What’s a Few Trillion Towards Afghanistan?
What does a few trillion dollars get you these days in war efforts and reconstruction projects? Unfortunately not much, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). In the recently published report, What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction, the numbers are abysmal. Starting with the largest:
U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan over the last two decades are estimated to be $6.4 trillion.
(The cost of Afghanistan was about one-third, estimated to be $2.3 trillion as noted by Brown University.)
The executive summary in the SIGAR report opens with the U.S Government spending:
20 years and $145 billion trying to rebuild Afghanistan, its security forces, civilian government institutions, economy, and civil society.
$145 billion was specifically for reconstruction efforts and excludes the $837 billion the Department of Defence spent on warfighting. As follows, we find strange occurrences and a recurring theme of capital destruction. The list is long. But here are some noteworthy causes:
$9 billion on counternarcotics efforts since 2002, in part due to concerns that narcotics trafficking funded Taliban activities. Despite the investment, the cultivation of opium poppy in Afghanistan has trended upward for two decades…
Incredible how the war on drugs extends beyond America’s borders in a major way. It’s fair to say that no one would dare make the argument that if the narcotics budget was only slightly larger the war on Afghanistan’s drug production would have been won.
When imposing a system of western courts, the government failed remarkably:
$1 billion on rule of law programming in Afghanistan, with approximately 90 percent of that funding going toward the development of a formal legal system. That system, however, was foreign to most Afghans, who favored informal, community-level traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, where an estimated 80 to 90 percent of civil disputes have always been handled.
This is both sad and ironic as the US still has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
As for infrastructure projects:
In 2021, SIGAR audited a sample of 60 U.S. infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, and it found that $723.8 million, or 91 percent, had gone toward assets that were unused or abandoned, were not used as intended, had deteriorated, were destroyed, or some combination of the above.
And what may very well be the biggest, and unintentional, universal basic income experiment of all time:
$300 million a year was spent paying salaries to nonexistent personnel in the Afghan security forces.
The report is quite lengthy and details other government missteps such as the duplicate ordering of $195.2 million of cargo trucks or $488 million to support a mining sector, which appears non-existent at the moment.
For all these government investments, the country is not left with much to show for it. As Reuters recently reported, due to the recent events in Afghanistan:
Apart from illegal narcotics, the country has no significant exports to generate revenue, and aid, which accounted for more than 40% of economic output, has abruptly disappeared.
There is a shock effect of reading about government waste, seeing figures so large one can hardly fathom beyond a stat; however, the lesson here is to always follow the money.
All this money came from somewhere. Sure, some may be taxpayer funded. But debt funding cannot be overlooked. Specifically, if the Fed was barred from owning $5.4 trillion of US treasuries, who would pay for these doomed-to-fail projects?
At least for a few trillion dollars, a government backed bridge to nowhere would give us a place to drive, whereas this war effort constitutes nothing more than a fleeting moment in American history. All that remains becomes a monument, at best, to commemorate the dead. Such is the society in which we’ve found ourselves, with us the majority (who don’t need them) versus them (the minority in power who always need us). Not one person will be held accountable for these atrocities; only worse, we’ll build presidential libraries in their names or give them tenure at prestigious universities for never speaking up against the known dangers of central banking.