The War in Afghanistan began with a noble goal: to destroy the terrorist network al-Qaeda and bring some stability to that war torn country. The United States military has been occupying this country for nearly a decade now, and there has been little to nothing to show for it. The sad fact is that America cannot win a land war in this country and is doomed to repeat the mistakes of every empire before it that tried. One of the more valid goals of George Bush’s war in this country was an attempt to modernize its infrastructure. The AP reports today (as part of a new series that should prove very interesting), even as America was doling out contracts to companies that build electric stations, Afghanistan has never had less electricity (via the WaPo):
Case in point: a $100 million diesel-fueled power plant that was supposed to be built swiftly to deliver electricity to more than 500,000 residents of Kabul, the country’s largest city. The plant’s costs tripled to $305 million as construction lagged a year behind schedule, and now it often sits idle because the Afghans were able to import cheaper power from a neighboring country before the plant came online.
The AP article presents a devastating account of incompetence by both the American planners of this boondoggle and the contractors that overcharged them (and the taxpayer). The piece also contains this little nugget of information, sure to be important in a year when millions of Americans have lost their jobs and have been at the whim of a recalcitrant Congress for even the slightest bit of unemployment help:
Rebuilding Afghanistan is an international effort, but the U.S. alone has committed $51 billion to the project since 2001, and plans to raise the stakes to $71 billion over the next year – more than it has spent on reconstruction in Iraq since 2003.
$51 billion might not seem like a lot of money in an age of $700 billion bank bailouts, but that still is a hefty amount of money with little to show for it. Unfortunately, as America’s imperial devastation in Iraq has shown, simply throwing money into a country in the hopes of rebuilding it is never the solution. Combined these two countries have sucked out nearly $120 billion out of the Treasury, never to be seen again. In an era in which the infrastructure in the United States is barely adequate, the fact that this country has thrown away this amount of cash to these two countries is ludicrous. But of course, then the American war machine wouldn’t be functioning very well, would it? The AP tells the tale of this disastrous project, a mere microcosm of American arrogance as it stumbles around the Middle East:
Too many major projects are not delivering what was promised to the people, and rapidly dumping billions of reconstruction dollars into such an impoverished country is in some ways making matters worse, not better, Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal says.
The U.S and its partners have wasted billions of dollars and spent billions more without consulting Afghan officials, Zakhilwal says.
All of that has ramped up corruption, undermined efforts to build a viable Afghan government, stripped communities of self-reliance by handing out cash instead of real jobs, and delivered projects like the diesel plant that the country can’t afford, he says.
This is an eerie reprisal of what happened in Iraq after the initial invasion. The US simply handed out cash and declined to consult the local populace in decisions that were vital to the rebuilding of the nation. It’s as if to say America knows best, and that the Afghans should just listen up. If only a nation that was so great at destroying things could actually build something up. It turns out that most Afghans are still living the way people did in the 19th century:
Afghans who can afford it pay private generator owners like Ali by the light bulb, about $2.60 a month for each bulb hanging from the ceiling. It costs nearly $11 a month to power a television. The average income in Afghanistan is a little more than a dollar a day.
“We don’t have the ability and cannot afford to pay more money for each light we use,” says Rahim, whose wife and nine children share a home with his brother, sister-in-law and their nine children.
The article expands on this inability to deliver, delving into the incompetent practices of the US ambassador to Afghanistan at the time, Ronald Neumann:
Some Afghan leaders, led by then Minister of the Economy Jalil Shams, had pushed for additional generator power in Kabul. The U.S. rejected that approach, Neumann says, because it considered generators a costly, short-term solution.
Building transmission lines to carry inexpensive imported power from Uzbekistan and other northern neighbors would be a much better investment, Neuman says he initially thought. But he changed his mind after a study by Black & Veatch, a U.S. contractor that builds power plants around the world, argued the transmission lines wouldn’t bring enough electricity to Kabul or be completed soon enough.
As it turned out, those transmission lines were finished first and provide the main source of power, instead of the $305 million plant.
This is yet another example of the US allowing private contractors to wreak havoc in another country, all while the American taxpayer foots the bill. The entire piece is well worth reading, and displays that the AP is still capable of doing good investigative reporting. Unfortunately for the people of Afghanistan, the rampant corruption behind America’s attempt to rebuild that country has totally not been worth it.