aid, which as of late August was less than 40% funded.

Once upon a time, the United States helped its British and Soviet allies to defeat Germany and Japan, and then helped to rebuild them as healthy, peaceful and prosperous countries. For all America’s serious faults – its racism, its crimes against humanity in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and its neocolonial relations with poorer countries – America held up a promise of prosperity that people in many countries around the world were ready to follow.

If all the United States has to offer other countries today is the war, corruption and poverty it brought to Afghanistan, then the world is wise to be moving on and looking at new models to follow: new experiments in popular and social democracy; renewed emphasis on national sovereignty and international law; alternatives to the use of military force to resolve international problems; and more equitable ways of organizing internationally to tackle global crises like the Covid pandemic and the climate disaster.

The United States can either stumble on in its fruitless attempt to control the world through militarism and coercion, or it can use this opportunity to rethink its place in the world. Americans should be ready to turn the page on our fading role as global hegemon and see how we can make a meaningful, cooperative contribution to a future that we will never again be able to dominate, but which we must help to build.

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  1. Glossolalia

    History is littered with examples of nations and empires being undone by ruinous war debts. My understanding is that Nixon’s abandoning of the gold standard was directly related to the costs of the Vietnam war. One wonders how much of the insane fiscal policies of the last 20 years wouldn’t be necessary without the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos.

    On a related note, I’ve thinking about now Vietnam was largely fought with a conscripted army, so who cares if they lost faith in our military adventurism. But Iraq and Afghanistan were fought with an all volunteer army. Maybe we’ll have a generation or two of young men and women who realize that defending corporate interests overseas isn’t really worth the signing bonus after all.

    1. topcat

      The education / propaganda system in the US is very good at ensuring that young people learn nothing about US history and everything about Iron Man and Captain America etc etc. And US capitalism ensures that there are always enough desperate poor kids who will sign up. The only small chink of light is that the shitty corn-syrup-based food and GMO environment in the US is causing kids to be so overweight that they can’t fight, fit in a tank, sit in a plane cary a heavy weapon etc etc.

      1. d w

        you do realize that those are comic heroes, which have been around in some cases, over a 100 yeara ago? and doubtful that schools dont even tech them, short of a litterateur class. and probably not even then. the biggest problem with US (and best i can tell UK’s) is that they seem to be falling back to where the treat works like serfs, before that only changed because of the black plague, which wiped out so many of the serfs that lords of creation, had to actually try to treat them better. it sad when it takes a plague or a pandemic to change the emoloyees lives for the better.
        and while we might think food today isnt as good as before. that isnt true, its actually better, than it was in 17th,18th and 19th , and early 20th centuries. we can just say that hymenia was so great (in cties, where horses died, they were left to rot, even if that was next to a meat packing plant. and while may have ‘ fatter ‘ kids, its because they have food, wasnt that long ago, when food closer to a luxury. and the health of most are much better than before. but just like before there kids who just were going to be heavy.

        1. eg

          You might wish to investigate the rise in the consumption of sugar in the West and the concomitant rise in “diseases of civilization.”

    2. Dick Swenson

      It is interesting to note that we do not describe an all volunteer military as a mercenary military. What is the difference?

      Words matter.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        A mercenary army would fight for anyone that pays it enough. And would fight for different paying governmental or other ruling authorities at different times.

        If the U S Army were a mercenary army, it might go fight “for” China or Russia if/when they could pay more than the American government could pay. Do you think the US Army will do that?

  2. juliania

    This is not a time to say bravo, but I very much thank Yves for posting this important and humbling review of the reign of the United States in Afghanistan. It marks a turning point if we can make the turn.

    I pray we can.

    1. d w

      i doubt we will, the same noises show up today that did after Vietnam. unless some thing different happens this time, the same results will happen again.
      but then we (the US) have had a long history of thinking we can ‘help’ countries…some times for good reasons, but more often to line the pocket some else (like Cuba….which was used to line the pockets of the US agriculture industry…or Hawaii …where the kingdom was over thrown for the same reason)

      course lets not get to down on the US, the rest of the world has never been any better

  3. Wukchumni

    Too funny, we’re going to keep the bottle deposit on a case of empty sodas to teach those Afghans a lesson about messing with us!

    I don’t think we make the transition to a peaceful country without war coming to our shores and it won’t be another country attacking from afar. Everybody is armed and dangerous, and spoiling for a fight against a determined foe, us.

  4. The Rev Kev

    Is it that corrupt western governments ruled Afghanistan in the only way that they were familiar with? As in using corrupt methods? Because that is the way that it looks to me. And for the ordinary Afghan people, it is like they felt like that Game of Thrones quote – ‘They don’t get to choose.’

    Well it looks like they did. But can you imagine if they had drone-striked those allied war-lords and had used those trillions to raise the level of prosperity for all the Afghans instead? Then the Afghans would have had something worth fighting for. So what did the Afghans get instead? How about a gas station. One that cost $43 million to build. Which we paid for-

    1. Glen

      Yes, the Iraq and Afghanistan governments set up by the US after invasion were nothing but fun house mirror reflections of the US government that set them up, and a bitter realization of the level of corruption that is now accepted as normal in America.

  5. zagonostra

    “Americans should be ready to turn the page.” I’m sorry to point out that the people that write the book on international relationships and what role the U.S. should play are not amenable to being directed by the “will of the people” anymore than internally they are willing to provide single healthcare in a pandemic.

    Any substantive change in both internal and external political dynamics would require an “atonement” that would clean out the closet of covert and illegal operations that span decades and decimate the ruling elites, not something that will occur from some pangs of conscience or public display of finger pointing.

    1. ckimball

      “Americans should be ready to turn the page.” I’m sorry to point out that the people that write the book on international relationships and what role the U.S. should play are not amenable to being directed by the “will of the people” anymore than internally they are willing to provide single healthcare in a pandemic.

      I would love to see your comment’s juxtaposition repeated in many publications
      such as local newpapers all over this country. It could help people to remember
      how far away from the origins of the ideas they were taught to where this country has traveled.
      It’s odd, a the thought came to me this morning, where is remorse hiding and
      you speak of atonement. How badly beaten up most power be? It seems scary to look at history in this light.

  6. Henry Moon Pie

    Thanks for this much needed corrective to the nonstop BS emanating from all of the MSM from Fox to MSNBC. Speaking of which, why is Medea Benjamin’s wise voice missing from our televised media discourse? Can’t we interrupt the parade of Neocons for 5 minutes once or twice a day during this seemingly 24/7 coverage? I guess the answer is that even her limited presence would completely discredit their other “guests,” the well-paid warmongers.

  7. DJG, Reality Czar

    As much as I admire Medea Benjamin, her work for peace, and the clarity of her thinking, this is the one assertion in this essay that strikes the wrong note:

    If all the United States has to offer other countries today is the war, corruption and poverty it brought to Afghanistan, then the world is wise to be moving on

    I am thinking of Haiti and the U.S. over the last one hundred years. I am thinking of Guatemala over the last seventy years. I am thinking of Chile over the last fifty years.

    Like Vietnam, Afghanistan was a continuous disaster. Let’s not seek humanitarian impulses where there were none. In both cases, the U S A wanted to play power politics. In both cases, the U S A wasn’t up to its lofty reputation of handing out chewing gum and constitutionalism.

  8. Chauncey Gardiner

    In my view, adults who would engage in this type of impulsive, violent and vindictive behavior have deep psychological issues that can date back to their childhood. They should have no role in government nor occupy positions of influence or control over deployment of the nation’s military force or sanctions.

    There is a clear need for prudent application of “soft power” in the form of humanitarian aid here, with a sound system of checks and balances that is rigorously applied to minimize corruption. Such a policy might win us some friends globally, instead of more enemies. Heaven knows, policies over recent decades have contributed to creating far too many of the latter, perhaps by the design and intent of some, and at great cost, much of which presently remains hidden.

    War powers and application of sanctions should be in the hands of Congress, not those who would employ such force as the default option.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Thinking about all this in terms of “power” at all, is the root cause of all this horror. Soft or hard, “power” perverts and dissipates any energies and thinking that might lead to a homeostatic political economy and something other than the dead-end “policies” that are destroying the habitability of this planet.

      1. Chauncey Gardiner

        Interesting concept, JT. Had not previously considered the biological principle of homeostasis and the necessity of internal stability being applied as an argument for noninvolvement in foreign political, financial, social and economic systems as a precondition to addressing climate change. Would have to reflect on the applicability of the concept and the merit of your argument across disciplines that presumably would include medical care and food & nutrition security. Further, what is the sociopolitical unit to which homeostasis might apply?… the family, a community, an ethnic group, a nation, a supranational organization?

        Initially strikes me as analogous to the story of King Canute showing his courtiers his inability to hold back the tide; against relentless pressures of global population growth, constant dynamic change, and the many facets of human cognition, conditions, proclivities and behavior that can lead to disequilibrium. But given the stakes, we cannot give up; and what do I know? Thank you.

  9. A D

    Nonsensical American grudges against their former enemies have a long history. Some may recall that in the 80s, following Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia, the US and UK vocally supported Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge because they were supposedly anti communist for fighting back against the Vietnamese, despite the fact that it was well known by then that their Mao style revolution (which itself was sparked off partly by the US bombing campaign in the country and its support for a notoriously corrupt right-ist puppet govt) resulted in millions of Khmer deaths.

  10. Oh

    I wonder how much of the $9.4 billion in foreign currency reserves that the US has frozen was money that flowed into Afghanistan from here because of the war? A few years ago I read that 80-90% of their GDP was due to “aid”.

  11. David

    If Afghanistan is not the graveyard of empires (see this elegant take-down of the cliché by an eminent military historian) it is undoubtedly the graveyard of the kind of liberal, western-centric and hopelessly naive thinking represented in this article, which has failed in Afghanistan with a thoroughness with which not even the military defeat can compare.

    If the authors had visited the country, they would no doubt have been surprised to discover that, besides the US, there were many other actors on the ground, the vast majority trying to “make the lives of Afghans better.” International institutions like the UN and the EU, bilateral donors like the Japanese and the Swiss, development ministries from around the world and every NGO and charity you’ve ever heard of have spent billions every year on precisely the sort of initiatives that the article claims should have been done. But the result has not been the hoped-for transformation and development of the country, but the creation of a parasitic class dependent entirely on western grants and employment opportunities, and which has systematically robbed the ordinary Afghan. No wonder a lot of them want to leave the country. In the end, you can’t move a country through hundreds of years of social development just like that.

    The reality is that Afghanistan is a pre-modern state. (No, this is not a value-judgement but a technical one) That is to say, it has not yet developed what Max Weber call an “emancipated” administrative apparatus. There is no distinction in such states between official position and private gain. The purpose of getting a government job, or a job with an international organisation, is to profit personally from it. This was exactly the case in Europe a couple of hundred years ago. The solution to this, which takes time as in centuries, is the rise of a professional middle class which demands the creation of a capable and honest state to preserve its financial position. Afghanistan is nowhere near that, and has not appreciably approached it in the last twenty years: the so-called “middle class” is financed by western aid. Thus, as morally satisfying as it may be to imagine that corruption is all the West’s fault, it’s profoundly unhistorical and misguided so to argue. As I’ve been told by disillusioned NGOs, doctors and others, it’s endemic in a pre-modern system. The history of Afghanistan since the 1970s is of a class struggle between the more educated urban elites and the traditionalists in the countryside. The Soviets, who did actually understand class struggles, did their best to develop a genuine professional middle class. They also understood that modernisation and development inevitably involve conflict and violence, which the West has never been able to accept. The Taliban represented (and still do) the traditionalist and rural-based opposition to modernisation. They represent, if imperfectly, those who will never be content to die for a government that builds schools, because they don’t see the point of secular education. The West, by contrast, has created little more than a parasite class who speak English and know which slogans to parrot.

    Finally, it looks as though the authors are so deeply invested in the idea that the US is the source of all evil in the world and the evilest evilest regime in all of human history, that they can’t actually accept that there are much worse actors out there. And f you think that you can make a moral equivalence between the US and the Islamic State with talk of “massacre” I’d invite you to go out into the street and stop the first passing left-wing intellectual from a Muslim country, who’ll be happy to confirm that there are lots of things out there worse than the United States.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      That link has some fascinating insights. It hadn’t occurred to me that the opening of the Indian Ocean sea route had the effect of removing Afghanistans strategic importance on the Silk Roads, although it does make sense. Even when the Silk Road was in its heyday, Afghanistan would have been quite peripheral, the terrain there is just too difficult, routes north and south are easier. Having said that, there are some fascinating anecdotes about the region in one of my favourite old travel books, ‘The Road to Oxania’ by Robert Byron, written around 1929. He certainly didn’t consider it poor or a backwater.

      To add to what you wrote about the amount of aid money going in, while not on the scale, something similar happened in the 1960’s when the Soviets and the US started sparring over the country. Both sides of the Cold War were keen on development aid, but arguably it did little more than exacerbate the urban/rural divide in the country.

      Ultimately, I think pre-modern countries should as far as possible be let be, and allowed find their own route. You mention Tibet, but the one fragment of that region that has stayed largely unaffected by either war or well meaning professionals is Bhutan, and they have done a pretty good job of developing on their own terms. Maybe we should give the Afghans some space to do the same thing.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      I see that the article ends with the phrase . . . ” see how we can make a meaningful, cooperative contribution to a future that we will never again be able to dominate, but which we must help to build.”
      I reject that as left-wing crap.

      Actually, what the United States should do is to abolish Free Trade, institute around itself a Big Beautiful Wall of Militant Belligerent Protection, and rebuild its own destroyed economy. We will need rigid totalistic protectionism to prevent our trading enemies from carbon dumping their dreck onto our political economy.
      If we can keep out their high-carbon-footprint dreck, then we can institute a National Greenism in One Country type of Eco-Autarky because our carbon subsidy trading enemies won’t be burning it down as fast as we can get it built.

      Also . . . . foreign genocide is a foreign problem.
      We have no responsibility to protect and no responsibility to get involved and no responsibility to care.

        1. saywhat?

          Interestingly, interest (and profit-taking) is allowed from foreigners (eg. Deuteronomy 23:19-20) – as a means to subjugate them.

          However, even allowing the broadest possible interpretation of “a multi-cultural society”; ie. everyone is a foreigner to everyone else, government privileges for usurers are surely unjust in that they violate equal protection under the law.

    3. upstater

      How do you reconcile the fact that the USSR was, in your own admission attempting to establish a modern state, while the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were training, arming and supplying cannon fodder to destroy the beginnings of a modern socialist country. This was the intentional opening of Pandora’s box, the consequences of which have a very long way to play out. Bryznski absolutely dripped with Christian and US Imperialist arrogance in his interview with Le Nouvel Observateur [Paris], January 15-21, 1998, p. 76.:

      Q : When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret US involvement in Afghanistan , nobody believed them . However, there was an element of truth in this. You don’t regret any of this today?

      B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.” Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime , a conflict that bought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

      Q: And neither do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?

      B : What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

      Q : “Some agitated Moslems”? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today…

      B: Nonsense! It is said that the West has a global policy in regard to Islam. That is stupid: There isn’t a global Islam. Look at Islam in a rational manner, without demagoguery or emotionalism. It is the leading religion of the world with 1.5 billion followers. But what is t h ere in com m on among fundamentalist Saudi Arabia , moderate Morocco, militarist Pakistan, pro-Western Egypt, or secularist Central Asia? Nothing more than what unites the Christian countries…

      What happened after the Soviet withdrawal was an abandonment of our supposed allied freedom fighters. Absolutely nothing was put in place to help the Afghan people. The US had bigger fish to fry in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq and expanding the NATO lapdog kennel to Eastern Europe. More successes!

      A few days ago David, you were telling us how dangerous the are world views of Muslim movements like the Taliban and IS-K.

      Let’s be honest that this clear and present danger simply wouldn’t exist is not for the multi billion dollar decades long meddling of the US in a part of the world where it had absolutely no legitimate interest. It was EVIL to have initiated a conflict thar has lasted 42 years. We could make the same statements about US meddling in post colonial Sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia or much of South America. That meddling was also EVIL. The suffering of millions of innocents sits squarely in the lap of the United States.

      Criticizing peace advocates, as you regularly do here, amounts to ad hominem attacks simply for the reason they’re not official government representatives or blue-checked NGOs.

      Rule number 1: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

      1. Basil Pesto

        Criticizing peace advocates, as you regularly do here, amounts to ad hominem attacks simply for the reason they’re not official government representatives or blue-checked NGOs.

        Nonsense. David provided a detailed and informed response to the post, the very opposite of an ad hominem attack. If you paid as much attention to his posts as you credit yourself, you would have noticed that his contempt for ‘blue-checked NGOs’ runs deep.

        1. upstater

          There is always snark directed at peace activists and they are always portrayed as ignorant domestic US fools. These comment detract from David’s informed responses.

          The last paragraph of his comment say it all and does nothing to support his personal observations.

          Had David looked at Benjamin’s bio on Wikipedia he would have known she is widely traveled in a large number of conflict zones and was arrested and beaten by Egyptian police and deported. Obviously she clearly understands there are very dangerous places in the world.

          1. Basil Pesto

            That’s not what he said though. He said:

            I’d invite you to go out into the street and stop the first passing left-wing intellectual from a Muslim country, who’ll be happy to confirm that there are lots of things out there worse than the United States.

            That has precisely nothing to do with your submission that Benjamin “clearly understands that there are very dangerous places in the world”, which would be a comically trivial observation.

            It should go without saying that just because David is snarky towards “peace advocates” (I wonder if they’re in cahoots with “puppy advocates”, or “cuddle advocates”. snark is good actually.), does not mean that David is opposed to peace per se (hey, maybe he is though, I don’t know – I suspect there’s probably more to it than that).

  12. John

    I was forced to serve in the US Amy from 1969 to 1971. Drafted, enlisted for extra year to avoid combat duty. I regularly saw the acts of fraud and corruption that define our military adventurism then and now. I spent the summer of 1971 writing fraudulent accounts to justify money spent for a fraudulent mission. Friends of mine actually got a little article in the Wash Post detailing all the corruption they saw. The only place that went was to support internal resolutions in the War Department to never have a draftee army again. Volunteers would be more submissive to the waste, fraud and abuse. Especially the star spangled true believers.
    They are already planning the next heist in the Pentagon.
    Sorry Medea. I like what you do but… ya really think it is going to change?
    Just think of it as a cheap teevee crime drama IRL.

    1. ambrit

      Oh, and this is the point, there is nothing ‘cheap’ about the Pentagon and fellow travelers.
      We can have unwanted and fabulously overpriced military aircraft, but not National Health.
      That is a ‘cost’ that is borne by us all.

  13. Felix_47

    Thank you for posting Benjamin’s article. Everything he points out is right on. I spent a few years on the ground as a grunt more or less in AFG. How our administration thinks it can cut AFG off financially without massive starvation is beyond me? And it seems our administration is as blind as the others. We need to work with the Taliban. We did it before so why not again?

    Assume we spent 3 trillion on AFG. (With VA costs it might even be much higher) When I first deployed they had 20 million people. When I last deployed in 2017 they had 38 million. We could have given every man, woman and child 300000 in 2003 or put it in a national investment fund with a payout to every man woman and child. Had we done that AFG would be another Switzerland or Norway. Of course one could not give the money to the NGOS, the military, the leaders, the educated or anyone but the individual people.

    My impression from the start was that the people in the rural areas where I was stationed liked the Taliban. At least the men did. The Taliban preach the religion the men believe in. And we found the Pashtuns and Taliban to be people of relative honor. If you did what you said you were going to do they respected that and if you left them alone they left you alone. If we started to do a lot of search and destroy they would fight back every way they could. If you helped them with fuel or medical care they were thankful and did not attack.

    Between my first deployment and my last the population essentially doubled but the natural resources, water and agricultural land did not. There was a lot more rural poverty the second time. The US money was sucked up by the NGO people, the educated classes largely in Kabul, and the government and military officials. I had to inspect some of the things we thought we had built and report back. Much of what we thought we built like clinics and schools was Potemkin like. I am sure no one read what I wrote. They already knew.

    So doubling the population did seem to make things more toxic. We had more IED attacks. On the other hand we were a lot more skilled in figuring out where and when. The poverty was worse and one thing that seems to be skipped in all the reporting on Afghanistan is the fact that they are polygamous and that means they have a large number of surplus, poor, sex starved, high testosterone, fighting age men who may even believe they will get 72 virgins if they blow themselves up around a few US soldiers. The poverty is a consequence of an average of five births per woman in Afg. without an increase in the economic production, excluding opium. The poverty combined with polygamy has a tremendous effect on Taliban recruiting.

    According to Wikipedia ‘Large numbers of Afghan men cannot afford to buy a wife (through providing money for dowries and weddings). When the nonprofit International Council on Security and Development interviewed more than 420 Afghan men in 2010, 82 percent suggested that the best way to discourage young men from joining the Taliban would be to provide them with money for dowries and weddings.[7] In general, there are not enough women for some men to have multiple wives and, at the same time, for every man to have one wife.’

    What I still find interesting is that everyone has an opinion about Afghanistan but the most obvious things seem to escape attention. A soaring birthrate and polygamy in a land of resource poverty. So had we just given the money to the people the outcome would have been much better. I suspect the excess population would have been able to move to Europe or the US and live quite well on the 300,000 per capita. A family of a man, two wives and ten kids would be able to start a new life in the US with 4 million dollars. Or if we were really thinking about the future we could do some sort of payout now tied to a tubal ligation or vasectomy after two kids and even now with a substantial payout I suspect the Taliban would legislate a 2 child policy and monogamy. Money talks. If we are going to be supporting Afghanistan, and I never favored the occupation but we have married them and now we have to deal with it, we have a moral obligation to focus on the root causes. Without campaign finance reform in the US it is anyone’s guess what will happen. The decision will be made on Wall Street and communicated to the Democratic leadership. Maybe a feeding program carried out by Citibank or Chase or Lockheed Martin as the contractor. Charge 50 bucks a meal delivered to Ghazni. or Mazar al Sharif,

    1. Polar Socialist

      who may even believe they will get 72 virgins if they blow themselves up

      Often you don’t need even that much. I recall one catholic priest in Northern Ireland during the troubles stating that young men in his parish had two choices: join IRA and be killed by the paras, or not join IRA and be killed by the paras. At least the first option gave them a chance to fight back.

      A friend of mine had two immigrant kids from Gaza on his special education class, according to him both (primary school age) kids were basically just a tangled mess of ptsd incapable of participating in a meaningful level. They didn’t trust anything or anyone.

      You take away hope, replace it with random acts of violence and you grow up a generation or two of people who’s only way to find any meaning in their life is to sacrifice themselves to attack the oppressor.

  14. drumlin woodchuckles

    Iran, Russia and China are right there, on scene right around Afghanistan. They will have a better pragmatic idea about what help which Afghans do and don’t need than our DC FedRegime ever did or ever could.

    Let Iran, Russia and China help the Taliban to straighten Afghanistan out. ( They may have to torture the ISI ((“Pakistan”)) into not interfering in Afghanistan. If so, let them be the ones to apply the necessary torture against the ISI to housebreak it and domesticate it).

  15. Susan the other

    Our methods preclude our success. We need a new Big Idea to rid us of our old thinking and tackle something entirely different so we don’t fall back into bad old habits. Maybe Afghanistan is too forsaken for any new ideas to grow. It’s a place full of religious thieves living badly. And that has nothing to do with why “we are there.” We are there because our own economy failed – a little something nobody advertises. We needed something, anything, to kick-start it. Who are we to claim to “nation build” anything? The USA only functions as a nation because it is spending money and gobbling up resources at extremely unsustainable levels. Spending money is OK – it’s just human fuel; but gobbling up resources is nuts. And certainly the rest of the world can’t live like 20th century capitalists. It’s absurd. Did anybody ever bother to ask Afghanistan what it wants to become? Let them decide. There’s no reason on god’s green earth for us to stay there.

  16. Sound of the Suburbs

    What were they really after in Afghanistan, Donald?
    Its plentiful mineral resources.

    This is what they were after.
    That was the problem with Trump; he kept giving the game away.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Well . . . China gets the minerals. So the joke is on any one else who thought they would get the minerals.

    2. MonkeyBusiness

      I don’t think Afghanistan has the best physical infrastructure. Yes, they have minerals, but how are they going to be delivered to wherever they need to be delivered?

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        China will figure it out. China will get it done. China does big things in a big way, bigly.

  17. HH

    The fact that Medea Benjamin is invisible in corporate media, while criminal war mongers like Kissinger, Rove and Wolfowitz are asked for commentary speaks to the depth of rot in the mainstream media. Alternative Internet news will eventually displace the toxic corporate media outlets poisoned by militarism, but it will take many years and possibly a few more disasters like Afghanistan.

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