Afghanistan, Vietnam and the Question of Expansion

Bill Moyer's Journal - LBJ's Road to War, Part 2
November 20, 2009

Part 1 / Part 2

It is interesting to note that the suggestion I made earlier about creating "shovel ready" projects in Afghanistan was one of the key approaches that Johnson originally considered but was unable to adopt forty years ago. The reference made to a "Vietnamese New Deal" as a means to end the civil war was made impossible thanks to the US support for a series of corrupt client regimes in South Vietnam. Today, the Hamid Karzai government has made Afghanistan "the fifth most corrupt country in the world" according to the United States Agency for International Development. As they concluded in their March, 2009 report "Assessment of Corruption in Afghanistan" (pdf here):

Seven years after the fall of the Taliban government, corruption has become more than the standard issue bribery, nepotism, and extortion in government. Corruption has become a system, through networks of corrupt practices and people that reach across the whole of government to subvert governance. Particularly perniciously, these networks ensure that the guilty are not brought to justice; often the officials and agencies that are supposed to be part of the solution to corruption are instead a critical part of the corruption syndrome. Over and over, interview and survey respondents noted the failure of the Afghan National Police (ANP), Attorney General's Office (AGO), and court system to detect, prosecute, judge, and punish corruption at any level.

In a new report published by Transparency International, Afghanistan is now ranked as the second most corrupt country in the world behind Somalia and just ahead of Iraq. TI's interactive map can be found here (the United States ranks 19th). If any progress is to be made in Afghanistan, this rampant corruption in civilian government must be addressed. However, as TI's analysis makes clear, war torn countries are the most likely to fall victim to corruption as it becomes the only viable way to do business. As long as we're engaged in combat operations this crisis in the government's infrastructure will persist.

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Afghanistan is also poorer than every country in Sub-Saharan Africa except one. The current US military expenditures are about 5 times larger than the entire Afghan economy. Of course, you could also call it corrupt that the Taliban was often paying their soldier higher salaries than the West was paying the Afghan army soldiers to fight. But now their wages have gone up from $120 a month to $160 a month. Wow! At $200 per month, $2400 per year, the salaries for a 500 thousand man Afghan army would only cost $1.2 billion annually. A lot cheaper than having to pay the salaries of 100,000 Western troops while employing Afghans to protect their own country.