• Afghanistan Video Game: You Win with ‘Hearts and Minds’ Points (Seriously)

    May 4, 2017 // 3 Comments »



    I suppose it had to come to this, perhaps the intersection of absurdity and unreality expressed through a video game as the only true way to capture the essence of America’s 15 year+ was in Afghanistan.


    I must stress this is a real game. It is not satire or a joke. The game plays you in the role of supreme commander of everything U.S. in Afghanistan and requires you to democratize the country. You do this by bombing the sh*t out of stuff, meeting with elders, pulling out “intelligence” and reconstruction cards, and accomplishing tasks like bringing fresh water to some village to pull it away from Taliban control. There are also drones you control, lots of drones.

    Winning is determined by collecting Hearts and Minds Points as determined by the computer based on your actions. The same company makes, and I swear to God this is true, a Vietnam War version of the game that works much the same way.

    Here’s a video of some Douchey McDouche playing the game. Be sure to fast forward to 7:10 , where he blows away his first Taliban for freedom.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Military

    Nooooooooooooooo! Iraq Asks U.S. for Marshall Plan Reconstruction Funds

    May 1, 2017 // 15 Comments »


    Iraq’s Foreign Minister this week asked the United States to develop a financial plan for the reconstruction of the country after ISIS, similar to a program developed for Western Europe after the Second World War.

    In discussions with Special Presidential Envoy to the Coalition Brett McGurk, Ibrahim al-Jaafari stressed the need for “collective support from the international community to contribute to the reconstruction of infrastructure after the defeat of terrorism.” Jaafari suggested “the adoption of a project similar to the Marshall Plan which contributed to rebuilding Germany after the Second World War.”

    Iraq will need billions of dollars to rebuild after ISIS. Large portions of major cities were destroyed in the war, infrastructure was neglected under ISIS, villages are riddled with mines and booby-traps. The deputy governor of Anbar estimated that his province would need $22 billion alone for reconstruction.
    Um, never mind invoking the Marshall Plan. What needs to be cited here is that the United States already spent billions to reconstruct Iraq, from 2003-2010. I know. I was there. It was my job to help spend some of those billions. We accomplished less than nothing. In fact, our failure to reconstruct Iraq then lead in a direct line to the Iraq of now. I cannot believe I am writing this. Again.

    See, in fact, I wrote a whole book about it: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, in 2011. I just sent a copy to Special Presidential Envoy to the Coalition Brett McGurk, and asked him to pass it on to the Iraqi Foreign Minister after he’s done reading it.
    But in case Brett or the Minister don’t get around to reading a whole book, here’s a shorter version.

    I spent a year in Iraq as a U.S. Foreign Service officer, leading two of the then-vaunted Provincial Reconstruction Teams. We were charged with nothing less than winning the war for America by rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure, creating a functioning democracy and stable economy that would preclude terrorists like ISIS (well, it was al Qaeda then) from gaining a foothold, and thus ensuring Iraq would be an ally of the United States in the war on terror. This is the same mission statement that the Iraqi Foreign Minister would want tagged to his proposed reconstruction plan.

    When my book came out in September 2011, most people I met with threw out skeptical comments: “Well, maybe it will work out like in Germany and Japan,” they said. When I met with staffers from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2012, they said, “We’d like to believe you, but everything that State tells us contradicts your thesis that the money spent was just a big waste.”

    But now it’s official. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction concluded “$60 billion in American taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost.”

    Then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said “that $55 billion could have brought great change in Iraq,” but the positive effects of those funds were too often “lost.”

    Then Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, the country’s top Sunni official, told auditors that the rebuilding efforts did not “achieve the purpose for which it was launched. Rather, it had unfavorable outcomes in general.” Like ISIS.

    There “was usually a Plan A but never a Plan B,” said Kurdish official Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
    Shiite, Sunni, Kurd. Trust me, about the only thing everybody agrees on is the United States spent a bundle of money between 2003-2011 and got nothing for it but ISIS.

    According to the Associated Press, the United States has spent more than $60 billion in reconstruction grants on Iraq. That works out to about $15 million a day. Overall, including all military and diplomatic costs and other aid, the United States has spent at least $767 billion since the U.S.-led invasion began.

    And guess who was one of the people in charge of the last Iraq reconstruction? Special Presidential Envoy to the Coalition Brett McGurk. Maybe this time around he’s smart enough to not get fooled again. In fact, I’ve recommended a book for him to read to help out.

     

    McGurk Bonus: McGurk spent a good portion of the last 14 years working for the U.S. Government in Iraq, advising several ambassadors and leading the failed negotiations to secure permanent U.S. bases there. You’d kinda think having that on your resume – “I am partially responsible for everything that happened in Iraq for the last ten years, including America’s tail-between-its-legs retreat” — might make it hard to get another job running Iraq policy. Who goes out of their way to hire the coach that lost most of his games?

    The other side of McGurk’s failed attempt at being ambassador to Iraq was his questionable personal life, which in turn raised issues of judgement, decorum, discretion, and class. It was his sexual misconduct that brought the real questions of competence and ability to light. For no apparent gain, but whatever, Iraq.

     

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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Military

    So How’s That Coalition Thing Working Out in Afghanistan?

    January 13, 2017 // 68 Comments »

    embassy in iraq


    Short Answer: It’s been 15+ years of coalition and the Taliban are still there, the Afghan government in Kabul is even more corrupt, and most of Afghanistan is as economically decrepit as ever.

    A report, “Lessons From the Coalition,” emerged from a conference co-hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace (yes, we have one, it is part of the State Department and doesn’t do much but organize events in Washington.) The conference brought together representatives from eleven major donor nations, the EU, UN, World Bank, and NATO to share common experiences and lessons from the Afghan reconstruction effort.

    Here’s what they concluded:

    — The confluence of conflicting goals and divided actors led to a situation in which countries were often pursuing disparate and sometimes ill-defined missions in Afghanistan. In fact, many nations were unclear as to what they were trying to achieve in Afghanistan.

    — Many countries were primarily motivated by their alliance commitments to the United States, rather than specific strategic goals related to Afghanistan, and were often more focused on what was happening in Washington than in Kabul.

    — Conference participants were critical of instances when military forces undertook development work, indicating their efforts often ended up costing more and being less effective than those of their civilian counterparts.

    — Inability to understand the local context led to projects that unintentionally benefited corrupt officials, threatened local governance, led to escalating violence, sabotage of the project itself, and wasted resources.

    — Development projects did not buy security. Participants believed that when development projects occurred in insecure places, the projects either benefited the insurgency or insurgents increased violence to counteract any potential gains.

    — One participant referred to the regular turnover of personnel as an “annual lobotomy.”

    — Conditions placed on funds were often not credible, as donors were ultimately unwilling to withhold funds that were essential to preventing the collapse of the Afghan government. Afghan officials were aware of these limitations and were able to call donors’ bluffs. When faced with a donor’s conditions, Afghan officials could often obtain funding from another donor.


    But, hey, I’m sure they all meant well in their efforts. Hell, someone should write a book about that so no one repeats the same mistakes in the next war.


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    Afghan Maintenance Program You Pay For Wastes $423 Million

    August 8, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    afghan

    So, Afghanistan. America’s longest and wackiest war will soon enter its 16th year, and is scheduled to run through the next administration, as no one can remember why the U.S. is fighting there anymore and so no one knows when this thing is over. Did we win yet? How would we know?


    None of that matters of course, because plenty of American contractors are in their 16th year of getting filthy rich, thanks to extraordinary amounts of money being spent with no effective oversight by the Department of Defense. Let’s have the latest example.

    Our friends at the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) are the poor b*stards charging with keeping track of all this waste. Once upon a time the point of an Inspector General was to point things out to upper management, like generals or Congress, so problems could be addressed. In 2016, the point of the Inspector General is to be ignored because no one in Washington actually care to fix anything.

    Nonetheless, SIGAR has its job, and so has published an audit of America’s Afghan National Army Technical Equipment Maintenance Program, designed to maintain Afghan army vehicles at our expense and develop a vehicle maintenance capacity within the army.

    It has not gone well. The audit notes:

    — The five-year contract, originally valued at a fixed price of nearly $182 million, increased to $423 million due to contract modifications. The thing is still amusingly referred to as a “fixed price contract,” because words mean something else in the land of fairies and procurement.

    — The failure of the contractor, Afghanistan Integrated Support Services, to meet its most basic contract requirements and program objectives, and Department of Defense inaction to correct contractor deficiencies and seek repayment of funds, has resulted in not only the waste of U.S. taxpayer funds but in the need for a new maintenance contract that is projected to cost more than $1 billion over the next five years.

    — The contract was originally structured based on the assumption that the Afghan army had the capability to provide spare parts when and where they were needed, and that the Afghan army was capable of performing higher-level maintenance tasks, even though it had ample evidence that such capabilities did not exist.

    — The U.S. placed orders for spare parts for Afghan army vehicles without accurate information as to what parts were needed or already in stock.

    — The contract performance metric did not accurately assess contractor performance or progress toward contract objectives.

    — The contractor was cited 113 times for failing to fulfill contract requirements.

    — SIGAR found a number of instances where DOD could have demanded, but did not demand, repayment for services not rendered or inadequate services rendered.

    — The contractor was compensated for repairs it made based on the number of vehicles in the Afghan vehicle fleet and not on the actual number of vehicles repaired. Payments to the contractor based on Afghan army vehicle inventory and not vehicles actually repaired resulted in escalating per-vehicle repair costs from a low of $1,889 to a high per-vehicle repair cost of $51,395.

    — The Afghan army continues to suffer gaps in vehicle readiness, accountability, maintenance management, and supply chain management, and that these gaps affected their ability to execute military operations.

    Some of this could possibly explain why the U.S. keeps losing the war.




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    U.S. Awards $1.7 Billion Contract to Buy Radios for Afghan Army

    July 29, 2016 // 24 Comments »




    I always found myself giggling during the Democratic debates when Hillary would ask Bernie how he was going to pay for things like healthcare or college tuition, and then Bernie stammering to find an answer.


    They both knew the secret but neither would say it — there’s plenty of money, we just don’t want to spend it on Americans.

    We think of that as freeloading, unearned stuff. Go get a job, moocher. But then move the same question overseas and everything changes. There is always plenty of money, and the people getting free stuff from that money aren’t moochers. They’re allies.

    So how much healthcare would $1.7 billion buy? Because that’s how much money the United States just laid out to buy radios for the near-useless Afghan Army. And while I don’t know how much healthcare the money would buy, I do know it will purchase a helluva lot of radios. Is everyone in Afghanistan getting one? Maybe we’re buying them for the Taliban, too.


    Anyway, the $1,700,000,000 radios for Afghanistan contract was just recently awarded to the Harris Corporation. And here’s a funny thing: only one company — Harris — actually put in a bid for the contract.

    But the Afghans must need more stuff than just radios, and so the U.S. has money ready for that.

    The United States will provide $3 billion to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces from 2018 to 2020 for, well, we don’t really know. Meanwhile, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan said the White House planned to ask Congress for about $1 billion a year in development and economic assistance for Afghanistan through 2020. And if that isn’t enough, the United States and its allies are expected to raise $15 billion for the Afghan National Defense and Security forces at a NATO summit scheduled for next month in Warsaw.

    There’s money. You just can’t have any of it, moochers.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Military

    Iraq is Broke. You Have to Pay for It.

    April 2, 2016 // 14 Comments »

    sheikeagle


    The next time a candidate or reporter asks during a debate about education or healthcare “But how are you going to pay for that?” I would like the person being questioned to respond “The same way we find money to pay for Iraq.”


    So maybe it would just be better for Flint, Michigan to claim it is under attack by ISIS instead of just being poisoned because no one has the money to fix America’s infrastructure.

    See, each month, Iraq’s government pays out nearly $4 billion in salaries and pensions to the military and a bloated array of corrupt public-sector workers. But with more than 90 percent of government revenue coming from oil, it is bringing in only about half that as crude prices plunge. Some Iraqi officials and analysts say the government might struggle later this year to pay the seven million people on the public payroll, which could trigger mass unrest.

    As a sign of the times, Iraqis are facing more nominal charges every day. Hospitals, which have long treated Iraqis free of charge, have introduced fees, for example, even for those visiting sick relatives.

    For Iraq, the decline comes in the midst of an already destabilizing war. There are bills for reconstructing flattened cities destroyed for freedom, and assistance for the 3.3 million Iraqis who have been internally displaced over the past two years, with more expected to come.


    So — good news, at least for Iraq — the United States is stepping in with U.S. taxpayer money to make sure the country can continue military spending while it seeks international loans.

    So, while there is apparently no way anyone can conceive of to pay for fixing America’s infrastructure, making higher education affordable, reducing healthcare costs or any of those other icky socialist thingies, there is money for Iraq!



    BONUS: No one really knows how much money the U.S. has already spent in Iraq, but it is way over two trillion dollars.

    BONUS BONUS: The golden eagle shown above was paid for by the American taxpayers in 2010 as part of the reconstruction of Iraq. The area where it is shown is now devastated by the current fighting. I took the photo myself.





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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Military

    Iraq Ranks In Ten Most Corrupt Countries In World, Again

    March 30, 2016 // 7 Comments »

    money


    Iraq, the failed state that over 4,600 (and counting…) Americans died to free from some evil tyrant 13 years ago, is still ranking high internationally in something. Unfortunately, that something is corruption.

    A couple of other places where America has been intervening for freedom also made the list.

    Germany’s Transparency International released its newest corruption index for 2015, and as usual Iraq was on the list. The ten worst countries in its new study were Somalia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Angola, Libya, Iraq, Venezuela, and Guinea-Bissau.

    Seven of those nations held the same worst ranks last year. Iraq received the same score that it had for the last two years.

    Most Corrupt Countries On Transparency International Corruption Index 2015:

    1. Somalia
    2. North Korea
    3. Afghanistan
    4. Sudan
    5. South Sudan
    6. Angola
    7. Libya
    8. Iraq
    9. Venezuela
    10. Guinea-Bissau

    In Iraq, corruption is rampant throughout the state. The ruling elite use graft and bribes to maintain their patronage systems, their militias, and to enrich themselves. That’s also the reason why there is no real push to end it; if one top official was taken down it would threaten all the rest.

    According to experts, that’s despite repeated promises by the prime ministers, the complaints of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and protests that occur almost every year demanding action on the issue. Current U.S.-chosen Prime Minister Haidar Abadi, for example, announced a reform program in August 2015 that was supposed to address corruption, but he was focused more on building up his own base and going after his rivals than actually addressing the problem, and nothing substantive was done. No one, including America, wants to seriously touch the golden goose that keeps the Iraqi good times going.


    BONUS: See who else is on the top ten corruption list? U.S. occupied Afghanistan is No. 3. Libya, where the U.S. overthrew another evil tyrant with no follow-on plan, is No. 7. Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan are all places with active U.S.-led miniwars afoot.

    It is almost as if there is a pattern here…



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Military

    Pentagon Wastes $800 Million On Businesses in Afghanistan

    January 29, 2016 // 13 Comments »

    Local Afghan

    Short answer: the Pentagon spent $800 million of your tax dollars to try and get businesses started in Afghanistan. They didn’t get any businesses started.

    Nobody spent a f*cking penny to help Americans at home start businesses like that.


    Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Brian McKeon told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support that maybe all that money wasn’t wasted. McKeon said that the costly effort “had mixed results, with some successes and some failures.” He urged patience before branding the whole project as entirely misguided. “It’s a little early to say,” he offered, adding that “the jury is still out” on the fate of various projects.

    McKeon, however, listed no specific projects that succeeded and gave no information on why it may be too early to tell how things will work out in Afghanistan. He did not say out loud, but knew, that this sh*t has been going on in Afghanistan for more than 14 years already, so how can it still be too early to tell? Dude, you’re not aging whiskey here.


    McKeon faced off before the subcommittee against John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), who described the Defense Department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, known as TFBSO, the folks who spent that $800 million because they could not find a match to simply set fire to it, as a “scattershot approach.”

    “It sounded like they just got together and they said, ‘Hey, this sounds like a great idea, and we have an unlimited budget. Let’s just do it and see if it works.’ And that’s why no one could really say with any credibility that the programs were effective,” Sopko remarked.

    Sopko’s office has unleashed critical reports about Pentagon spending in Afghanistan — especially TFBSO, which was finally disbanded in a mercy killing last year. Financial records show that the task force spent $43 million on a compressed natural gas filling station that has been widely mocked as the world’s most expensive. It also spent upwards of $150 million on private villas and associated security, bankrolled a multi-million dollar Afghan start-up incubator that is now defunct, and even paid to import Italian goats in order to jumpstart the country’s cashmere industry.

    “Now what I want to know, Secretary McKeon, is who made this decision?” Senator Claire McCaskill asked. “Who decided it was a brilliant idea when the people of a country make $690 a year that we’re going to spend — I don’t care if it was $2.9 million or $200 million — who made the brilliant decision that this is a good idea, to put a natural gas gas station in Afghanistan?”

    McKeon wasn’t prepared to answer that question, though he added “I’m not a businessman. You make a lot of valid points.”




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    Syria: What Would Boots on the Ground Look Like?

    November 24, 2015 // 3 Comments »

    armyboots
    Pressure on the White House to escalate the Syria/Iraq war has no doubt intensified post-Paris.

    Should Islamic State take things further and strike an American civilian target, President Barack Obama would be all but forced to “do something.” What would that “something” likely look like, and what might be the pitfalls?

    Post-Paris, France and the United States immediately increased their air campaign in Syria. The visuals play well on television, as American audiences have seen over the last 24 years of airstrikes on Iraq. For an Obama appeared wary of deeper involvement in Syria, this may be enough to tamp down the pressure assuming no future attack on American civilians. France may also find a short and sharp set of revenge attacks enough for the near term, as Jordan did in at the beginning of this year, after the horrific burning alive of one its pilots captured by Islamic State. Things could settle back into a more routine fight.

    However, if Islamic State were to strike against Americans, President Obama would almost be required to escalate, and more of the same airstrikes and colorful missile launches would not satisfy demands for vengeance. They would not have been sufficient a year ago, and certainly not in the midst of a presidential campaign. Any perceived lack of resolve would hand the Republicans a red, white and blue issue to take them through the next 12 months, and Hillary Clinton would be forced to break with the White House.

    America’s escalation could take only one form: many more American boots on the ground.

    No one would call it an invasion, but that is what it would be, regardless of scale. The most likely paths into Syria would be through Turkey if that government blessed it (and remember, Turkey refused to open their borders for the 2003 American invasion of Iraq), or, most likely, via Jordan, with a smaller force from the northeast, across the Iraqi border.

    The United States has a notably infrastructure and a compliant government in place in Jordan. In May of this year, thousands of soldiers from 18 countries took part in war games in Jordan, overseen by the American Army. The Jordanians themselves are already considering a militarized “humanitarian corridor” into Syria that could easily morph into an invasion route.

    Since 2013, the United States has been growing its military presence in Jordan, to include strike aircraft, missle defenses and strategic planners, lots of planners, the infrastructure of war. An attack against Islamic State from the south might also isolate Damascus for follow-on action against Assad. From a military point of view, Israel and the Golan Heights it controls provide neat protection on the invasion’s left flank. Lastly, Jordanian involvement would help dress up the American invasion by giving it something of an Arab face.

    Sending large numbers of troops into Syria from the northeast, via Iraq, would likely encouch on Islamic State’s strongholds in northern Iraq and sandwich the United States between them and Islamic State fighters in northern Syria. Foreign fighters could also find their way in across the Turkish border. Still, moving airborne and special operations troops through Kurdish-held areas would be possible and necessary to reach Islamic State from another front.

    It would very surprising to see any significant American escalation in Iraq proper, absent perhaps inside the Kurdish confederacy. Americans dying once again in the Iraqi desert would be a tough sell domestically, the Iraqi government in Baghdad and its Iranian partners would be less than receptive, and militarily dividing Islamic State into a Syrian force and an Iraqi force would accomplish much on its own without re-inserting American troops into the Iraqi civil war.

    The problem with all this chess playing is the identical one that bred Islamic State into existence in the first place.

    As the United States saw in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, winning on the battlefield is the easy part. Assuming Islamic State could be physically destroyed (a big assumption itself given its diffuse nature and political support among many Sunnis), what follows? Who will govern “liberated” areas? How much land will the Kurds seize for themselves in northern Syria and how will Turkey react to that? Syria is a wrecked wasteland flooded with internally displaced persons. Who will pay for reconstruction, and why would anyone think it would work any better in Syria than it did in Iraq and Afghanistan? Will the Russians simply stand aside?

    Scenarios that put boots on the ground are easy to foresee, and the possible on-the-ground strategies are clear enough to speculate on. How to deal with the aftermath is what really matters, and what’s the plan for that?

     

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    Roads to Nowhere, Ghost Soldiers, and a $43 Million Gas Station in Afghanistan

    November 13, 2015 // 10 Comments »

    pigs_trough


    A guest article today by Tom Englehardt, orginally published on his own website, TomDispatch.com, as “The American Way of War in the Twenty-First Century”

    Let’s begin with the $12 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills, Iraqi oil money held in the U.S.  The Bush administration began flying it into Baghdad on C-130s soon after U.S. troops entered that city in April 2003.  Essentially dumped into the void that had once been the Iraqi state, at least $1.2 to $1.6 billion of it was stolen and ended up years later in a mysterious bunker in Lebanon.  And that’s just what happened as the starting gun went off.

    It’s never ended.  In 2011, the final report of the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting estimated that somewhere between $31 billion and $60 billion taxpayer dollars had been lost to fraud and waste in the American “reconstruction” of Iraq and Afghanistan.  In Iraq, for instance, there was that $75 million police academy, initially hailed “as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country’s security.”  It was, however, so poorly constructed that it proved a health hazard.  In 2006, “feces and urine rained from the ceilings in [its] student barracks” and that was only the beginning of its problems.

    When the bad press started, Parsons Corporation, the private contractor that built it, agreed to fix it for nothing more than the princely sum already paid.  A year later, a New York Times reporter visited and found that “the ceilings are still stained with excrement, parts of the structures are crumbling, and sections of the buildings are unusable because the toilets are filthy and nonfunctioning.”  This seems to have been par for the course.  Typically enough, the Khan Bani Saad Correctional Facility, a $40 million prison Parsons also contracted to build, was never even finished.

    And these were hardly isolated cases or problems specific to Iraq.  Consider, for instance, those police stations in Afghanistan believed to be crucial to “standing up” a new security force in that country.  Despite the money poured into them and endless cost overruns, many were either never completed or never built, leaving new Afghan police recruits camping out.  And the police were hardly alone.  Take the $3.4 million unfinished teacher-training center in Sheberghan, Afghanistan, that an Iraqi company was contracted to build (using, of course, American dollars) and from which it walked away, money in hand.

    And why stick to buildings, when there were those Iraqi roads to nowhere paid for by American dollars? At least one of them did at least prove useful to insurgent groups moving their guerrillas around (like the $37 million bridge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built between Afghanistan and Tajikistan that helped facilitate the region’s booming drug trade in opium and heroin).  In Afghanistan, Highway 1 between the capital Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar, unofficially dubbed the “highway to nowhere,” was so poorly constructed that it began crumbling in its first Afghan winter.

    And don’t think that this was an aberration.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) hired an American nonprofit, International Relief and Development (IRD), to oversee an ambitious road-building program meant to gain the support of rural villagers.  Almost $300 million later, it could point to “less than 100 miles of gravel road completed.”  Each mile of road had, by then, cost U.S. taxpayers $2.8 million, instead of the expected $290,000, while a quarter of the road-building funds reportedly went directly to IRD for administrative and staff costs.  Needless to say, as the road program failed, USAID hired IRD to oversee other non-transportation projects.

    In these years, the cost of reconstruction never stopped growing.  In 2011, McClatchy News reported that “U.S. government funding for at least 15 large-scale programs and projects grew from just over $1 billion to nearly $3 billion despite the government’s questions about their effectiveness or cost.”

    The Gas Station to Nowhere

    So much construction and reconstruction — and so many failures.  There was the chicken-processing plant built in Iraq for $2.58 million that, except in a few Potemkin-Village-like moments, never plucked a chicken and sent it to market.  There was the sparkling new, 64,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, $25 million headquarters for the U.S. military in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, that doubled in cost as it was being built and that three generals tried to stop.  They were overruled because Congress had already allotted the money for it, so why not spend it, even though it would never be used?  And don’t forget the $20 million that went into constructing roads and utilities for the base that was to hold it, or the $8.4 billion that went into Afghan opium-poppy-suppression and anti-drug programs and resulted in… bumper poppy crops and record opium yields, or the aid funds that somehow made their way directly into the hands of the Taliban (reputedly its second-largest funding source after those poppies).

    There were the billions of dollars in aid that no one could account for, and a significant percentage of the 465,000 small arms (rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, and the like) that the U.S. shipped to Afghanistan and simply lost track of.  Most recently, there was the Task Force for Business Stability Operations, an $800-million Pentagon project to help jump-start the Afghan economy.  It was shut down only six months ago and yet, in response to requests from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Pentagon swears that there are “no Defense Department personnel who can answer questions about” what the task force did with its money.  As ProPublica’s Megan McCloskey writes, “The Pentagon’s claims are particularly surprising since Joseph Catalino, the former acting director of the task force who was with the program for two years, is still employed by the Pentagon as Senior Advisor for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism.”

    Still, from that pile of unaccountable taxpayer dollars, one nearly $43 million chunk did prove traceable to a single project: the building of a compressed natural gas station.  (The cost of constructing a similar gas station in neighboring Pakistan: $300,000.)  Located in an area that seems to have had no infrastructure for delivering natural gas and no cars converted for the use of such fuel, it represented the only example on record in those years of a gas station to nowhere.

    All of this just scratches the surface when it comes to the piles of money that were poured into an increasingly privatized version of the American way of war and, in the form of overcharges and abuses of every sort, often simply disappeared into the pockets of the warrior corporations that entered America’s war zones.  In a sense, a surprising amount of the money that the Pentagon and U.S. civilian agencies “invested” in Iraq and Afghanistan never left the United States, since it went directly into the coffers of those companies. 

    Clearly, Washington had gone to war like a drunk on a bender, while the domestic infrastructure began to fray.  At $109 billion by 2014, the American reconstruction program in Afghanistan was already, in today’s dollars, larger than the Marshall Plan (which helped put all of devastated Western Europe back on its feet after World War II) and still the country was a shambles. In Iraq, a mere $60 billion was squandered on the failed rebuilding of the country.  Keep in mind that none of this takes into account the staggering billions spent by the Pentagon in both countries to build strings of bases, ranging in size from American towns (with all the amenities of home) to tiny outposts.  There would be 505 of them in Iraq and at least 550 in Afghanistan.  Most were, in the end, abandoned, dismantled, or sometimes simply looted.  And don’t forget the vast quantities of fuel imported into Afghanistan to run the U.S. military machine in those years, some of which was siphoned off by American soldiers, to the tune of at least $15 million, and sold to local Afghans on the sly.

    In other words, in the post-9/11 years, “reconstruction” and “war” have really been euphemisms for what, in other countries, we would recognize as a massive system of corruption.

    And let’s not forget another kind of “reconstruction” then underway. In both countries, the U.S. was creating enormous militaries and police forces essentially from scratch to the tune of at least $25 billion in Iraq and $65 billion in Afghanistan.  What’s striking about both of these security forces, once constructed, is how similar they turned out to be to those police academies, the unfinished schools, and that natural gas station.  It can’t be purely coincidental that both of the forces Americans proudly “stood up” have turned out to be the definition of corrupt: that is, they were filled not just with genuine recruits but with serried ranks of “ghost personnel.”

    In June 2014, after whole divisions of the Iraqi army collapsed and fled before modest numbers of Islamic State militants, abandoning much of their weaponry and equipment, it became clear that they had been significantly smaller in reality than on paper.  And no wonder, as that army had enlisted 50,000 “ghost soldiers” (who existed only on paper and whose salaries were lining the pockets of commanders and others).  In Afghanistan, the U.S. is still evidently helping to pay for similarly stunning numbers of phantom personnel, though no specific figures are available.  (In 2009, an estimated more than 25% of the police force consisted of such ghosts.)  As John Sopko, the U.S. inspector general for Afghanistan, warned last June: “We are paying a lot of money for ghosts in Afghanistan… whether they are ghost teachers, ghost doctors or ghost policeman or ghost soldiers.”

    And lest you imagine that the U.S. military has learned its lesson, rest assured that it’s still quite capable of producing nonexistent proxy forces.  Take the Pentagon-CIA program to train thousands of carefully vetted “moderate” Syrian rebels, equip them, arm them, and put them in the field to fight the Islamic State.  Congress ponied up $500 million for it, $384 million of which was spent before that project was shut down as an abject failure.  By then, less than 200 American-backed rebels had been trained and even less put into the field in Syria — and they were almost instantly kidnapped or killed, or they simply handed over their equipment to the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.  At one point, according to the congressional testimony of the top American commander in the Middle East, only four or five American-produced rebels were left “in the field.”  The cost-per-rebel sent into Syria, by the way, is now estimated at approximately $2 million.

    A final footnote: the general who oversaw this program is, according to the New York Times, still a “rising star” in the Pentagon and in line for a promotion.

    Profli-gate

    You’ve just revisited the privatized, twenty-first-century version of the American way of war, which proved to be a smorgasbord of scandal, mismanagement, and corruption as far as the eye could see.  In the tradition of Watergate, perhaps the whole system could be dubbed Profli-gate, since American war making across the Greater Middle East has represented perhaps the most profligate and least effective use of funds in the history of modern warfare.  In fact, here’s a word not usually associated with the U.S. military: the war system of this era seems to function remarkably like a monumental scam, a swindle, a fraud.

    The evidence is in: the U.S. military can win battles, but not a war, not even against minimally armed minority insurgencies; it can “stand up” foreign militaries, but only if they are filled with phantom feet and if the forces themselves are as hollow as tombs; it can pour funds into the reconstruction of countries, a process guaranteed to leave them more prostrate than before; it can bomb, missile, and drone-kill significant numbers of terrorists and other enemies, even as their terror outfits and insurgent movements continue to grow stronger under the shadow of American air power.  Fourteen years and five failed states later in the Greater Middle East, all of that seems irrefutable.

    And here’s something else irrefutable: amid the defeats, corruption, and disappointments, there lurks a kind of success.  After all, every disaster in which the U.S. military takes part only brings more bounty to the Pentagon.  Domestically, every failure results in calls for yet more military interventions around the world.  As a result, the military is so much bigger and better funded than it was on September 10, 2001.  The commanders who led our forces into such failures have repeatedly been rewarded and much of the top brass, civilian and military, though they should have retired in shame, have taken ever more golden parachutes into the lucrative worlds of defense contractors, lobbyists, and consultancies.

    All of this couldn’t be more obvious, though it’s seldom said.  In short, there turns out to be much good fortune in the disaster business, a fact which gives the whole process the look of a classic swindle in which the patsies lose their shirts but the scam artists make out like bandits.

    Add in one more thing: these days, the only part of the state held in great esteem by conservatives and the present batch of Republican presidential candidates is the U.S. military.  All of them, with the exception of Rand Paul, swear that on entering the Oval Office they will let that military loose, sending in more troops, or special ops forces, or air power, and funding the various services even more lavishly; all of this despite overwhelming evidence that the U.S. military is incapable of spending a dollar responsibly or effectively monitoring what it’s done with the taxpayer funds in its possession.  (If you don’t believe me, forget everything in this piece and just check out the finances of the most expensive weapons system in history, the F-35 Lightning II, which should really be redubbed the F-35 Overrun for its madly spiraling costs.)

    But no matter. If a system works (particularly for those in it), why change it?




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    U.S. Spent $43 Million of Your Tax Money on One Gas Station in Afghanistan

    November 4, 2015 // 8 Comments »

    afghan kids

    We are all lucky that the U.S. just wasted $43 million on a natural gas filling station in Afghanistan rather than here in Das Homeland. In America, the money would have likely just been pissed away on schools, roads, bridges or healthcare for the elderly, instead of helping promote freedom among the freaking Taliban Afghans. Well done, Skippy.


    Oh, the details. The sad, nearly-suicidally depressed staff at the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report this week on the Department of Defense’s Task Force for Stability and Business Operations (TFBSO) project to construct a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in Afghanistan at a cost of $43 million to the American taxpayer.


    That SIGAR report noted:

    — The CNG station was built at a crazy exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers. In comparison to the $43 million spent in Afghanistan, a CNG station in Pakistan costs no more than $500,000 to construct. That makes it about 84 times as expensive in the Afghan edition.

    — The Pentagon claimed to SIGAR it is unable to provide an explanation for the high cost of the project or answer any questions about the project. Sure, why not. SIGAR: So why’d this cost $43 million? Pentagon: F*ck, we don’t know. Go away.

    — In addition, SIGAR “finds it both shocking and incredible” that the Pentagon asserts it no longer has any knowledge about its own Task Force for Stability and Business Operations (TFBSO) project, an $800 million program that reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Nope, just don’t know, brother, sorry, wish we could help you.

    — But just before the Pentagon stopped knowing anything about its own program, the former program head said, “We do capitalism. We’re about helping companies make money.” Indeed.

    — No evidence exists that TFBSO conducted a feasibility study before spending $43 million on the station. If TFBSO had conducted a feasibility study of the project, they might have noted that Afghanistan lacks the natural gas transmission and distribution infrastructure necessary to support a viable market for CNG vehicles.

    — Additionally, it appears the cost of converting a car to run on CNG may be prohibitive for the average Afghan. TFBSO’s contractor stated that conversion to CNG costs $700 per car in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is $690. Oh, so close, assuming the average Afghan family did not wish to eat or purchase ammunition for a full year.

    Anyway, freedom.




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    New Report: U.S. Aid to Afghanistan Basically Wasted or Stolen

    October 19, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    wasted money

    As Obama fails on another campaign promise, this one to end the war in Afghanistan, and as that war moves into its 15th year, it is important to remember the U.S. has spent around $110 billion (no one knows the exact amount due to poor record keeping) to “rebuild” that beleaguered nation, so far.

    We say “so far” in that the spending continues, and like the end of the war itself, as no foreseeable end date.


    So how is that rebuilding thingee going?

    Not well, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which issued a report saying “The Afghan private sector has thus far failed to fulfill its potential as an engine of economic growth or an instrument of social inclusion.”

    In addition to America tossing that $110 billion of taxpayer money into the hole, foreign aid groups have been flushing away $15.7 billion a year. Taken together, all that money now accounts for around 98 percent of the entire Afghan gross domestic product.

    In something of an understatement, the Stockholm report notes “Popular dissatisfaction with unequal access to economic resources, flawed public services and goods, the adverse security situation, and predatory government activity undermine an effective and sustainable private sector.”

    Among its other findings, the report blames foreign governments and aid groups for giving Afghans too much money, which they couldn’t spend wisely even if the country weren’t riddled with corruption. Intended to improve government and grow businesses, the report concludes the aid instead merely sustains kleptocrats.


    As for what the $110 billion of U.S. money could have purchased had it been spent to rebuild America, VICE notes it is enough to dig a new train tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and Manhattan, lay a high-speed rail link from San Diego to Sacramento, reconstruct New Orleans’ levees after a storm like Hurricane Katrina, and still have around $10 billion left over to construct a few hundred schools from Chicago to Houston.



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    We Meant Well and Learned Nothing, Afghan Edition

    September 17, 2015 // 13 Comments »

    100118-A-6996A-002 (Small)


    Well, I have a sad today. See, that’s me in the picture, from when I was working in Iraq for the State Department.

    In 2012 I published a book all about how the United States squandered billions of dollars on the reconstruction of Iraq. The main point was that we had no plan on what to do and simply spent money willy-nilly, on stupid things and vanity projects and stuff that made someone’s boss in Washington briefly happy. We had absolutely no plan on how to measure our successes or failures, and then acted surprised when it all turned out to be a steaming pile of sh*t that did little but create the breeding ground for Islamic State.

    The idea of the book was to try and lessen the chance the United States would do exactly, precisely and completely the exact same f*cking thing in Afghanistan.

    Now, I just read a speech given by John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), entitled “Ground Truths: Honestly Assessing Reconstruction in Afghanistan” which says the United States has done exactly, precisely and completely the exact same f*cking thing in Afghanistan.

    And like me, Sopko concludes if we do not learn the lessons from Afghanistan “we will miss out on a crucial learning opportunity that will affect U.S. foreign policy for generations to come.” To which I can only say, “Good Luck” with that John.

    Here’s some more of what Sopko pointed out, all his quotes from the same speech:

    — There is a strong need for evidence-based policymaking, because if you don’t have a means of knowing whether or not your programs are succeeding, the policymaker’s job is that much harder.

    — In a conflict-affected environment such as Afghanistan, the challenge of setting realistic standards is amplified. That said, perhaps constructing buildings to U.S. standards across the board in such an environment might be unwise, especially if we expect the Afghans to maintain and sustain what we give them.

    — If after 13 years and so much blood and treasure invested in Afghanistan, we cannot be honest with ourselves about our successes and failures, we are not only leaving the Afghans in a precarious position, but also putting our entire mission there at risk.

    — Incredibly, for the first nine years of CERP’s existence [an Army funding program for reconstruction], a single, clearly articulated mention of the program’s true objectives could not be found in any official document beyond the generic inputs of “humanitarian relief and reconstruction.”

    — It becomes really difficult for SIGAR to assess reconstruction projects and programs if agencies don’t set clear criteria or project management standards.

    — USAID spent almost $15 million to build a hospital in Gardez, but USAID did not fully assess the Afghan Ministry of Public Health’s ability to operate and maintain the hospital once completed. It seems that time and again, people have to be reminded that Afghanistan is not Kansas.

    — It is hard to give people the benefit of the doubt when we build multi-billion dollar roads to U.S. weight standards in a country that has no ability to enforce weight limitations, or when a military official suggested that we spend millions building high-tech bus stops in Afghanistan, complete with solar-powered lighting. This is not Bethesda.

    — Two and a half years ago, SIGAR sent the Departments of State and Defense, as well as USAID, a letter requesting that they identify, by their own judgement, their ten most and least successful reconstruction programs, and why they selected those programs. We still have not received a straight answer from any of them. A USAID official even said that asking him to identify his agency’s top successes and failures was like asking him to choose which of his children he loved more.

    — Almost fourteen years into our trillion dollar effort, with over 2,000 American lives sacrificed, if we can’t honestly point to some actual, measurable accomplishments from that massive investment, we will miss out on a crucial learning opportunity that will affect U.S. foreign policy for generations to come. In short, we risk failing to understand the conditions necessary not only to produce peace and prosperity, but to sustain them.




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    How to Waste Money in Afghanistan: Step-by-Step Instructions

    June 19, 2015 // 2 Comments »

    report_card_300x225_xlarge

    USAID just got caught wasting $769 million not supporting Afghanistan’s education sector.

    How could this happen?!? As a public service, here are your step-by-step instructions.

    — Start with the premise that schools in a wasteland like Afghanistan in support of a failed American policy are more important uses of American taxpayer money than schools in America (which is socialism, or a handout, or whatever, Ayn Rand.)

    — Send incompetent people (see below) to Afghanistan with a lot of money, say $769 million. Tell them to build schools. If you don’t have enough in-house incompetent people, like USAID, hire contractors, like USAID did.

    — Make sure those people never travel to where the schools are being built. Instead, have them rely on a known corrupt government to tell them where to spend the money. In our instant case, former ministry officials who served under President Hamid Karzai provided false data to USAID regarding the number of active schools in Afghanistan.

    — Make sure, as USAID, while spending all that money, not to ask if there are any schools actually being built. Instead, sit back and look the other way as Afghan officials doctored statistics, embezzled money, and interfered with university entrance exams to make it seem schools existed. These allegations suggest that the U.S. and other donors may have paid for ghost schools that ghost students do not attend and for the salaries of ghost teachers who do not teach.

    — Despite this, as USAID, announce at every opportunity that education programs are among your most successful work in Afghanistan. For example, USAID cited a jump in students enrolled in schools from an estimated 900,000 in 2002 to more than eight million in 2013 as a clear indicator of progress.

    — Make sure all your data supporting these successes is unverifiable, coming only from the Afghan Ministry of Education. Appear surprised when you learn, years and $769 million later, that the data has been falsified. Do not conduct any investigation of your own. Wait and see if some inspector general notices. You know most of the media won’t.

    — Ignore the fact that accurate data is essential for gauging progress and for making future funding decisions. Congress will help with this.

    — Make sure you have bosses in the field and at the State Department in Washington who do not care about accurate metrics or real results.

    — Repeat this process for fourteen years of the Afghan War.




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    U.S. Wastes $562.2 Million on Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Sector

    June 2, 2015 // 8 Comments »

    gluttony



    There may not be money available to fix America’s own crumbling infrastructure (Amtrak!), but there is lots of money available to waste on not fixing Afghanistan’s infrastructure.

    In today’s incidence of atrocity and obscenity, specifically not fixing Afghanistan’s civil aviation sector.


    Civil aviation, of course, means regular airplanes painted white, not green or gray, happily flying from city to city full of happy tourists and spunky businesspeople. Just like your last smooth flight from Albany to Detroit. Only in this case, it is all supposed to take place in the happy land of Afghanistan, where looking like Detroit would be a step up for most cities.

    America’s most depressed bureaucrats, the people in the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released an audit of the $562.2 million in U.S. assistance to Afghanistan’s civil aviation sector, administered by the Department of Defense ($500 million) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA; $56.5 million.)


    The audit revealed:

    — Despite some strengthening of Afghanistan’s civil aviation capabilities over the past 12 years (law of probability suggests after starting from a base of zero, something had to work after over a decade of banging away) the U.S. could not transfer airspace management operations to the Afghan government as it had originally planned, due to a lack of trained Afghan air traffic controllers.

    — Despite its efforts, the FAA was not able to train enough air traffic controllers for Afghanistan to operate airspace management services. The majority of FAA-trained Afghan personnel never completed the required on-the-job training.

    — The FAA attempted to train Afghan students abroad, but faced problems obtaining passports and visas for the students, and some students did not return to Afghanistan after being sent for training in other countries, including the U.S.

    — Due to security concerns, Afghan students could not access the facilities they needed for on-the-job training.

    — The Afghan government’s failure to award an airspace management contract resulted in the U.S. paying $29.5 million for an interim contract. The Afghan government didn’t award a contract because of what it said were the excessive costs (which did not bother the U.S., who paid up for them.) Unless the Afghan government awards a follow-on contract before the interim contract expires, the U.S. government will be called upon to fund another interim contract.

    — The Afghan government uses only a portion of the $34.5 million in revenue collected from airspace over-flight fees for civil aviation purposes, despite the government’s stated commitment of using its civil aviation revenue to finance aviation services and infrastructure development. One does wonder where all the rest of the money is going to.



    If you can stomach it, read the full SIGAR report online.



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    State Department Gives 87% of Afghan Funds to Only Five Recipients

    February 27, 2015 // 11 Comments »



    The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued a scathing report showing the Department of State gave a staggering 87 percent of all Afghan reconstruction funds to only five recipients.

    In fact, 69 percent of all taxpayer money spent went to just one contractor.

    Much Money into Few Hands

    SIGAR tells us the top-five recipients of State Afghanistan reconstruction awards by total obligations accounted for approximately $3.5 billion, or 87 percent, of total State reconstruction obligations. State awarded the remaining 13 percent of obligations to 766 recipients, who averaged about $676,000 each in total obligations.

    Dyncorp International Limited Liability Corporation (Dyncorp) was the single largest recipient of State department funds, receiving $2.8 billion in contracts, or 69 percent of total awards. Dyncorp contracts dealt principally with training and equipping the Afghan National Police and counternarcotics forces. Dyncorp contracts included police trainers, construction of police infrastructure, and fielding police equipment and vehicles. Dyncorp played a similar role, with similar results, in the Iraq Reconstruction.

    Next in line at the trough were PAE Government Services Incorporated at $597.8 million, Civilian Police International Limited Liability Company with $53.6 million, the Demining Agency For Afghanistan at $28.3 million and Omran Consulting Company, in the number fifth slot, with only $22.8 million in taxpayer funds awarded.

    Including all the smaller awardees, between 2002 and 2013, State dropped about $4 billion on Afghan reconstruction. That sounds bad enough given the near-complete lack of meaningful progress in Iraq Afghanistan, until you realize Congress appropriated $96.57 billion in that same time period for Afghanistan reconstruction spread among the Departments of Defense, State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

    The Bigger Picture

    The implications are three-fold.

    The smallest issue seems to be the massive hemorrhaging of money into just one corporate pocket. Given the amounts, one looks forward to future SIGAR reporting about how this came to be. How many non-competed contracts? How many insider deals? How much unaccounted for money? The appearance of corruption, as well as the opportunities for corruption, are evident.

    The next issue of course is what, if anything, was accomplished with all that taxpayer money absent enriching a few large corporations. Pick your trend line, and it is hard to find much bang for the buck(s) in Afghanistan. Here are some examples to get you started.

    Lastly, we are left with what economists call “waste and mismanagement” the concept that money spent in one way precludes other spending that might have been more beneficial. What might have happened if instead of the U.S. spending extraordinary amounts of money to hire police, build roads, schools and factories in Iraq Afghanistan, that money would have been spent here in America on roads, schools and factories?



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    U.S. Says Details of Aid to Afghan Army Now a Secret, from Americans at Least

    February 2, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    Operation Enduring Freedom


    The U.S. military decided it will no longer release facts and figures about America’s costly effort to assist Afghan security forces.

    (As this goes online, the military has announced, having been called out, that it is backtracking on parts of the classification)



    Information that has been made public for the past 12 years is now classified. The fact that the information has generally made the military (and the State Department, who helps spend the money) look like fools may have something to do with the decision.

    The move marks an about-face for the Pentagon, which for the past years has more or less bragged about the $65 billion program to build up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and the Afghan Police. The data now being withheld as classified from the American public is how taxpayers’ money has been spent and the state of the troubled forces. Presumably the Afghan side already knows.

    “The decision leaves the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) unable to publicly report on most of the taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip and sustain the ANSF,” said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General.

    But What About the Troops?

    The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, defended the change, saying the information could prove helpful to Taliban insurgents and needed to be kept secret. “With lives literally on the line, I am sure you can join me in recognizing that we must be careful to avoid providing sensitive information to those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces, particularly information that can be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks,” Campbell wrote.

    The now-classified data also hides the results of the $107.5 billion U.S. reconstruction program that, adjusted for inflation, has surpassed the price tag of the Marshall Plan. For example, the classified data includes the total amount of U.S. funding for Afghan forces for the current year, details of contracts for literacy training and an assessment of anti-corruption initiatives. It remains unclear how such information could endanger lives or aid the Taliban. Also, Afghan officials do not consider the information secret and have discussed it with media.

    The State Department was also not forthcoming about its aid projects when contacted by the inspector general’s office. Despite a legal obligation for federal government agencies to provide requested information to the inspector general, “the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social-development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.”


    What Information? You Mean, Like This?

    The possibility that the information on ANSF and police readiness might be being withheld simply because it is bad news remains.

    Afghan war blog Sunny in Kabul (which, if you have any interest at all in events in Afghanistan you should be reading) says the military isn’t hiding money, it’s hiding people. Specifically, the lack of Afghan soldiers on the job.

    Sunny in Kabul concludes “Based on the numbers publicly reported last fall, there won’t be an army left to fight the insurgency by the end of 2015. That’s not a metaphor or commentary on their professionalism. I mean there won’t be an army at all.”

    More:

    “The ANSF lost 27 percent of its fighting force to attrition from October 2011 to September 2012. For the same period the previous year, the ANSF lost 30 percent of its personnel due to attrition, which means that 57 percent of the ANA has been lost to attrition over the last two years. It gets worse: if the time period from March 2010 until September 2012 is considered, that number climbs to 72 percent. So nearly three quarters of the ANSF’s total force over the course of 31 months was lost.”

    Basically, despite extraordinary sums of money being spent to train and equip the ANSF, they are quitting, deserting, getting killed or running away.



    About That Other Stuff Being Hidden

    Despite the very clear case that all this newly-classified information is designed to hide people, not money, a compelling argument can be made that the point is to hide people AND money.

    For just a few examples, pick from this list:

    — A failed $7.3 million police headquarters;

    $700 million spent on sending Afghan jewelers on lavish “gem training” junkets to India, Paris, and Milan;

    $300 million annually for police salaries with no audits to assure the funds are going to active police personnel;

    — A five-year-old State Department effort to upgrade Afghanistan’s largest prison has been halted with only half the contracted work performed. Some $18 million was wasted on a project that will never be finished and will never serve any need.

    — For unclear reasons, the U.S. Air Force destroyed $468 million of aircraft purchased for the Afghan military by America’s taxpayers, and sold off the scrapped metal for all of $32,000.

    — The U.S. spent $34 million on a “Regional Command and Control Facility” that will never be used. The Marines this week forever abandoned/withdrew from the base that houses that facility.

    — The U.S. spent another $771.8 million on aircraft the Afghans cannot operate or maintain.

    — Some 285 buildings, including barracks, medical clinics and even fire stations built by the Army are lined with substandard spray insulation so prone to ignition that they don’t meet international building codes.

    — A USAID program designed to promote stability in Afghanistan spent its entire $47 million budget on conferences and none on grants to accomplish its aim.

    And much, much more!



    Not that anyone likely cares anymore, but all this classification seems to have as its primary goal preventing American taxpayers from drawing informed conclusions as to how their money has been spent. Whatever.



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    Your Most Gigantic Waste of Taxpayer Money Today List, Afghan Edition

    January 7, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    stripper with money


    Our good friends at the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a high-risk list for the Afghanistan reconstruction effort that calls attention to areas that are especially vulnerable to significant waste, fraud, and abuse.

    Quick recap for those who haven’t binge-read the SIGAR reports for the past 13 or so years: the U.S. has spent $104 billion on the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan since 2001. The goal of all this was to defeat the Taliban with “soft power,” winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people by building them stuff like the roads and bridges and schools America needs here at home, and by creating jobs and providing Afghans the job training needed here at home. This massive waste of money follows the failure of a similar multi-year effort in reconstructing Iraq. Success in both instances can be judged by the rising success of the Taliban/ISIS.

    But anyway, enough about history. Here’s where your tax dollars are being specifically wasted in Afghanistan, as quoted from the SIGAR report!

    1) Corruption/Rule of Law
    –The initial U.S. strategy in Afghanistan fostered a political climate conducive to corruption.
    –U.S. assistance has been provided for reconstruction without the benefit of a comprehensive anticorruption strategy.

    2) Sustainability
    –Much of the more than $104 billion the United States has committed to reconstruction projects and programs risks being wasted because the Afghans cannot sustain the investment without massive continued donor support.
    –Under current and future plans, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are not fiscally sustainable.

    3) Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) Capacity and Capabilities
    –In an audit report on ANSF facilities, SIGAR found that the Afghan government would likely be incapable of fully sustaining ANSF facilities after the transition in 2014/2015 and the expected decrease in U.S. and Coalition support.
    –An audit report raised concerned that, despite a $200 million literacy-training contract, no one appeared to know the overall literacy rate of the ANSF.

    4) On-Budget Support
    –SIGAR has long been concerned about the risk to U.S. funds provided to Afghanistan in the form of on-budget assistance, since 2002 U.S. has committed more than $7.7 billion.
    –An audit of the $236 million Partnership Contracts for Health program found USAID continues to provide millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in direct assistance with little assurance that the Afghan Ministry of Public Health is using these funds as intended.

    5) Counternarcotics
    –Although the U.S. has invested about $7.8 billion in counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, Afghan farmers are growing more opium than ever before.
    –The latest U.S. strategy documents indicate that combating narcotics in Afghanistan is no longer a top priority.

    6) Contract Management and Oversight Access
    –No one knows the precise value of contracting in the Afghanistan reconstruction effort that began in 2002: the federal government has no central database on the subject.

    7) Strategy and Planning
    –Lack of “implementation/operational planning” — making sure that U.S. activities in Afghanistan actually contribute to overall national goals there — threatens to cause agencies and projects to work at counter-purposes, spend money on frivolous endeavors, or fail to coordinate efforts to maximize impact.

    What a great war we’re having!



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    Shooting Ourselves in the Foot in Afghanistan

    November 5, 2014 // 11 Comments »

    Poppy


    Did you know the U.S. war in Afghanistan is still going on?

    While the American war(s) in Iraq and Syria are the Kardashian’s of geopolitics– can’t get them out of the news, don’t want to look but you do anyway– America’s longest war trudges on. We have been fighting in Afghanistan for over thirteen years now. The young soldiers currently deployed there were barely in elementary school when their dad’s and mom’s kicked off the fighting.

    And we still haven’t won anything. The Taliban are still there and very potent and dangerous, a corrupt government still runs the country as a kleptocracy, “ally” Pakistan is still playing all sides against one another and the Afghan economy still relies heavily on opium production that finds its way back home here to America. Al Qaeda may have departed Afghanistan, but the franchise is still strong in its new home(s). Defeated? No, just relocated.


    SIGAR and Reconstruction

    A lot of the factors of mediocre results are America’s own doing, and many are chronicled by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

    “Reconstruction” is a strategy to win the war in Afghanistan that now has all the cache of last year’s high fashion outfits, though unlike those old clothes, reconstruction– and the insane cost of it– is still around. The once-fashionable idea of reconstruction was that military force alone could not win the fight against the Taliban. The U.S. needed to win over the people, that hearts and mind thing that also failed in Iraq and long ago in Vietnam.

    The idea was that America would build the Afghans schools and bridges at the local level, and dams and hydroelectric power plants at the national level. They’d love us, abandon the Taliban, and replace their poppy-based economy with a modern, sustainable one. Pundits and academics may argue whether the theory of all that makes sense, but no one outside of Washington still believes it is working on the ground in Afghanistan.


    Latest SIGAR Report

    So along comes SIGAR with their latest report on how things are going in Afghanistan. Here’s what they have to say:

    — SIGAR is “deeply troubled” by the U.S. decision to classify the summary of the report that assesses the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces. The summaries have before all been unclassified prior to this quarter. The classification of the report summary deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort.

    — The U.S. Army’s refusal to suspend or debar supporters of the insurgency (the bad guys we are fighting) from receiving government contracts is not only legally wrong, but contrary to sound policy and national-security goals.

    — Approximately $104.1 billion of your tax money has been appropriated for Afghanistan reconstruction so far, with about $14.5 billion still remaining to be spent. It will likely be spent.

    — Afghanistan’s opium economy directly provides up to 411,000 full-time-equivalent jobs, more than the entire Afghan military.

    — Irrigation projects paid for by the American taxpayer in Afghanistan may have facilitated increased opium-poppy cultivation after periods of significant reductions. Irrigation improvements funded by the American Good Performer’s Initiative were definitely used to cultivate opium poppy in both 2013 and 2014.

    Previous SIGAR reports chronicle similar actions and results.


    Other Examples of Waste

    Not in the SIGAR report but worth mentioning are a few other prominent examples of American waste of our taxpayer dollars:

    — A five-year-old State Department effort to upgrade Afghanistan’s largest prison has been halted with only half the contracted work performed. Some $18 million was wasted on a project that will never be finished and will never serve any need.

    — For unclear reasons, the U.S. Air Force destroyed $468 million of aircraft purchased for the Afghan military by America’s taxpayers, and sold off the scrapped metal for all of $32,000.

    — The U.S. spent $34 million on a “Regional Command and Control Facility” that will never be used. The Marines this week forever abandoned/withdrew from the base that houses that facility.

    — The U.S. spent another $771.8 million on aircraft the Afghans cannot operate or maintain.

    — Some 285 buildings, including barracks, medical clinics and even fire stations built by the Army are lined with substandard spray insulation so prone to ignition that they don’t meet international building codes.

    — A USAID program designed to promote stability in Afghanistan spent its entire $47 million budget on conferences and none on grants to accomplish its aim.



    The Biggest Waste of All

    The list of financial failures could go on and on such that it might take you thirteen years to read through it all. But here is the biggest waste of resources of all: 2,350 Americans have lost their lives in the Afghan war, with untold tens of thousands wounded, disabled or wracked by the mental scars of war. What shall we tell them and their loved ones about why they suffered?



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    Ray Odierno: Living in the Third Person about Iraq

    August 15, 2014 // 7 Comments »

    General Ray Odierno lives in the third person regarding Iraq. “Mistakes were made” for sure, but not by him, even when he was in charge. Somehow the mistakes happened temporally on his watch, but by someone, never named. Certainly not by General Ray Odierno.

    Continuing a media-led open sucking chest wound process of giving a platform to those who were responsible for the current disaster in Iraq to explain anew to us what happened in Iraq (short version: they didn’t do it), the Aspen Security Forum featured a long, sad dirge by Odierno on Iraq.

    One could presume Odierno knows something about Iraq; he spent a lot of time there in key positions of responsibility and built up quite a resume: From October 2001 to June 2004, General Odierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division, leading the division in combat. He was Commanding General of the Multi-National Corps in during the famous Surge that was fantasized as ending the war. Odierno was also Commander of United States Joint Forces Command, meaning he was in charge of every American service member in the country. It was during this time that Odierno had personal responsibility for implementing General Petraeus’ counter-insurgency doctrine, overseeing the 2010 Iraqi elections that gave Prime Minister Maliki his second term, and working hand-in-hand with the American embassy in Baghdad to ensure the training of the Iraqi police and army before the U.S. retreat from Iraq at the end of 2010. Odierno is currently Chief of Staff of the Army. Tragically, Odierno’s son, an Army captain, was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in Baghdad in August 2004 and lost his left arm.

    So it is with some sad amusement (think slowing down to gawk at a car wreck on the side of the road) to read Odierno’s comments from the Aspen Security Forum. The general was led through his comments by David Sanger of The New York Times. Sanger himself in 2003 was part of the Times’ wholesale acceptance of the Bush White House’s falsehoods on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so the two make quite a pair.

    But no matter; that was in the hard air of then, this is now.

    Here are some key points Odierno made at the 2014 Forum:

    — “The country was going in the right direction when the United States left in 2011, but Iraqi leaders overestimated the progress made by their military and government institutions.”

    — “The problem in Iraq was not the training of the Iraqi security forces, although their ability to sustain their own training was ‘disappointing.’ The problem was a lack of confidence, trust and loyalty between troops and their leaders because of politicization of Iraq’s military leadership.”

    — “Leaders were changed out. Many of them weren’t qualified. There was some sectarian nature to the changes that were made. Members of the Iraqi security forces were unwilling to fight for a government that they perceived as not standing up for all the different peoples of Iraq, so when they were challenged, you saw them very quickly fade away.”

    — “But military power isn’t enough to solve the problems in Iraq, or elsewhere in the Middle East for that matter. The lesson here is [that] you’ve got to stand up an institution. And that includes not just a military, but also a functioning government. Iraq will continue to disintegrate if the unity government doesn’t re-form… The good thing about this is they are in the process of forming a new government. They just had an election. The hope is that the government that would come out would be one that clearly supports a unity government as we go forward. Will that solve the problem?” My guess is not completely. But that’s the first step.”

    Odierno has rehearsed his lines– from 2010. Here’s what he claimed after the 2010 elections in Iraq: “”Iraqi security forces performed superbly… I think it was very much a success for the Iraqi people yesterday.” He said earlier that same year “Iraq presents a solid opportunity to help in stabilizing the Middle East.” The Washington Post, never a stranger to hagiography, said on Odierno’s departure from Iraq: “He leaves behind a war not yet won, not yet lost and not yet over. The gap has narrowed in one notable way: Iraq’s security forces, trained, equipped and to a large extent designed by the U.S. military, are increasingly professional and competent.”

    The very factors Odierno speaks today of almost as if he was an independent third party dispassionately looking back are the same ones he was responsible for resolving over his many years of command in Iraq. Odierno watched as the United States poured $25 billion into training the gleefully third world standard Iraqi Army he now says was not properly trained. He was handmaiden to the 2010 elections that saw the Iranians broker a Maliki victory and the installation of a Shia-based non-representative government. He oversaw the military reconstruction efforts over years of the Occupation that failed (alongside the State Department’s efforts) to create the very institutions whose absence he now decries. Despite all this, the best Odierno can come up with as an explanation for why everything is a mess in 2014 is the Iraqi’s messed up his good work.

    But if Maliki is anything more than a talisman for the whole mess of post-2003 Iraq, he was certainly America’s choice (twice) for the role, and it is unfair to simply fob current events off on him, or assume things will turn around when he is sent off-stage like a modern day Ngo Dinh Diem. Same for “the Iraqis,” whoever they are in this context, who have been designated as a group the responsible party for failing to reassemble the broken country the U.S. created, uninvited, and then left for them.

    Odierno is far from alone in absolving himself of responsibility for all the good he failed to do. The big difference is that Odierno likely knows better.

    While in Iraq, I met Odierno several times. He traveled tirelessly and spoke to everyone. Addressing small groups of his field officers, the general was often more considered in his remarks, and more aware of the nuanced ground truth, than in his photo-op statements. Yet for all his McNamara of 1965-like public optimism during the war, Odierno does not now seem able to rise to the McNamara of 1995 in admitting his shortcomings, and those of his war. In not doing so– as McNamara did when he remained silent over Vietnam for so long– he blocks the lessons of the past from informing the present. Odierno, like all of Washington vis-vis Iraq, seems to believe he is exempt from history.




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    War in Afghanistan Won (by Cherry Berry Yogurt and Ace Hardware)

    October 15, 2013 // 16 Comments »

    While naysayers belittle a U.S. government unable to even pay itself to not work, other dedicated federal employees are out there winning the war in Afghanistan. Now thirteen years after the conflict began, a way forward has emerged: franchises.

    We all know about these things, right? McDonald’s, Burger King and others sell you the right to open one of their stores. You can buy a franchise for a UPS Store, a Jiffy Lube and just about anything else you can think of. You pay a fee and get the name, all the branded stuff, benefits of national advertising, whatever. A business in a box.

    And so to Afghanistan

    Your U.S. Commerce Department, after clearly having resolved all unemployment and economic issues in America, has “taken over” Afghanistan. The group held a franchise trade event for seven major international franchise brands and more than 100 Afghan businessmen. Now, the event was held in Dubai of course, because what American businessperson would dare travel into Kabul, but OK, they had those Afghans flown over and the Commerce people got some R&R time in Dubai at the same time. Despite the irony of not holding the event in the actual country it concerned, The It’s Always Sunny in Kabul U.S. Embassy press office bleated that the trade show demonstrated a “belief in the prosperous future of Afghanistan.” The embassy folks also believe that there is a “high demand for American franchise brands in Afghanistan.” Good for them, good for them. Optimism is important thirteen years into a war.

    Now, who will buy all the American stuff remains in question. Afghanistan has a $20 billion economy, but a whopping 90 percent of that comes from international assistance.

    Talk is cheap. Afghanistan is a place for action, and so it goes with franchising. In fact, two signature American franchises are already in Afghanistan sort of.

    Ace is the Place

    Ace Hardware is the first. Afghanistan’s Safi Group (see their used car sales page where you can pick up a clean Ford for only US$4000) handed over $1 million dollars for the franchise. They even now have a Facebook page for their ace investment, though the page reeks of State Department social media handlers. Unfortunately, the last posting on the page is a press conference from May, with no clear sign that the Ace Hardware store is actually open. The store as it stands is pictured above, and does look nice. Smart move, not spending too much money on photography. It’s almost as if they built a big shed, painted the Ace Hardware logo on the roof, and called it a day.

    The other franchise touted, Cherry Berry yogurt, opened just a convenient few days before the Dubai trade event. It too has a Facebook page in English, with the faint smell of USG social media on it as well. From the Facebook page, the shop looks to be crammed into a small basement of a nondescript building that is so exclusive it doesn’t even feature a Cherry Berry sign out front. Actually, it is probably safer that way, given the Taliban’s predilection for bombing western targets. One happy yogurt patron on the page seemed remarkably not Afghani. A little internet spelunking revealed she works for a social media promotion company run by Americans. One does wonder if that company has any financial or other connection to the U.S. government. Maybe just a coincidence she dropped by for a frozen treat.

    Smoke Screen

    So of course this is all a sham, smoke and mirrors so transparent and thin that for the most part this “news” of the American franchise beachhead in Afghanistan exists only in self-serving press releases. I mean, how lame can you be so that even the sad mainstream media thinks you’re too cheesy to report on?

    None of this is new, by the way. As a former State Department officer, I remember sitting in meetings during the Iraq Reconstruction hearing how there would be hundreds of Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises opening all over the country, and how tourism would soon outpace oil as a source of foreign revenues in Iraq. The U.S. Embassy arranged and then paid for what was then the Bank of Iraq’s only international ATM, conveniently installed on embassy grounds deep inside the Green Zone (FYI: As an experiment I tried to withdraw money from that ATM only to have my credit card shut down as possible fraud by my U.S. bank.) This too was primped and posted as a sure sign of progress in that tortured nation.

    Well, we’ve had our fun here today. The youngest U.S. soldiers were ten years old when we invaded Afghanistan right after 9/11 and most likely only have the vaguest idea what all has preceded their arrival in-country. Meanwhile, the real war in Afghanistan drags on. Americans and Afghans die every day. Enjoy your yogurt social media people.



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    Why Being So Right Feels So Bad

    March 22, 2013 // 21 Comments »

    Gentle readers, allow me a moment of angry self-congratulation. I’ll be back to normal with the next posting. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy.


    I was right. When they print the next edition of my book, I’m going to change the title from We Meant Well to I Told You So.

    I spent a year in Iraq as a U.S. Foreign Service officer, leading two of the then-vaunted Provincial Reconstruction Teams. We were charged with nothing less than winning the war for America by rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure, creating a functioning democracy and stable economy, and thus ensuring Iraq would be an ally of the United States in the war on terror. As it became more and more apparent to me over the course of my time in Iraq that we were accomplishing none of those goals (while simultaneously wasting incredible amounts of money), I was compelled to tell the American people what I saw. It would be both a lesson for history and a warning about similar efforts already under way in Afghanistan. I wrote a book and lost my career of 24 years at the State Department as a result.

    What if Iraq Turns Around?

    When, in 2010, I sent the first draft of We Meant Well, about the waste, fraud, mismanagement, and utter stupidity surrounding the Iraq reconstruction efforts, to my editor, I remember her saying, “You know the book itself won’t come out for close to a year, and if things turn around in Iraq in the meantime, that will make you look wrong.” I told her not to worry.

    When the book did come out in September 2011, most of the interviewers I met with threw in skeptical comments: “Well, maybe it will work out like in Japan,” they said, or “It’s too early to tell.” When I met with staffers from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2012, they said, “We’d like to believe you, but everything that State tells us contradicts your thesis that the money spent was just a big waste.” Foreign Policy felt the need to run an angry rebuttal (“The greatest assets in many respects were our ‘clients,’ the Iraqi ministers, provincial officials, and local residents who were active and engaged at every level”) to an excerpt from my book.

    Failure Made Official

    Well, now it’s official. Although it took 10 years for the report to come out, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), “$60 billion in American taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost.”

    Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said “that $55 billion could have brought great change in Iraq,” but the positive effects of those funds were too often “lost.”

    Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, the country’s top Sunni official, told auditors that the rebuilding efforts did not “achieve the purpose for which it was launched. Rather, it had unfavorable outcomes in general.”

    There “was usually a Plan A but never a Plan B,” said Kurdish official Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

    Shiite, Sunni, Kurd. Trust me, about the only thing everybody agrees on is the United States spent a bundle of money. According to the Associated Press, to date the United States has spent more than $60 billion in reconstruction grants on Iraq. That works out to about $15 million a day. Overall, including all military and diplomatic costs and other aid, the United States has spent at least $767 billion since the U.S.-led invasion began. Some funds are still being spent on ongoing projects.

    I Told You So

    I hate to say I told you so — but I told you so. SIGIR, if you’re out there, perhaps it would have been better to agree to meet with me back in 2009. I could have saved you some time and money. SIGIR, like everything else associated with the Iraq reconstruction, was expensive. The inspectors cost taxpayers $16 million this year, a bargain compared with the $30 million a year they used up during the war era itself.

    We all know that we study history to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, so with the dreadful example of Iraq now clear, we can draw from it to avoid repeating the errors in Afghanistan. In fact, speaking of book titles, my volume on the Iraq failures was originally supposed to be called Lessons for Afghanistan from the Reconstruction of Iraq, before the editor thankfully nudged me toward the snarkier We Meant Well.

    What Went Right?

    And yet … and yet … only the day before the SIGIR report on Iraq was issued, this magazine ran a long piece by Peter Bergen titled “What Went Right.” The piece talks about al Qaeda on the run from Afghanistan (without mentioning how well the franchises in Iraq and North Africa are doing), cites gains in cell-phone usage (without discussing how much is due to billions of U.S. aid dollars dumped on the local markets), talks about how the Taliban have been vanquished (without understanding an insurgency avoids head-on clashes just before the other guys pack up and go home), and describes aspects of Kabul as “thriving” (based most likely on a conversation with some taxi driver). Incredulously, Bergen writes, “U.S. and other NATO forces have taken care to ensure that their soldiers do not contribute to the civilian death toll. Indeed, some American cities are today more violent than Afghanistan. In New Orleans, residents are now around six times more likely to be murdered than Afghan civilians are to be killed in the war” and concludes, “Maybe, not too long from now, a new generation of guidebooks will again be raving about the joys of springtime in the Hindu Kush.”

    Quite sadly, one only need change “Afghanistan” to “Iraq” in the article, and it could have been published in 2010, right down to the last line about tourists: The United States spent millions of dollars building tourist infrastructure around Iraq’s ancient archaeological sites for naught. It idiotically helped sponsor the “Iraq Tourism Week” expo in Baghdad in 2009.

    Meanwhile, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has been issuing its own reports, saying among other things that “a significant portion” of the U.S. government’s $400 million investment in large infrastructure projects in fiscal year 2011 alone may have been wasted because of poor planning. In an episode that could have come straight out of my book — except that it took place years later in Afghanistan — SIGAR released an inspection of the Imam Sahib Border Police company headquarters in Kunduz province, Afghanistan. The $7.3 million facility was built to hold 175 people, “yet only 12 were on site and no one was aware of any plans to move additional personnel to the facility. The personnel did not have keys to many of the buildings and most of the facility appeared to be unused. Additionally, there is no contract or plan to train personnel in the operations and maintenance of the facility raising questions about its sustainability.” There are many, many more examples.

    History Repeats Itself

    In asking why such mistakes are being repeated, one need only look at the people involved: A large percentage of the State Department personnel on the ground in Afghanistan are veterans of the Iraq reconstruction, as are the soldiers reconstructing alongside them. The same two U.S. Ambassadors (Zalmay Khalilzad and Ryan Crocker) ran both embassies at different times. Most of the lame and unskilled hirelings who worked with me in Iraq moved over to identical roles in Afghanistan, and even one of my old bosses found work in Afghanistan after retirement from State. On the macro level, the same massive contracting firms and security mercenaries continue to make bank. The fat paychecks help keep everyone looking the other way about “progress” and thus on-message.

    Despite SIGAR finding that “delays, cost overruns, and poor construction of infrastructure projects … resulted in lost opportunities and in incalculable waste,” the United States and its allies have already committed to $16 billion in economic aid to Afghanistan over the next four years. Costs for maintaining Afghan security forces are expected to come to over $4 billion per year.

    There is a pop-psychology definition of mental illness that applies here: doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. And there’s something grim about this. So while it feels good today to know I was right — the reconstruction of Iraq I participated in is now unambiguously acknowledged as the failure I said it was years ago — it still feels bad knowing someone else will need to write an article just like this in a few years, when we tally up the losses in Afghanistan.



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    Um, I Told You So: Inspector Shows State Dept Mishandled Iraq Money

    October 30, 2012 // 11 Comments »

    So, I, um, like, told you so. And even though I lost my job for telling you so, and even though a related Inspector General opened an investigation into me for telling you so, it’s still nice to learn that what I told you was correct.

    The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) released a final report on the State Department’s handling of Quick Response Funds (QRF), money that was handed out in Iraq by Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), two of which I lead in Iraq. Those experiences formed the fodder of my book, We Meant Well. The State Department and its USAID colleagues “managed” about $258 million in QRF funds.

    So taxpayers and patriots, here’s the highlights, in the Inspector’s own words:

    — From the available records, we could generally determine how funds were intended to be used, but we could not assess whether all of the goods and services were actually purchased, received, or transferred to beneficiaries.


    — We reported that DOS’ recordkeeping on fund-use and project-results/outcomes for micropurchases made in 2007 and 2008 was poor, and that documentation in seven project files suggested possible fraud. We recommended that DoS improve its recordkeeping and review all micropurchases initiated in 2007-2008 to determine if other examples of possible fraud, waste, and abuse exist. DoS officials stated that they located almost all documentation that SIGIR found missing from the official files, and that their review of payment vouchers did not indicate that any fraudulent transactions had occurred. However, the officials did not directly address the seven instances of possible fraudulent activities that SIGIR had found.


    — Because there was no evidence that DoS had reviewed and assessed the identified cases of possible fraud, SIGIR initiated this review. Seven of the reviewed assessments re-confirmed our concerns that fraud may have occurred.


    — The QRF Tracking Database shows that of the $125.1 million allocated to the DoS, $24.5 million was used to pay overhead costs for a third party to implement large QRF projects, costs of managing the QRF database, and costs for monitoring and evaluating the QRF program.


    — Project results (also referred to as award results in DoS’s QRF Tracking Database) are important in that they confirm whether or not items or services intended to be purchased were indeed purchased, received, and transferred to beneficiaries. In our review, we found that 90 of the 185 micropurchases (or about 49%) lacked such information. As a consequence, we cannot be certain that individuals used the cash they received to purchase goods and services and that the intended beneficiaries of these goods and services actually received them.


    — Of course, some results were conclusive in a negative way: “this project was probably way ahead of its time and probably should not have been originally funded. Not in use, never used.” (to describe $22,150 in tanks, tools, and supplies purchased for fish hatchery)


    — Another read “the contractor never completed the soccer field. Dirt was added to the field but turf was never laid.” The project file did not have any other documentation that showed actions taken, if any, to address the problems found.


    — Specifically, DoS may never know what it got out of those micropurchases made in the early years because of the lack of documentation showing that the goods or services were delivered. Consequently, it is highly possible that some portions of QRF funds were not used as intended.


    The SIGIR included the State Department’s comments on the report:

    Officials from the Office of Iraq Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs stated that they improved their processes for documenting QRF projects and agreed with SIGIR that cash transactions in conflict and post-conflict environments can be susceptible to fraud and abuse. However, they did not comment further on the possible fraud we found in seven projects we first identified in April 2011, and which served as the basis for this current review.


    An important caveat: SIGIR basically only assessed whether or not the money State thought it spent on widgets actually got spent on widgets, and whether those widgets made it into the right hands. SIGIR made no assessment of the effectiveness of any of State’s spending.

    One hopes that if we ever begin “nation building” here at home, someone other than the thieves, pirates and thugs State hired to eat the money abroad is put in charge.

    Oh, and SIGIR released another report on Friday, that one showing how the Army Corps of Engineers spent money on energy and infrastructure programs in Iraq, but its recordkeeping was so poor that the Corps cannot prove it actually received goods for about $1 billion of the money it spent. The total amount of funds unaccounted for has now reached a staggering $7 billion. But that’s for another book to deal with.



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    Just Say No: Syrian Rebel Leader Calls for “Marshall Plan”

    October 20, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    Whoever the hell is now a “leader” among the thugs and al Qaeda wanna-be’s in Syria has stated that once his guys kill off most of the other guys and thus free Syria, he wants the west to drop a load of cash on him, a new Marshall Plan.

    “In the aftermath of the destruction we are convinced Syria needs a Marshall-style plan to ensure it stands again on solid financial and economic ground,” the thug said. “Without real comprehensive development, we will open up the opportunity for the growth of all kinds of extremism.”

    The US loves spending money overseas on reconstructing things. We spent $44 billion on Iraq and are over $70 billion in Afghanistan. I’m sure whomever is in the White House when the bank vault is opened to Syria will be tickled pink to reconstruct them too. Using your money, ‘natch.

    By the way, the Marshall Plan cost $12.7 billion in 1947 bucks, with its 2008 inflation adjusted cost of $115.3 billion.

    I think we should reconstruct America.

    So please say this to every politician and political candidate you run across:

    For me to give you my vote, do this: for every school, home and road we built in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria), build two here at home. For every soldier, hire the same number of people here at home to do the work, at the same pay and the same benefits. Buy all the materials as local as you can.

    When the politician says we can’t pay for that, tell’em to pay for it exactly the same way they paid for it when it was happening overseas. When they say we can’t do that because it’s unfair, or unequal or socialism, tell’em to do it here for whatever the hell reason justified it over there. When they say we had to spend the money abroad to defend America, just smile at ‘em and say that building jobs in America defends America better than any killing abroad does. Make them respond to all that. Create jobs, and we’ll see from there.



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    Told You So: WaPo Puff Piece on Haiti Reconstruction Deflated by Truth

    October 3, 2012 // 8 Comments »

    The default media plan at State is to follow anything negative in the press with a planted puff piece. Rather than tackle the facts in a negative story (seeking to refute them with other information, or to make corrections), State’s modus is to seek ink that just says everything is actually wonderful, without mentioning the offending original articles.

    That P.R. 101 (online university) shit lasts only as long as it takes the truth to ooze out. In the case of Haiti reconstruction, about six weeks.

    Following a scathing Associated Press investigation into the failure of State to reconstruct Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake (Less than 12 percent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery), State first tried an “Op-Ed” by the ambassador blithely mumbling that all was well. That was back in late July.

    It took almost a month more, but State did finally select its author for the real puff piece, in this case some hack named David Brown at the hometown Washington Post (slogan: still dining out on that Watergate thing). Brown’s work at the Post has been mostly on health issues, mainly HIV/AIDS, with the odd bit about Warren Buffet’s prostrate (not good) and Dick Cheney’s artificial heart (“doing exceedingly well”). As such, he was obviously the perfect guy to write authoritatively on how wonderful reconstruction is in Haiti.

    On August 20, with a follow up a week later, this blog called the Post out as hacks, who were fed a puff piece and gleefully took it all down. There was never any response to my inquiries to the Post’s ombudsman.

    So a BIG surprise after all that happy talk when USAID’s own Inspector General released a report which says the largest U.S. contractor working to stabilize Haiti is “not on track” to complete its assignments on schedule, has a weak monitoring system and is not adequately involving community members. It seems that Washington D.C.-based Chemonics (also a big player in the wonderful Afghan reconstruction fiasco) won a $53 million, 18-month contract from USAID in 2011 to help Haiti strengthen its economy and public institutions. USAID’s Office of Inspector General released a report Monday that found Chemonics had a series of slips, including using arbitrary ways of evaluating its work, failing to hire local workers, and going ahead with potentially damaging environmental projects before they were approved.

    Here’s one secret to State’s success with contractors from that report: Chemonics is also responsible for setting up its own system of evaluation.

    Again, breaking news, most of those criticisms mirrored the earlier ones State denied and the WaPo over-looked.

    How do you know when USAID and State are lying to you? Their lips move. Will Congress please stop giving money to these people? It will be a mercy killing at this point.



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    Want to See a USG Plan for Infrastructure Development? (Not in the US)

    September 24, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    One of the issues in the current presidential election is the role of government in creating infrastructure as a path to economic prosperity and job creation. One side argues it requires government to build roads and dams, and another claims government should get out of the way and allow the free market to do what is needed.

    Yet despite the robust debate, once you move the issue abroad both the Republicans and the Democratics are of one mind: use US tax dollars to build infrastructure, build it big, in Afghanistan, as a way to create jobs and grow that economy.

    We’ll leave the discussion of whether developing the Afghan economy will actually address the problems driving the insurgency (OK, OK, it won’t: a US occupying army and a corrupt Karzai government are much larger drivers of instability than poverty) for later. What is clear is two-fold: the US believes spending big on infrastructure is the way to go, and USAID and its universe of contractors live on a fantasy planet of unicorns and fairy dust when they make their plans.

    We (Heart) Nangarhar

    Have a look at the USAID-sponsored NANGARHAR INC BUSINESS PLAN – MAR 08, outlining plans to spend billions of US taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. The whole thing is worth your time to browse through, if only to give you an idea of how far out in space these people are. They are not only out of touch with reality, they are not even in cell phone range; no bars, baby.

    Right in the intro we learn that Nangarhar seems to be different than the Afghan places we otherwise hear about. It has “A progress oriented Provincial Government,” and is “One of the most secure provinces in all of Afghanistan” and sets “The national standard for successful counter-narcotics efforts.” Sounds like a real estate agent selling swamp land in central Florida.

    The real estate agent forgot to tell you about the September 4 suicide bomber in Nangarhar who killed 25 civilians and wounded another 30 at a funeral for a village elder. Or how in July insurgents put mines in a school and destroyed six classrooms. The provincial governor is sort of pro-American, even as he is described as corrupt and vindictive by his own people. His predecessor was a warlord and poppy grower, and is now a Kabul politician.

    A more sober description of Nangarhar states that following the “ban on poppy cultivation farmers were promised alternative livelihoods. But these promises were not fulfilled… (a less authoritative source claimed “the eradication program has often left peasant farmers destitute and, in 2006, farmers were reported to have surrendered their children to opium dealers in payment on their debts.”) there is a lack of coordination between different NGOs working in the province and between NGOs and government departments… a lack of human and financial resources in government departments due to low salary and incentives compared to the NGO sector… security issues hinder development activities… a lack of trust between government departments and the public and misconceptions about NGOs and their work… corruption, nepotism and favoritism in government departments.”

    Wasted Away Again in Wonkaville

    And so it is not surprising that the goals for this USG business plan are equally stuck in Wonkaville: Nangarhar will become “One of Central and South Central Asia’s premier commercial and logistics centers… most technologically advanced center for value-added production, processing, and distribution… Afghanistan’s leading development environment, fostering both public and private investment returns… with Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s highest rate of region-wide investment recapitalization, with Central and South Central Asia’s most highly skilled labor force measured by productivity per capita… Central Asia’s benchmark for socially responsible economic development, harmonizing public and private capital ventures within the overarching framework of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.”

    All it was going to take in the 2008 acid-riddled minds of the report’s writers was money.

    Lots of money.

    Billions and billions of US tax dollars.

    The report advocated that USAID provide Nangarhar with $35 million worth of generators to hold them over until the $290 million hydroelectric plants and the $10 million worth of solar panels came on line (while the solar debate rages in America, it is concluded overseas for the USG). Some of that electrical power will be needed for a $21 million cold storage network that will wipe out the inefficiencies of small family farms in favor of US-scale mega-agribusiness. $82 million is requested for an airport. Check out the “culturally aware” airport terminal design on page 42 of the report, with its Islamic crescent and Afghan-kite themed architecture. Despite the reality that Afghanistan at the time had no operating rail infrastructure, $650 million was planned to build railroads. $182 for roads and bridges for the cars Afghans don’t own.

    It goes on and on, 62 pages of spending, with many projects marked as already underway.

    So What Happened?

    It can be pretty hard to tell what has and has not been accomplished in Nangarhar, or anywhere else in Afghanistan for all the cash dropped. USAID has an eleven page summary of accomplishments that reads like a freshman’s desperate effort at resume writing. Have a look; the “fact sheet” is full of words like “enabled” and “upgraded” and “supported” but never actually gives you much of a picture of things. Exhibits have been held, women empowered and elders met, but it remains very unclear if any of 2008’s lofty goals have even been approached, never mind met. Maybe USAID intended the document to read that way.

    The bottom line is that reconstruction spending in Afghanistan continues to happen. While America’s politicians debate whether or not our government has a role to play in rebuilding America’s own infrastructure even as it corrodes around them, they seem to have no issues with spending billions and billions of US taxpayer dollars on fool’s gold abroad.

    So Here’s an Idea

    I think we should reconstruct America. Please say this to every politician and political candidate you run across:

    For me to give you my vote, do this: for every school, home and road we build in Afghanistan, build two here in America.

    When the politician says we can’t pay for that, tell’em to pay for it exactly the same way they pay for it overseas. When they say we can’t do that because it’s unfair, or unequal or socialism, tell’em to do it here for whatever the heck reason justified it over there. When they say we had to spend the money abroad to defend America, just smile at ‘em and say that building jobs in America defends America better than anything abroad. Make them respond to all that.



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Military

    US to Focus $358 Million on Infrastructure: Not in US

    September 6, 2012 // 5 Comments »



    The US is gearing up to drop $300 million of our taxpayer dollars on rebuilding infrastructure, in Palestine.

    Here is what the US plans for the Palestinians. Can anyone find a town in America which would not benefit from $300 million worth of work in:

    • Transportation networks such as primary and secondary roads, bridges and/or other transportation infrastructure;

    • Water systems including the supply, storage, treatment, transmission and/or distribution of water;

    • Sanitation infrastructure including solid waste management and disposal, wastewater treatment and reuse, pollution control, and/or ecological sanitation;

    • Vertical infrastructure including schools, clinics, health facilities, public buildings, government buildings and facilities, sports facilities, warehouses, food storage facilities, youth and sports centers, and/or other vertical infrastructure designed to benefit the public interest;

    • Electrical Power sector infrastructure to include alternative, sustainable and/or traditional forms of power generation (such as wind turbines, photovoltaic, solar thermal, geothermal, and/or fossil-fuel-fired thermal power plants), and/or electricity transmission and distribution systems;


    In addition, the State Department/US AID will lay down a sweet $58 million to promote tourism and other private sector job-creation in Palestine.

    Stunned that no one wants to use your tax money to rebuild your infrastructure? Unhappy that no one is dropping $58 million on your community to create private sector jobs? Want to know why?



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    How Not to Reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan — or America

    August 25, 2012 // 5 Comments »




    This article was originally published on TomDispatch.com and Huffington Post on August 16, 2012


    Some images remain like scars on my memory. One of the last things I saw in Iraq, where I spent a year with the Department of State helping squander some of the $44 billion American taxpayers put up to “reconstruct” that country, were horses living semi-wild among the muck and garbage of Baghdad. Those horses had once raced for Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein and seven years after their “liberation” by the American invasion of 2003, they were still wandering that unraveling, unreconstructed urban landscape looking, like many other Iraqis, for food.

    I flew home that same day, a too-rapid change of worlds, to a country in which the schools of my hometown in Ohio could not afford to pay teachers a decent wage. Once great cities were rotting away as certainly as if they were in Iraq, where those horses were scrabbling to get by. To this day I’m left pondering these questions: Why has the United States spent so much money and time so disastrously trying to rebuild occupied nations abroad, while allowing its own infrastructure to crumble untended? Why do we even think of that as “policy”?


    The Good War(s)

    With the success of the post-World War II Marshall Plan in Europe and the economic miracle in Japan, rebuilding other countries gained a certain imperial patina. Both took relatively little money and time. The reconstruction of Germany and Japan cost only $32 billion and $17 billion, respectively (in 2010 dollars), in large part because both had been highly educated, industrialized powerhouses before their wartime destruction.

    In 2003, still tumescent with post-9/11 rage and dreams of global glory, anything seemed possible to the men and women of the Bush administration, who would cite the German and Japanese examples of just what the U.S. could do as they entered Iraq. Following what seemed like a swift military defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the plan had gotten big and gone long.  It was nothing less than this: remake the entire Middle East in the American image.

    The country’s mighty military was to sweep through Iraq, then Syria — Marines I knew told me personally that they were issued maps of Syria in March 2003 — then Iran, quickly set up military bases and garrisons (“enduring camps”), create Washington-friendly governments, pour in American technology and culture, bring in the crony corporations under the rubric of “reconstruction,” privatize everything, stand up new proxy militaries under the rubric of regime change, and forever transform the region.

    Once upon a time, the defeated Japanese and Germans had become allies and, better yet, consumers. Now, almost six decades later, no one in the Bush administration had a doubt the same would happen in Iraq — and the Middle East would follow suit at minimal cost, creating the greatest leap forward for a Pax Americana since the Spanish-American War. Added bonus: a “sea of oil.”

    By 2010, when I wrote We Meant Well, the possibility that some level of success might be close by still occupied some official minds. American boots remained on the ground in Mesopotamia and looked likely to stay on for years in at least a few of the massive permanent bases we had built there. A sort-of elected government was more or less in place, and in the press interviews I did in response to my book I was regularly required to defend its thesis that reconstruction in Iraq had failed almost totally, and that the same process was going down in Afghanistan as well. It was sometimes a tough sell. After all, how could we truly fail, being plucky Americans, historically equipped like no one else with plenty of bootstraps and know-how and gumption.


    Failure Every Which Way

    Now, it’s definitive. Reconstruction in Iraq has failed. Dismally. The U.S. couldn’t even restore the country’s electric system or give a majority of its people potable water. The accounts of that failure still pour out. Choose your favorites; here are just two recent ones of mine: a report that a $200 million year-long State Department police training program had shown no results (none, nada), in part because the Iraqis had been completely uninterested in it; and a long official list of major reconstruction projects uncompleted, with billions of taxpayer dollars wasted, all carefully catalogued by the now-defunct Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction.


    Failure, in fact, was the name of the game when it came to the American mission. Just tote up the score: the Iraqi government is moving ever closer to Iran; the U.S. occupation, which built 505 bases in the country with the thought that U.S. troops might remain garrisoned there for generations, ended without a single base in U.S. hands (none, nada); no gushers of cheap oil leapt USA-wards nor did profits from the above leap into the coffers of American oil companies; and there was a net loss of U.S. prestige and influence across the region. And that would just be the beginning of the list from hell.

    Even former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush’s accomplice in the invasion of Iraq and the woman after whom Chevron Oil once named a double-hulled oil tanker, now admits that “we didn’t understand how broken Iraq was as a society and we tried to rebuild Iraq from Baghdad out. And we really should have rebuilt Iraq outside Baghdad in. We should have worked with the tribes. We should have worked with the provinces. We should have had smaller projects than the large ones that we had.”

    Strange that when I do media interviews now, only two years later, nobody even thinks to ask “Did we succeed in Iraq?” or “Will reconstruction pay off?” The question du jour has finally shifted to: “Why did we fail?”


    Corruption and Vanity Projects

    Why exactly did we fail to reconstruct Iraq, and why are we failing in Afghanistan? (Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s new book, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan, is the Afghan version of We Meant Well in detailing the catastrophic outcomes of reconstruction in that never-ending war.) No doubt more books, and not a few theses, will be written, noting the massive corruption, the overkill of pouring billions of dollars into poor, occupied countries, the disorganization behind the effort, the pointlessly self-serving vanity projects — Internet classes in towns without electricity — and the abysmal quality of the greedy contractors, on-the-make corporations, and lame bureaucrats sent in to do the job. Serious lessons will be extracted, inevitable comparisons will be made to post-World War II Germany and Japan and think tanks will sprout like mushrooms on rotted wood to try to map out how to do it better next time.

    For the near term a reluctant acknowledgment of our failing economy may keep the U.S. out of major reconstruction efforts abroad. Robert Gates, who succeeded Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, told a group of West Point cadets that “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” Still, the desire to remake other countries — could Syria be next? — hovers in the background of American foreign policy, just waiting for the chance to rise again.

    The standard theme of counterinsurgency theory (COIN in the trade) is “terrorists take advantage of hunger and poverty.” Foreigners building stuff is, of course, the answer, if only we could get it right. Such is part of the justification for the onrushing militarization of Africa, which carries with it a reconstruction component (even if on a desperately reduced scale, thanks to the tightening finances of the moment). There are few historical examples of COIN ever really working and many in which failed, but the idea is too attractive and its support industry too well established for it to simply go away.


    Why Reconstruction at All?

    Then there’s that other why question: Why, in our zeal to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, we never considered spending a fraction as much to rebuild Detroit, New Orleans, or Cleveland (projects that, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq in their heyday, have never enjoyed widespread support)?

    I use the term “reconstruction” for convenience, but it is important to understand what the U.S. means by it. Once corruption and pure greed are strained out (most projects in Iraq and Afghanistan were simply vehicles for contractors to suck money out of the government) and the vanity projects crossed off (building things and naming them after the sitting ambassador was a popular suck-up technique), what’s left is our desire for them to be like us.

    While, dollar-for-dollar, corruption and contractor greed account for almost all the money wasted, the idea that, deep down, we want the people we conquer to become mini-versions of us accounts for the rest of the drive and motivation. We want them to consume things as a lifestyle, shit in nice sewer systems, and send everyone to schools where, thanks to the new textbooks we’ve sponsored, they’ll learn more about… us. This explains why we funded pastry-making classes to try to turn Iraqi women into small business owners, why an obsession with holding mediagenic elections in Iraq smothered nascent grassroots democracy (remember all those images of purple fingers?), why displacing family farms by introducing large-scale agribusiness seemed so important, and so forth.

    By becoming versions of us, the people we conquer would, in our eyes, redeem themselves from being our enemies. Like a perverse view of rape, reconstruction, if it ever worked, would almost make it appear that they wanted to be violated by the American military so as to benefit from being rebuilt in the American fashion. From Washington’s point of view, there’s really no question here, no why at all. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to be us? And that, in turn, justifies everything.  Think of it as an up-to-date take on that classic line from Vietnam, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

    Americans have always worn their imperialism uncomfortably, even when pursuing it robustly. The British were happy to carve out little green enclaves of home, and to tame — brutally, if necessary — the people they conquered. The United States is different, maybe because of the lip service politicians need to pay to our founding ideals of democracy and free choice.

    We’re not content merely to tame people; we want to change them, too, and make them want it as well. Fundamentalist Muslims will send their girls to school, a society dominated by religion will embrace consumerism, and age-old tribal leaders will give way to (U.S.-friendly, media-savvy) politicians, even while we grow our archipelago of military bases and our corporations make out like bandits. It’s our way of reconciling Freedom and Empire, the American Way. Only problem: it doesn’t work. Not for a second. Not at all. Nothing. Nada.

    From this point of view, of course, not spending “reconstruction” money at home makes perfect sense. Detroit, et al., already are us. Free choice is in play, as citizens of those cities “choose” not to get an education and choose to allow their infrastructure to fade. From an imperial point of view it makes perfectly good sense. Erecting a coed schoolhouse in Kandahar or a new sewer system in Fallujah offers so many more possibilities to enhance empire. The home front is old news, with growth limited only to reviving a status quo at huge cost.

    Once it becomes clear that reconstruction is for us, not them, its purpose to enrich our contractors, fuel our bureaucrats’ vanity, and most importantly, justify our imperial actions, why it fails becomes a no-brainer. It has to fail (not that we really care). They don’t want to be us. They have been them for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. They may welcome medicines that will save their children’s lives, but hate the culture that the U.S. slipstreams in like an inoculation with them.

    Failure in the strict sense of the word is not necessarily a problem for Washington. Our purpose is served by the appearance of reconstructing. We need to tell ourselves we tried, and those (dark, dirty, uneducated, Muslim, terrorist, heathen) people we just ran over with a tank actually screwed this up. And OK, sure, if a few well-connected contractors profit along the way, more power to them.

    Here’s the bottom line: a nation spends its resources on what’s important to it. Failed reconstruction elsewhere turns out to be more important to us than successful reconstruction here at home. Such is the American way of empire.




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    Serious Questions about a Haiti Reconstruction Puff Piece

    August 20, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    The default media plan at State is to follow anything negative in the press with a planted puff piece. Rather than tackle the facts in a negative story (seeking to refute them with other information, or to make corrections), State’s modus is to seek ink that just says everything is actually wonderful, without mentioning the offending original articles.

    Following a scathing Associated Press investigation into the failure of State to reconstruct Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake (Less than 12 percent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery), State first tried an “Op-Ed” by the ambassador blithely mumbling that all was well. That was back in late July.

    It took almost a month more, but State did finally select its author for what appears to be a real puff piece, in this case some hack named David Brown at the hometown Washington Post (slogan: still dining out on that Watergate thing). Brown’s work at the Post has been mostly on health issues, mainly HIV/AIDS, with the odd bit about Warren Buffet’s prostrate (not good) and Dick Cheney’s artificial heart (“doing exceedingly well”). As such, he was obviously the perfect guy to write authoritatively on reconstruction in Haiti.

    Without too much surprise, Brown tells us of the wonderful work State, via its USAID arm, has done in one micro-neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. The short version is that in this one neighborhood, 500 people have new houses, lots of locals were employed to do the work, and civic improvements accompanied the new homes. It is a real success story. Read it yourself.

    Some Questions

    Here are the questions I sent to the Washington Post Ombudsman about the article. Should I receive a reply, I will feature it on this blog. Had the article addressed these points it might have floated above puff piece.

    Did David Brown locate this rebuilt neighborhood on his own, or did State direct him to it? Did Brown fly to Haiti specifically to do this story? What role did State/USAID play in his access to the neighborhood? Was he accompianied by anyone from State/USAID at any time? Brown does not seem to cover Haiti, State or reconstruction issues. How did he end up with this story?

    The story says $8.5 million US tax dollars were spent repairing or replacing 500 homes. That works out to a very rough figure of $17,000 per home. Haitian GDP is about $1300 a person a year, among the world’s impoverished. Is $17k per home expensive? Typical costs? What does the figure actually mean?

    Why did reconstruction seem to succeed so well in this one micro-area while failing broadly? Are there lessons to be learned and applied elsewhere in Haiti or is this an anomaly?

    The Associated Press piece focused in part on how little reconstruction money actually makes it to Haiti instead of being siphoned off by US contractors. Brown’s article claims all but four workers used on this project were Haitian. At the same time, he notes that the project sent only $1.4 million of the $8.5 million total into the local economy. That seems to suggest over $7 million bucks went somewhere else. Where did it go?

    Brown’s article, which ran on the front page of the Post and continued inside, quoted only two people connected with the project by name, the project manager paid by USAID and one engineer paid by USAID. Why were there no quotes from any of the Haitian residents of the new dwellings? Why were there no quotes from any local Haitain officials? Did the WaPo editors cut out such quotes? Did they not ask Brown to obtain such quotes? How did Brown fact-check the details given to him by the USAID-paid people? DID Brown fact check those details?

    As I learned in Iraq, building things is relatively easy given massive amounts of money. The real magic is sustainability. Brown tells us “Groups of houses share 23 septic tanks and 100 bucket-flush toilets, which can be locked for privacy. Twenty solar-powered lights illuminate streets.” What plans and whose money are in place to repair and maintain that technology? Who/how will the septic tanks be drained or pumped out? What happens when the first solar light needs replacing? Will any of this be there working a year from now? If so, under what plan? The article calls the work in Haiti a “renaissance,” a pretty dramatic word that is empty, meaningless and damned temporary unless there is a sustainability plan in place.

    Almost all the details in the story are unsourced. Brown talks about the number of septic tanks, a kidnapping and decisions taken collectively by the neighborhood. He does not say where any of this information came from. Where did this information come from?

    Brown states:

    Another big problem was that wider paths and outdoor places to sit were neighborhood priorities but there was not any unoccupied land for them. As the project evolved, 201 households agreed to reduce the size of their plots, 171 agreed to reshape them, and 51 agreed to share their plots with another family by living in two-story houses.

    This is a huge thing to have accomplished. In reconstruction work, the easiest thing to do is simply to redo what was destroyed, urban problems and all. Destroyed too-narrow streets are replaced with new too-narrow streets because it proves inexpedient to resolve the many disputes. How did this process actually work out in Haiti? Did it really happen? If it did, the method used should be a critical element toward replicating this success throughout Haiti. Did State/USAID lead negotiations? Was there some sort of local micro-government?

    Since it is unlikely that such agreement spontaneously emerged, leaving out the process raises questions about whether Brown had any idea what he was writing about, or was simply a notetaker for USAID’s propaganda machine.


    Over to you, Washington Post Ombudsman.

    BONUS: The Haitian government has hired an ex-Bill Clinton administration guy to act as a lobbyist, seeking to influence US decision-makers on aid and rebuilding issues.




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    Imperial Reconstruction and Its Discontents

    August 19, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    If you missed my recent article “How Not to Reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan — or America A Guide to Disaster at Home and Abroad,” it is available at the following sites, below.

    Please note that despite the extensive coverage of my article, including CBS, the article was not included in the daily State Department web summary. The primary site, TomDispatch.com, is still electronically blocked on all State Department computers for whatever the hell “Wikileaks Content” is. I am certain The Onion regrets the error.

    TomDispatch

    CBS News

    Salon.com

    The Nation

    Mother Jones

    Huffington Post

    Le Monde

    ZNET

    Guernica

    Uruknet

    PRN

    Cost of War (Robert Greenwald)

    Counterpunch

    Middle East Online

    Smirking Chimp

    Daily Kos

    Op-ed News

    MyFiredoglake

    Commondreams

    Nation of Change

    Countercurrents

    Truthout

    Opposing Views

    American Empire Project

    rumorsandnews.com

    www.blogotariat.com

    publicdiplomacypressandblogreview

    www.liberalroundup.com

    snokey.com

    Antiwar.com

    The Indypendent

    War in Context

    darkpolitricks.com

    economyincrisis.org


    shredoftruth.com

    mikenormaneconomics




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