November 27, 2011. Its population is larger, but much poorer, than Iraq's. Eighty percent of its 35 million live on an average of $1 per day (actually less). For $10 billion, one tenth of what we spend on the military, we could give those 28 million another $1 a day and double their income. Stop and think how you would feel if someone doubled your income. Doubled! We would be vastly more popular.
Given the popular support that would buy, we could cut the military budget in half and still kick out the Taliban. In fact they would lose most of their recruits which are the children of families too poor to provide for their children, even by growing opium.
But instead we run tiny aid programs that pay most of their money to Western experts and corrupt officials. And we run a war that costs ten times as much as the country's total income.
So Why Can't We Spare a Dime Out of Every Dollar We Waste?
After much reading, the only answer I can find is that "subsidies would get them hooked on subsidies and that would be bad for them." Worse than getting hooked on opium? Worse than getting hooked on credit from opium-growing war lords? Worse than a twenty year war? Worse than having the Taliban take over? What are our experts smoking?
Perhaps we should stop the subsidies to our own farmers and stop the $8 billion or so we spend subsidizing corn ethanol. But never mind. How could we actually give out the money and make sure it ended up in the right hands? As I explain, the answer is, buy wheat. And as to being hooked on subsidies, for one year's cost of the war we could taper down the subsidies over twenty years after we left and let them transition on their own. What studies of rural Afghanistan make clear is that when people get a few dollars more income they invest in farm animals, different crops, and land improvements. The Afghans are a resourceful people, and when you're living on $2 a day, you think about how you spend that money. Perhaps we should think about how we spend our money too.
2.2 Million Girls Going to School in Afghanistan
July 13, 2009. UNICEF reports that it's helping to build 72 new schools, but that in 2008 there were 283 violent attacks on schools, killing 92 and injuring 169. As the Taliban takes over an area in Pakistan, one of the first things it does is blow up all the girls schools. This is not a Muslim, or even a Pashtun, custom. It's the Taliban's terroristic mixture of the two.
Unfortunately, the U.S. supported similar terrorists to attack the Soviets in Afghanistan, and when they won, we did nothing to stabilize the country. So the people suffered immensely under a war between the warlords—which the Taliban eventually won.
Why Obama Can't [Couldn't] Leave Afghanistan
June 6, 2009. No American President could leave Afghanistan—even if they thought our chances there were poor. What would happen if Obama just brought our troops home? (1) The Taliban would take over most of the country for sure—they almost have now. (2) They would invite al Qaeda in again—they are still protecting them. (3) Al Qaeda would attack the U.S. and Europe more vigorously—they are now (2009) the brains behind much of what the Taliban does, and would then virtually have their own country.
This is the clincher. With more freedom to operate, they'd probably have a 50/50 chance of scoring another 9/11 or worse. If that happened, the Democratic party would be dead. If that were not enough, a Taliban controlled Afghanistan would be a perpetual threat to Pakistan, and might eventually take some nukes.
November 27, 2011. Now that Obama has killed Osama, and now that more Republicans favor a greatly reduced presence in Afghanistan, it should be politically possible to wind down the war. And indeed Obama started that process on schedule. It is still a tragedy that American cannot stop and think about what we could do with half as much money that would transform the whole Af-Pak problem. Instead, we follow the purely military path to one disaster after another. The problem is balance. On foreign policy, we spend about 100 to 1 in favor of the military—all because helping others is considered a waste of money, but bombing them is not.