If Barack Obama believed that stable institutions can be built in Afghanistan through U.S. and other foreign investment, corruption and lack of accountability are major roadblocks. Transparency International is the organization that keeps a corruption index of nations. It rates Afghanistan as one of the three most corrupt nations in its index.
Reports have been rife about the U.S. and other NATO nations paying bribes to get supply convoys to their destinations Several months ago the Pentagon admitted it has been paying bribes to get supplies through but it is changing its ways. This money has allegedly been helping fund the Taliban.
In December 2009 the Stater Department internal watchdog criticized the State Department’s nearly $2 billion anti-drug effort in Afghanistan, accusing it of poor oversight and lack of a long-term strategy.
The most disturbing indicator, however, of the failure of funding projects in Afghanistan was the report released in December 2010 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. He said that there is no way to account for the $55 billion spent to bolster and rebuild Afghanistan.
Perhaps the most credible argument that President Obama made in his West Point speech regarding why we need to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan is to prevent Al Qaeda from using its territory to plan and train for acts of major terrorism. U.S. intelligence puts the number of Al Qaeda operatives now in Afghanistan at two- or three-digit figures, at best. Vice President Joe Biden reportedly argued in White House discussions about Afghan troop levels that if terrorism bases in Afghanistan is a major concern, than a contingent of U.S. Special Forces — maybe no more than 12,000 to 15,000 troops — would prevent that eventuality.
What Should Obama Do or Have Done?
A bill introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) would restrict Afghan funding to bringing U.S. troops safely home. The genius of this bill is that it avoids the argument that cutting off funding for war-making in Afghanistan would jeopardize the troops stationed there. A bold, transformative president would have come to that type of decision when he made his drawn-out assessment of what to do on Afghan policy.
What should not be done is funnel any more reconstruction money through governmental channels, as, in Iraq, auditors and inspectors can’t account for how many of the billions already spent were spent. If there are indigenous groups or international NGOs that have a good track record on projects, any additional funding for Afghanistan rebuilding should be channeled through them.
President Obama should also pay close attention to the wise words of Robert Dreyfuss in order to disabuse himself of any illusions he has of a successful conclusion of the war in Afghanistan. Dreyfuss says a central part of U.S. policy in regard to the region must be to facilitate a peace process between Pakistan and India.
Dreyfuss’s geography lesson is that entire swaths of southern Afghanistan, in provinces along the Pakistan border, south and east of Kabul, are controlled by the Pashtun and their allies.
Dreyfuss has some precautionary warning words about the complicated web of insurgents and Islamist organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He says that the U.S. military has identified at least 14 separate insurgent organizations in Afghanistan and maybe as many as 50 separate Islamist formations in Pakistan. Dreyfuss further claims that putting thousands of more troops into Afghanistan gives the Taliban more targets, sparks Pashtun nationalist resistance and inspires more recruits for the insurgency.
Finally, Dreyfuss sees giving Afghanistan a centrally directed state was a major blunder,because we thereby excluded from governance, local authorities in a tribal nation.