Our Corrupt Occupation of Afghanistan

s it just me, or is the pontification of Western leaders about
corruption in Afghanistan growing rather tiresome?

There is something very Captain Renault about it. We're shocked,
shocked that the Afghans have sullied our morally immaculate
occupation of their country with their dirty corruption. How
ungrateful can they be?

But perhaps we should consider the possibility that our occupation of
the country is not so morally immaculate - indeed, that the most
corrupt racket going in Afghanistan today is the American occupation.

US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent
of the Pentagon's logistics contracts in Afghanistan consists of
protection payments to insurgents, Aram Roston
in The Nation. In southern Afghanistan - where
General McChrystal wants to send more troops - security firms can't
physically protect convoys of American military supplies. There's no
practical way to move the supplies without paying the Taliban. So,
like Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22, we're supplying both sides of the

Meanwhile, two-thirds of the nearly $30 billion in international aid
to Afghanistan has been routed through foreign consultants, companies,
and organizations hired by the US government and its allies, Farah
Stockman reports in the Boston Globe. Afghan officials
complain that American civilian advisers are often overpaid,
underqualified, and unfamiliar with the culture of the country. A
typical US adviser earns about $500 per day - several times what the
average Afghan earns in a month, Stockman notes. That's about $125,000
a year - not a bad chunk of change, even by U.S. standards. It's more
than the household income of about 85%
of American families
. The total cost of such an adviser, including
security and accommodations (note that most people - in Afghanistan,
like the U.S. - have to pay for their own accommodations out of their
salaries or wages) is about $500,000 a year.

The Afghan government now has a program to hire its own advisers from
friendly Muslim countries like Turkey and the UAE. The US supports
this program with a $30 million dollar contribution. But that
contribution represents 1.1% of the $2.7 billion that the US plans to
spend on economic assistance to Afghanistan next year, the vast
majority of which will be used to hire US contractors. So for every
dollar we spend on paying Americans contractors, we spend a penny on a
much cheaper program that allows Afghanistan to hire people who know
the culture, speak the language, have more expertise, and can move
around Afghanistan with less security because they aren't Americans.

What do you call that? Afghans call it corruption. As Diogenes might
say, the big thieves are giving lectures to the little thieves.

Now consider an Afghan policeman making $120 a month - half the cost
of supporting a family, Western
officials concede - who sees all this going on. Do you think that
guy might take a bribe? Berholt Brecht wrote, in Marc Blitzstein's
translation: "First feed the face, and then tell right from wrong: for
even saintly folk may act like sinners, unless they've had their
customary dinners." But in practice, our aid bureaucracy in
Afghanistan has not yet won this most trivial insight.

But the biggest corruption of all is the occupation itself, because it
is all based on a big lie: the claim that our continued occupation of
Afghanistan is justified by the threat of an Al Qaeda "haven" in
Afghanistan. This is a lie because: 1) as former counter-terrorism
official Paul Pillar has
pointed out
, "the case has not been made" that "such a haven would
significantly increase the terrorist danger to the United States" and
2) Mullah Mohammed Omar's "Quetta Shura" Taliban have been signalling
for months
that they are done with Al Qaeda and there has been no
U.S. response. McChrystal wants reinforcements to go to Kandahar.
That's Mullah Omar's home turf. If McChrystal is given troops to go to
Kandahar, then it's not about Al Qaeda.

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