Questions that are rarely asked

Why are we spending a multiple of Afghanistan’s total GDP on fighting a war in the country?

Some follow-ups are:

Couldn’t more be done, for cheaper, with cash for bribes and development? How is it that it doesn’t take the Taliban years to train competent soldiers?

That is all from Matt Yglesias.


Well, the Taliban aren't competent soldiers--they're pretty incompetent, in fact. Still, the point is well-taken--we should probably be fielding more of "our" Afghans more quickly, w/out being too fussy about their training. Warlordism is an advance over anarchy or Talibanism, after all, and about as good as one can do for a reasonable price in Afghanistan.

Ideology doesn't allow asking questions.

And as proof of the point, consider the criticism Obama got for asking questions - as commander-in-chief, he can only provide the civilian leadership by doing exactly as the generals tell him to act, because the US military stands for virtue and liberty and they are the one true means to deliver liberty and justice.

Note that fewer than three thousand dead as a result of another criminal in response to the US occupation and generally indiscriminate killing in furtherance of cheap oil, disguised as delivering justice and liberty, required the full force of US military power because the loss of 3000 is too large when 50,000 die in car accidents and 10,000 are killed by guns each year. Those 60,000 deaths are acts in pursuit of liberty; to fail to retaliate for the deaths of 3000 might restrict access to oil which is needed for liberty.

Thus, no questions could be asked when it came to invading Afghanistan or invading Iraq because only liberals who hate freedom and hate America would dare ask questions. Might make right, and the US has the biggest military so the US is always right.

And to ask such questions today indicates you are trying to say all those who suffer and those died did so for no reason.

And did you notice that Obama is weak because he asks questions, doesn't threaten military power, seeks to talk and find common ground, and all those other things extreme left wing liberals do.

As anyone familiar with COIN knows, bringing freedom and democracy to a foreign country is not as simple as spending money and shooting people. I mean, what about the hearts and minds of the noble Afghani people? How can we expect them to lay down their arms when only FORTY-EIGHT PERCENT have access to fluoridated drinking water?!?!

Another theory is that our failure to bring peace, order and good government is related to the inability of US soldiers to shoot at anyone other than Osama Bin Laden himself, and even he'd better better be holding some WMD's to justify a headshot. Or that impose rules of engagement on our armed forces which, while they ostensibly have the goal of protecting enemy civilians, actually have the effect of preventing effective COIN, thus prolonging civil war and causing orders of magnitude more suffering than would be the case with a stiff lip, steady hand, and a complete disregard for the faux-authority of the ICC.

Heck, the British conquered half the world with muskets and sailboats, and turned a nice profit in the process. The question is, aside from the technological gulf growing even wider, what changed since then?



"How is it that it doesn’t take the Taliban years to train competent soldiers?"

You can compare body counts and get a pretty good idea of why the Taliban can't field "competent soldiers" no matter how many years they train. The US and Western allies are very risk averse in this conflict while the Taliban actually fields suicide bombers. We could certainly "do more with less" if we didn't mind losing thousands of American citizen-soldiers to secure victory. Just days of fighting at Iwo Jima in World War II saw 6,821 dead compared to about 1,400 deaths of all coalition troops since 2001. I know its not a fair comparison because the enemy and enemy casualties are quite different in nature but it points to the underlying reasons both claims above are nonsense.

A friend of mine is a retired ag economist and spent time in Afghanistan about four years ago. He was one of the few who ventured out of the cities, meeting with villagers on setting up ag coops.

His report: this is just a bunch of villages, run by the village elders and the local immam. Some guy who they never met comes in once and awhile from the central government and makes promises and leaves.

Life goes on in the village.

There is no central government. These are dirt poor farmers in dusty isolated villages who have run their lives following the village elders and the local immam.

And so it shall always be.

1 - Cash bribes wouldn't work because they would use the money to buy weapons to attack us with.

2 - The Taliban doesn't need to train competent soldiers, it needs to train people who don't care for their own lives.

Good idea, jim. If we can't get them to take bribes, maybe we should fly a plane into their tallest building. That ought to set the SOB's straight.

The US happens to find certain intangible Afghani exports not included in GDP calculations quite valuable (for example: regional stability, prestige for the US, not harboring Al Qaeda, etc.). The strategic issue is the value of those goods versus the cost of producing them, not their value relative to the value of other Afghani goods.

Cash bribes are the only option that would work, as Bill points out. I've heard that from other folks back from Afghanistan.

You mean you want to use the Chicago Way?

So, you're saying turn Afghanistan into Mexico?

"Heck, the British conquered half the world with muskets and sailboats, and turned a nice profit in the process. The question is, aside from the technological gulf growing even wider, what changed since then?"

Afghanistan is simply the part of central/ southern Asia that the British and the Russians were unable or didn't want to control. There were many reasons for the success of the British as empire builders, but one of them was that they (mostly) didn't bother trying to control places like Afghanistan.

What kills me about this is that the method the US used in late 2001, support local allies, particularly with air power, and special forces operations, had some success. It drove the Taliban from the cities and seems to have driven Al Qaeda out of the country. I don't see what the heavier commitment accomplished in addition to what was already done by December 2001.

Why are we spending a multiple of Afghanistan’s total GDP on fighting a war in the country?

Probably for the same reason "we" spent $20-70 billion (depending on your assumptions and counting method) to save GM, a $2 billion company (or $0.5 billion if you remove the premium investors attached to it because of the prospect of a bailout).

To those suggesting that bribes are an option: how exactly do you administer these funds? Give Karzai a few tens of millions of dollars and ask him to distribute the bribes equally, but to please make sure that there is perfect verification that no one simply takes the money and continues to fight?

To those suggesting that infrastructure development and job growth are an option: setting aside the myriad problems associated with normal foreign developmental aid, how do you suggest we build infrastructure in a country that faces an insurgency? In a place where those perceived to be working for the central government or America are likely to be killed and any work they've done destroyed?

You might as well ask, "Why hasn't anyone turned in Osama to collect the $25 million reward?"

Or, "Palestinians could double their GNP overnight, and raise it 10 times within a generation, if they would just make peace with Israel. Why haven't bribes and development money perusaded them to do this?"

Or, "Why does Iran insist on processing its own uranium when it would be so much cheaper for them to let the West do it instead?"

Or my question, which is: Isn't it a little late to be noticing that our enemies cannot be bought off cheaply? That money can't buy everything?

the usa is in afganistan to allow the giant oil companies to build a pipeline system to India and China. That is the reason China is buying US debt.

Couldn't we have invited them to come live with us instead?

Comments for this post are closed