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Funding the Enemy

Let it not be said that we haven't been told.   This piece, from truthdig, discusses a new book, "Funding The Enemy" - a book detailing the vast sums of money being spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, the corruption there, the waste of of money, etc. etc.

"Three years into the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, Sen. Judd Gregg offered an unusual pronouncement on that year’s congressional budget negotiations. “This cannot afford to be a guns and butter term,” he told The Wall Street Journal, invoking the traditional trade-off between military and domestic spending priorities. “You’ve got to cut the butter.”

If Gregg’s prescription sounded harsh, the reality was even more dispiriting. In addition to its huge outlays on guns, the U.S. government was coating the entire country of Afghanistan in butter. For a decade now, we’ve spent $120 billion annually to occupy a nation whose GDP was less than one-tenth of that figure. Much of the funding has supported the military, of course, but a great deal of it was allocated for roads, schools, dams and hospitals—the very projects Gregg wished to cut here. A substantial fraction of that money never made it to Afghanistan as such. Large firms won fat contracts and subcontracted them to smaller firms, which subcontracted them to lesser companies in a cascade of skim. What dollars did arrive in Afghanistan funded low-quality construction and no maintenance. The occupation’s other big winners were Afghan kleptocrats, warlords and drug barons, who were busily presiding over a resurgent opium trade.

“It’s the perfect war,” one U.S. intelligence officer told author Douglas A. Wissing. “Everyone is making money.”

That irony wasn’t lost on our true enemy. As early as 2002, al-Qaida spokesman Abu-Ubayd al-Qurashi made a similar point. “Anyone who follows the news from Afghanistan will see how the different factions are playing with the Americans,” he noted. Those groups clearly intended “to prolong the flow of dollars as long as possible and are trying to strengthen their own interests without cooperating seriously in the American crusade.” His thumbnail description fits the facts surprisingly well.

This floridly dysfunctional system is the subject of Wissing’s remarkable book, “Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.” Drawing on a wide range of sources and adding his own firsthand reporting, Wissing describes how ousting the Taliban led to one of the most protracted and fruitless efforts in U.S. foreign policy history. If you’re wondering how $31 billion of U.S. taxpayer money could be lost to fraud and waste in Afghanistan and Iraq, this book is for you.

We haven’t aided the Afghan economy; we are the economy. Our very presence there has disfigured normal commerce and created perverse incentives. As Wissing notes, senior Afghan officials earn $150 a month while a nongovernmental organization driver earns $1,000. How long before those officials supplement their incomes with gifts (bakhsheesh) or become drivers? The full absurdity of the arrangement was revealed in miniature when Afghan farmers refused to clear their own canals unless we paid them.

Profiteering and corruption are common during wartime, but the situation in Afghanistan is appalling even by those standards. Outrageously, the Taliban itself has been a major beneficiary of our boodle. The shadow government was the only enemy in sight after al- Qaida evacuated in December 2001. A U.S. military office noted that 10 to 20 percent of funds from all international contracts in Afghanistan wound up with the Taliban. The Taliban even skims U.S. payments to families of Afghan civilians killed accidentally."

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