Thursday, September 23, 2021
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Thursday, September 16, 2021
September 13, 2021
New York Times
Consider the case of Hikmatullah Shadman, who was just a teenager when American Special Forces rolled into Kandahar on the heels of Sept. 11. They hired him as an interpreter, paying him up to $1,500 a month — 20 times the salary of a local police officer, according to a profile of him in The New Yorker. By his late 20s, he owned a trucking company that supplied U.S. military bases, earning him more than $160 million.
If a small fry like Shadman could get so rich off the war on terror, imagine how much Gul Agha Sherzai, a big-time warlord-turned-governor, has raked in since he helped the C.I.A. run the Taliban out of town. His large extended family supplied everything from gravel to furniture to the military base in Kandahar. His brother controlled the airport. Nobody knows how much he is worth, but it is clearly hundreds of millions — enough for him to talk about a $40,000 shopping spree in Germany as if he were spending pocket change.
Look under the hood of the “good war,” and this is what you see. Afghanistan was supposed to be an honorable war to neutralize terrorists and rescue girls from the Taliban. It was supposed to be a war that we woulda coulda shoulda won, had it not been for the distraction of Iraq and the hopeless corruption of the Afghan government. But let’s get real. Corruption wasn’t a design flaw in the war. It was a design feature. We didn’t topple the Taliban. We paid warlords bags of cash to do it.
As the nation-building project got underway, those warlords were transformed into governors, generals and members of Parliament, and the cash payments kept flowing.
“Westerners often scratched their heads at the persistent lack of capacity in Afghan governing institutions,” Sarah Chayes, a former special assistant to U.S. military leaders in Kandahar, wrote recently in Foreign Affairs. “But the sophisticated networks controlling those institutions never intended to govern. Their objective was self-enrichment. And at that task, they proved spectacularly successful.”
Instead of a nation, what we really built were more than 500 military bases — and the personal fortunes of the people who supplied them. That had always been the deal.
In April 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dictated a top-secret memo ordering aides to come up with “a plan for how we are going to deal with each of these warlords — who is going to get money from whom, on what basis, in exchange for what, what is the quid pro quo, etc.,” according to The Washington Post.
The war proved enormously lucrative for many Americans and Europeans, too. One 2008 study estimated that some 40 percent of the money allocated to Afghanistan went back to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries. Only about 12 percent of U.S. reconstruction assistance given to Afghanistan between 2002 and 2021 actually went to the Afghan government. Much of the rest went to companies like the Louis Berger Group, a New Jersey-based construction firm that got a $1.4 billion contract to build schools, clinics and roads. Even after it got caught bribing officials and systematically overbilling taxpayers, the contracts kept coming.
“It’s a bugbear of mine that Afghan corruption is so frequently cited as an explanation (as well as an excuse) for Western failure in Afghanistan,” Jonathan Goodhand, a professor in conflict and development studies at SOAS University of London, wrote me in an email. Americans “point the finger at Afghans, whilst ignoring their role in both fueling and benefiting from the patronage pump.”
Who won the war on terror? American defense contractors, many of which were politically connected companies that had donated to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit that has been tracking spending in a series of reports called the Windfalls of War. One firm hired to help advise Iraqi ministries had a single employee: the husband of a deputy assistant secretary of defense.
For Mr. Bush and his friends, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan achieved a great deal. He got a chance to play a tough guy on TV. He became a wartime president, which helped him win re-election. By the time people figured out that the war in Iraq had been waged on false pretenses and the war in Afghanistan had no honorable exit plan, it was too late.
What stands out about the war in Afghanistan is the way that it became the Afghan economy. At least Iraq had oil. In Afghanistan, the war dwarfed every other economic activity, apart from the opium trade.
Over two decades, the U.S. government spent $145 billion on reconstruction and aid and an additional $837 billion on war fighting, in a country where the G.D.P. hovered between $4 billion and $20 billion per year.
Economic growth has risen and fallen with the number of foreign troops in the country. It soared during President Barack Obama’s surge in 2009, only to plummet with the drawdown two years later.
Imagine what ordinary Afghans might have done if they had been able to use that money for long-term projects planned and executed at their own pace. But alas, policymakers in Washington rushed to push cash out the door, since money spent was one of the few metrics of success.
The money was meant to buy security, bridges and power plants to win hearts and minds. But the surreal amounts of cash poisoned the country instead, embittering those who didn’t have access to it and setting off rivalries among those who did.
“The money spent was far more than Afghanistan could absorb,” concluded the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction’s final report. “The basic assumption was that corruption was created by individual Afghans and that donor interventions were the solution. It would take years for the United States to realize that it was fueling corruption with its excessive spending and lack of oversight.”
The result was a fantasy economy that operated more like a casino or a Ponzi scheme than a country. Why build a factory or plant crops when you can get fabulously wealthy selling whatever the Americans want to buy? Why fight the Taliban when you could just pay them not to attack?
The money fueled the revolving door of war, enriching the very militants that it was meant to fight, whose attacks then justified new rounds of spending.
A forensic accountant who served on a military task force that analyzed $106 billion worth of Pentagon contracts estimated that 40 percent of the money ended up in the pockets of “insurgents, criminal syndicates or corrupt Afghan officials,” according to The Washington Post.
Social scientists have a name for countries that are so reliant on unearned income from outsiders: rentier states. It is usually used for oil-producing countries, but Afghanistan now stands out as an extreme example.
A report by Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network outlined how Afghanistan’s rentier economy undermined efforts to build a democracy. Since money flowed from foreigners instead of taxes, leaders were responsive to donors rather than their own citizens.
I knew the war in Afghanistan had gone off the rails the day I had lunch in Kabul with a European consultant who got paid a lot of money to write reports about Afghan corruption. He’d just arrived, but he already had a lot of ideas about what needed to be done — including ridding the Afghan civil service of pay scales based on seniority. I suspect that he never could have gotten an idea like that passed in his own country. But in Kabul, he had a shot at getting his ideas adopted. To him, Afghanistan wasn’t a failure, but a place to shine.
None of this is to say that the Afghan people don’t deserve support, even now. They do. But far more can be achieved by spending far less in a more thoughtful way.
What does the Taliban takeover say about the war? It proves that you cannot buy an army. You can only rent one for a while. Once the money spigot turned off, how many stuck around to fight for our vision of Afghanistan? Not Gul Agha Sherzai, the warlord-turned-governor. He has reportedly pledged allegiance to the Taliban.
[Farah Stockman is a member of The New York Times editorial board, which she joined in 2020. For four years, she was a reporter for The Times, covering politics, social movements and race. She previously worked at The Boston Globe, where she won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2016. @fstockman]Afghanistan
Corruption lost the war in Afghanistan
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
We stand at a crossroad in California. In the September 14 Special Election, will Californians choose a future where all are valued or will we rollback the clock on the progress we’ve made?
In this pivotal moment, our communities’ voices are as important as ever. That’s why the Million Voters Project Action Fund is currently running the largest get out the vote effort in California to turn out historic numbers in this special election.
We are moving our communities, exhausted by the pandemic and economic uncertainty, to vote NO because a recall would sow chaos and set California back for decades. Read more about our efforts in CalMatters and LA Times.
The polls show our work is making a difference. Thus far, the Million Voters Project Action Fund has:
Canvassers from Community Coalition knock on doors for MVPAF’s “No On Recall” campaign.
Building off our work in 2020 we have continued strengthening our multicultural, intergenerational, and cross-regional coalition, to reach voters who are low-income, Black, Indigenous, Asian, immigrant, new, infrequent, or young, that will make the difference in this election and beyond.
As we go into the final stretch of our get out the vote effort can you help us reach even more voters?
Thank you for standing with us.
Amado Uno, MVP Director
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Saturday, August 21, 2021
Did you know there’s an important election taking place in California right now? Registered voters started receiving their mail ballots for California’s Special election this week and I’m asking you to join me in voting NO on the recall.
Your ballot will ask two questions which will have a big impact on California’s future. Here’s the breakdown and our recommendations for voting in this election.
1️⃣ Question 1 will ask voters: Do you want to recall the current Governor, Gavin Newsom?
Recommended answer: 🚫🚫🚫 Vote NO 🚫🚫🚫
2️⃣ Question 2 will ask voters: If the majority of voters decide to recall the governor, WHO Should replace him and become the next governor (from a list of 46 candidates)?
Recommended answer: 📄📄📄 Leave blank 📄📄📄
The last day to cast your vote is 9/14. You can return your ballot in person at a vote center, at a drop box or by mail (as long as it is postmarked by 9/14).
This election is a clear choice between two Californias. We can choose a stronger California — one where we build on the progress we’ve made or we can choose a California where a small handful of politicians try to divide us all while they protect their own power and the profits of the wealthy corporate billionaires who fund their campaigns.
The choice is clear. I hope you’ll join me in voting NO on this recall. Complete your ballot and return it as soon as possible. Once you complete your ballot help us make calls to voters using the button below!
Victor Suarez, Million Voters Project Action Fund
Friday, August 20, 2021
Condemning U.S. military action in Afghanistan as an abject and deadly failure, the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Tuesday pressed the Biden administration to engage in diplomacy with the emerging Taliban government and provide as much humanitarian aid as possible to the countless civilians devastated by the past two decades of war.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the CPC, reiterated her caucus’ support for the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan as the Biden administration faces criticism from Republicans and members of his own party over how the exit has unfolded.
“We continue to maintain, as the White House clearly does, that even after spending $1 trillion, sending hundreds of thousands of troops into Afghanistan over 20 years, and losing 2,300 American lives, the United States could not have averted this outcome without an endless military presence,” Jayapal said in a statement, referring to the former U.S.-backed Afghan regime’s rapid fall to the Taliban, which took control of the capital of Kabul over the weekend and is currently in talks to form a new government.
President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Jayapal noted, is “overwhelmingly supported by the American people, with recent polling showing 70% of the country, with bipartisan majorities, supported his plan to withdraw all troops by September 11, 2021.”
“Despite this consensus, congressional Republicans have disingenuously chosen to play politics at this moment,” the Washington Democrat said. “Republican administrations began the war in Afghanistan, controlled it for 12 of the past 20 years, and initiated the peace process with the Taliban last year that led to an agreement for a U.S. withdrawal. They should participate in the needed examination of why 20 years of war have failed, rather than playing the blame game. Our focus now must be on the human beings on the receiving end of this policy.”
With millions of Afghans internally displaced and in need of humanitarian aid — and as thousands, including many women and children, attempt to flee the country — the CPC is calling on the Biden administration to “go farther” and “work faster” in its efforts to provide assistance to desperate civilians.
“The United States must ensure refugee processing moves forward without bureaucratic delay, and with special allowances recognizing the difficulty for people to leave Afghanistan,” said Jayapal. “In addition to the State Department’s work to expedite Special Immigrant Visas, we must also expand these visas and grant Temporary Protected Status to Afghans residing in the United States. We must increase humanitarian aid to support civilians who fled to Kabul and provincial capitals and are without shelter, food, medical assistance, or vaccines.”
“Finally, we urge the Biden administration to continue engaging diplomatically with the Taliban and regional actors to avoid further bloodshed, protect human rights, and avoid mass migration and instability,” Jayapal added. “This means cooperating with aid agencies, the United Nations, and neighboring countries with an interest in a positive outcome, including Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey.”
The U.S. shuttered its embassy in Kabul as the Taliban closed in on Afghan capital over the weekend, and the Biden administration is currently in the process of evacuating American diplomats from the country as it moves to end the disastrous — but, for some, immensely profitable — twenty-year occupation.
While U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during abriefing Tuesday that the Biden administration intends to pursue diplomacy and a “political settlement” in Afghanistan despite the withdrawal of embassy staff, he warned that the U.S. — in partnership with the international community — could impose “significant costs” on the Taliban government if it “does not respect the basic rights of its people,” a reference to possible economic sanctions.
As the Washington Post reported Tuesday, the Biden administration has frozen “Afghan government reserves held in U.S. bank accounts, blocking the Taliban from accessing billions of dollars held in U.S. institutions.”
The move prompted concern that the administration may be planning additional economic measures that could hinder the flow of badly needed humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, where an estimated18 million people are in dire need of assistance.
Adam Smith, who served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, told the Post that “it could be cataclysmic for Afghanistan if the administration does not handle the sanctions issue deftly.”
“This is a potentially serious humanitarian issue that I am hoping people in our government are thinking long and hard about,” Smith said.
In a statement earlier this week, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — the CPC whip and a Somali refugee — said that U.S. has an “obligation” to help redress the humanitarian crises stemming from “the fundamental failures of our Afghanistan policy over the course of many decades and four presidencies.”
“Of course, the tragedy did not begin in the last couple of weeks. The hard truth about America’s longest war is that for 20 years, we made promises we couldn’t keep,” said Omar. “The simple fact is that prolonging a war indefinitely would not have delivered a stable, peaceful Afghanistan. I agree with President Biden: an endless American military occupation of Afghanistan was unacceptable. “
“War and conflict never produce peace and stability,” Omar added. “Violence and militarism, even when cloaked in the language of humanitarianism, are fundamentally at odds with human flourishing and opportunity. Violence only produces trauma, trauma that can turn into anger, vengefulness, and a continuing cycle of violence. That must be a lesson as we deal with conflicts around the world.”
Thursday, August 19, 2021
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
Three Republicans seeking to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday they are vaccinated themselves, but would roll back his requirements that school employees and health care workers get vaccines against COVID-19 if they are elected governor next month.
They also agreed that they would not require masks to be worn in California public schools.
Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he would allow local officials to institute such mandates if they chose.
Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article253556674.html?#storylink=cpy