by Michael Carson
According to SIGAR’s latest quarterly report to Congress, released October 30th, 2014, the American and international community’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are not going as well as we had hoped. It seems that the 104 billion dollar reconstruction resulted in 411,000 full-time equivalent jobs for the Afghanistan opium industry; the insurgency’s supporters – those on which we have spent many more billions fighting – would be one of the prime recipients of reconstruction contracts and government largesse; and enormously expensive irrigation projects in Nangarhar, Badakhshan, and Kunar provinces actually helped increase opium-poppy cultivation.
This is admittedly bad. At the same time, this corruption on the part of the people of Afghanistan just proves what some of us always suspected – namely, you simply cannot trust uncivilized and backward people to do the right thing by themselves. You have to train them to be responsible and accountable like the West. Once they see how we always take responsibility for our actions, and how we always ensure our every dollar goes to where it needs to, then they will inevitably follow suit.
I have some experience with this. I deployed to Iraq, a smaller country with a smaller reconstruction budget of only 60 billion. Still, we did what we could with what we had. We spent it on berms, on contractors, on schools – benevolent projects that were supposed to be used to protect, give jobs and educate people. We were always extra careful to spend it only on undertakings that made us feel warm and fuzzy inside, on berms and buildings we associated with civilization. This struck us as scientific because science had at one time been used to create the projects we were building and we used a lot of scientific jargon to describe the projects. Fortunately for us, there were plenty of such projects to complete, as the sudden influx of suicide bombers and IEDs had destroyed the city’s once functioning infrastructure.
The Iraqis never thanked us. All they ever wanted was more propane. What do you want gas for?” we asked. “We’re trying to build you a school. Don’t you want to be scientists like us?” No, they wanted gas, something about having no reliable power source since the invasion. But even when we gave them gas, they would just sell it to line their own pockets and feed their insatiable greed. Their audacity knew no limits. You would give them gas out of the goodness of your heart to help run their military bases and they would turn around and sell it to some landlord. What kind of country, what kind of people mind you, would put the sale and capitalization of energy products above the interest of their own people? What kind of hard-hearted Neanderthals would be more concerned with making money off of oil when their infrastructure crumbles around them and people are in poverty?
Having studied the Vietnam War through movies about the war, I saw clearly that you needed to temper violence with creative and confidence-building projects, or else you might lose the people’s respect. You had to show them that they should like you and want to be like you. The problem, though, is you couldn’t trust any of them to come to this logical conclusion. They had no sense of history. You could give them all this stuff, all the money, power, and weapons, and they would just fitter it away on contractors, jihad and trinkets. They had no real dignity, no self-awareness. If there was one thing I learned from my year driving around in someone else’s town, barging into their houses, tearing apart their rooms, scaring their children half to death, and handing out paychecks to pay for the damages, it’s that you can’t make a man self-aware through force and money. People either have self-awareness or they don’t, and the people of these primitive countries most definitely do not.
My interactions with Iraqi children always brought this last point home extra forcefully. The soldiers and I liked to give them candy and stuffed animals and take pictures with them. Everyone had a grand time. At least here we were making Mosul a better place so the next generations of citizens would look fondly upon the American occupation. I know I would think the same thing if the Russians invaded my hometown. “Thanks for building the vodka distillery,” I would tell the Russians. “Thanks for all the neat Matryoshka dolls. My kids love them.” There is nothing that better serves to increase civic-mindedness, patriotism and personal accountability then invading a country and telling them what to do with their lives. This gave me some consolation, the hope that the next generation would be more responsible than the present one, and that the Iraqi people would forever stay like their children. Of course, it didn’t quite work as planned in Iraq because we left them on their own. And everyone knows you never leave children by themselves. Still, I for one still cherish these memories and hope for a day when all Iraqis, men, women and children alike, will again smile and cheer obligingly when I give them candy.
Until then, we still have work to do in Afghanistan. The fact that the Afghans are using our money for their contemptible and singular drug habit, and that they are lavishing our hard-earned resources on self-serving contractors, is indeed worrisome and reminds me of our difficulties in Iraq. But this doesn’t mean the war is a failure. Not in the least. It simply means we should double down on the money we have left (15 billion according to SIGAR) and perhaps ask Congress for additional appropriations to hire more enlightened contractors of our own, as we should have done in Iraq. These people will never learn the importance of taking responsibility for themselves unless we continue to blindly justify our past mistakes through half-hearted and haphazard investments. For the fact is nothing teaches a backward and benighted people to be responsible with money and accountable for their expenses like acting responsible and holding every guilty party accountable for our own.