“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

$52 Billion of US aid through large American companies proving a failure in Afghanistan as in Iraq.

As winter approaches, half of Afghans face not getting enough to eat, according to the US Famine Early Warning Systems Network. The best use of aid money may be to subsidise food prices and help save people like Mr Qudus, the old clothes seller, and his family from starving.

$52bn of American aid and still Afghans are dying of starvation

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kabul on the rampant corruption that has left the country on its knees


The most extraordinary failure of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan is that the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars has had so little impact on the misery in which 30 million Afghans live. As President Barack Obama prepares this week to present a review of America's strategy in Afghanistan which is likely to focus on military progress, US officials, Afghan administrators, businessmen and aid workers insist that corruption is the greatest threat to the country's future.

In a series of interviews, they paint a picture of a country where $52bn (£33bn) in US aid since 2001 has made almost no impression on devastating poverty made worse by spreading violence and an economy dislocated by war. That enormous aid budget, two-thirds for security and one-third for economic, social and political development, has made little impact on 9 million living in absolute poverty, and another 5 million trying to survive on $43 (£27) a month. The remainder of the population often barely scrapes a living, having to choose between buying wood to keep warm and buying food.

Afghans see a racketeering élite as the main beneficiaries of international support and few of them are optimistic about anything changing. "Things look all right to foreigners but in fact people are dying of starvation in Kabul," says Abdul Qudus, a man in his forties with a deeply lined face, who sells second-hand clothes and shoes on a street corner in the capital. They are little more than rags, lying on display on the half-frozen mud.

"I buy and sell clothes for between 10 and 30 Afghanis (two to six cents) and even then there are people who are too poor to buy them," says Mr Qudus. "I myself am very poor and sometimes I don't eat so I can feed my children." He says he started selling second-hand clothes two years ago when he lost his job washing carpets.

The aid projects that are meant to help people like Mr Qudus may have little to do with his problems and may not even exist. Fake photographs are often the only evidence that companies have carried out expensive projects located in parts of Afghanistan too dangerous for donors to visit.

"I went to see a food processing plant in the east of the country which was meant to employ 250 women," says an Afghan who used to work for an American government aid organisation. "We had started the project and were paying for the equipment and the salaries. But all I found was a few people working on a vegetable plot the size of a small room."

When he complained he was told by a local official to keep his mouth shut. He said that "if I did not keep quiet there would be trouble on the road back to Jalalabad – in other words they would kill me."

US officials admit privately that the torrent of aid money that has poured into Afghanistan has stoked corruption and done ordinary Afghans little good. Afghanistan was identified as the third most corrupt country out of 178 in the world in a report released last week by Transparency International.

"The aid projects are too big, carried out in too short a time, and the places they are located in are too remote," says a diplomat. He recalled that he was unable to monitor a road construction project in Kunar province in the east, because he was not allowed to visit areas where he and his team could not be protected.

Afghan and Americans who have overseen aid projects agree that the "quick fix" approach has been disastrous. Schools are equipped with computers in districts where there is no electric power or fresh water.

The flood of money has had little success in reducing economic hardship. "It has all messed up into one big soup," says Karolina Olofsson, head of advocacy and communication for the Afghan NGO Integrity Watch Afghanistan. Aid organisations are judged by the amount of money they spend rather than any productive outcome, she says.

"The US has a highly capitalist approach and seeks to deliver aid through private companies," she says. "It does not like to use NGOs which its officials consider too idealistic."

Big contracts are given to large US companies that are used to a complicated bidding process, can produce appropriate paperwork, and are well connected in Washington. The problem is that much of Afghanistan is far too dangerous for these companies to carry out work themselves or monitor subcontractors.

In his office in Kabul, Hedayatullah Hafizy, owner of the Noor Taq-e-Zafar Construction Company, says that there is a simple reason why the work is so poor. He says: "Let us say the main US contractor has a contract worth $2.5m. He will take a 20 per cent administrative fee and find a subcontractor, who will subcontract to an Afghan company, which may subcontract again. At the end of the day only $1.4m may be there for building the project."

The progress of schemes is often monitored by photographs. In one small but typical case an Afghan company was paid to build and get running a tractor repair shop in the dangerous Oruzgan province. The contractor rented an existing tractor repair shop in Kandahar province for the day and hired local young men to look as if they were busily fixing engines in the shop. This was all photographed and the pictures emailed to the main contractor and the donor organisation, both of whom expressed satisfaction at what had been achieved. "There is no intention to provide a service," says Mr Hedayatullah, "just to make money".

There have been some successes. But, overall, aid has done surprisingly little for most Afghans. Yama Torabi, the co-director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, says it is not really possible to carry out development aid in areas of conflict where there is fighting – it might be better to stick to emergency relief.

This would be contrary to US military policy, pioneered in Iraq, whereby local US military commanders control substantial funds that can be used for aid projects through the so-called provincial reconstruction teams. But this militarisation of aid means that the Taliban target schools built on the orders of a US commander.

"People see schools built by the Americans as American property," says an Afghan who once worked for a US government agency. "They are frightened of sending their children there."

The US government policy of providing aid through large American private companies is proving a failure in Afghanistan as it did previously in Iraq.

As winter approaches, half of Afghans face not getting enough to eat, according to the US Famine Early Warning Systems Network. The best use of aid money may be to subsidise food prices and help save people like Mr Qudus, the old clothes seller, and his family from starving.


  1. The coalition’s upbeat assessment conflicts with that of a group of influential international experts on Afghanistan, who on Saturday appealed to Obama to radically change his strategy and negotiate directly with the Taliban.

    An open letter from 23 researchers, journalists and NGO chiefs said the current strategy was failing as the militants were growing in strength, and a coalition government including the Taliban should be the long-term goal. “It is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban will likely be stronger next year.

    “The situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has made progress across the country,” the letter said.

    Killed in Afghanistan

  2. Eisenhower warned us, but we wouldn't listen. We've let them get too strong.

  3. The Beltway "Elites" are hanging us out to dry.

    Any moron, disgruntled enlisted man that served a tour in Nam could see this was idiocy from the get-go.

    Oh, wait, that's right; these are "beltway" types. I forgot.

  4. An ex-serviceman wearing an RAF jacket was attacked by thugs who shouted at him 'Bomb the soldiers! Death to the soldiers!'


    The Second World War serviceman, who drove General Eisenhower in France, was jumped from behind as he entered his flat in Camberwell, London.

    He died 11 weeks after the attack as a direct result of the injuries he sustained.

    Headbutted by Thugs

  5. I'm so sorry, but my uncle was a Colonel, as was David Hackworth; both served multiple tours in Vietnam and both thought Vietnam was a cluster. Oh, they were acquaintances.

    Now, this guy...

    buttons and bows; ribbons in rows

    not so much

  6. I gotcha Whit, but my deleter don't work.

    You take it down.

    You know what I have to do?

    I got to go to "deuce and whit at the elephant bar" before I can even get here.

    It's bizarre.

    (but she does have some Swedish genes -- most of the Irish do)

    And she plays great Christmas music.

  7. All this drug addiction craparoo and the alcoholism that come with it, is simply an human effort towards transcendence.

    By those that don't know.

    Read Evelyn Underhill.

    That is all it is.

    It's NOT Ayn Rand.

  8. It has become a never-ending heartache within the hallways of Buchanan High School: news that another former student has died in Iraq or Afghanistan.


    Buchanan has built a memorial garden to remember its fallen graduates.

    The lobby of the school's main office additionally features a painting of three handsome Marines in their crisp white hats set against the backdrop of a waving American flag. They were the first three who died.

    War Deaths

  9. $52 billion, it is hard to compute.

  10. You have to look at the linked photo of Petraeus in his uniform. He looks like a Nascar car for fuck's sake.

  11. From Sam's link:

    An ex-serviceman wearing an RAF jacket was attacked by thugs who shouted at him 'Bomb the soldiers! Death to the soldiers!'
    The 69-year-old was punched and headbutted by two Asian or mixed-race attackers who spotted him in military uniform.

    Read more:

  12. Now check out this chain of events:

    We blow $52 billion paying US contractors to turn Afghanistan into a Wilsonian democracy. We do not have the B52 so we borrow it from the Chinese. The Chinese have it because federal tax and trade policies and job killing machines like Walmart have gutted US factories, small US retailers and US manufacturing jobs and more US money pours into China.

    The only way for additional US companies to compete is to dump their union labor contracts, further depressing wages and income, which will cause further federal deficits and more borrwing from the Chinese;

    TOKYO (MarketWatch) -- Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (GAP 0.93, -1.90, -67.10%) , known as A&P, announced Sunday in New Jersey that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a move to facilitate its financial and operational restructuring. The grocery chain, which operates 395 stores in the U.S., said it will have access to $800 million in debtor in possession financing from J.P. Morgan

  13. For more than an hour, Gen. David H. Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and other top Western officials in Kabul urged Karzai to delay implementing a ban on private security firms. Reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars would have to be shuttered, they maintained, if foreign guards were evicted.

    Sitting at the head of a glass-topped, U-shaped table in his conference room, Karzai refused to budge, according to two people with direct knowledge of the late October meeting. He insisted that Afghan police and soldiers could protect the reconstruction workers, and he dismissed pleas for a delay.

    As he spoke, he grew agitated, then enraged. He told them that he now has three "main enemies" - the Taliban, the United States and the international community.

    "If I had to choose sides today, I'd choose the Taliban," he fumed.

    After a few more parting shots, he got up and walked out of the wood-paneled room.


  14. More corruption news from guess where, Wkileaks. I think we should know about this:

    ..."The post-Soviet state of Uzbekistan is a nightmarish world of "rampant corruption", organised crime, forced labour in the cotton fields, and torture, according to the leaked cables.

    But the secret dispatches released by WikiLeaks reveal that the US tries to keep President Islam Karimov sweet because he allows a crucial US military supply line to run into Afghanistan, known as the northern distribution network (NDN)."

  15. "It's NOT Ayn Rand."

    I've long since passed my Rand days. But had I never read her?

    I'm really glad I did. Like Buckley before her.

    I don't find any of this captivating. Or illuminating. Or instructive.

    Which is not to say it isn't or shouldn't be to some, on some level.

    And I'm certainly not into arguing. With anyone but myself. I don't have a real interest in it anymore.

    My son says, "That's the problem."

    If that's the problem, I cherish being one.

  16. KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Several suspects have been arrested after a suicide attack killed six American troops when an explosives-packed minibus blew up at the entrance of a joint NATO-Afghan base in southern Afghanistan, officials said Monday.
    The blast on Sunday was the deadliest attack on coalition troops this month.
    NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz said Monday that several arrests were made Sunday night.
    "Individuals believed to be involved in yesterday's attack have been arrested by Afghan and coalition forces," Blotz said at a news conference, adding that no shots were fired as the suspects were taken into custody.
    NATO has declined to identify the victims' nationalities. But an Afghan army official in southern Afghanistan said on Monday that the six were Americans. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about NATO casualties.

  17. You have a better chance at a convincing and swaying argument when you make it to yourself.

  18. I read Rand when I was 19 or 20. Glad as well.

  19. "You have a better chance at a convincing and swaying argument when you make it to yourself."

    I know whereof I speak: This is by no means a rule.

  20. Deuce said...
    You have to look at the linked photo of Petraeus in his uniform. He looks like a Nascar car for fuck's sake.

    Mon Dec 13, 01:41:00 AM EST

    Moreover, other than bootcamp, there is never a good excuse for a bad haircut.