This was the moment when America’s devout belief in the free market ran up against reality in Afghanistan. You can’t exaggerate the rigid faith in The Market which possessed the US elite around the Millennium. The Market would solve all problems; that was obvious to everyone.
Thomas Friedman, high priest of elite stupidity, had a famous epiphany: No two countries with McDonald’s franchises had ever gone to war. Or, he suggested, ever could go to war. Bomb Kabul with prefab golden arches and watch peace’n’prosperity break out.
The trouble was — well, first of all, “the free market” doesn’t exist and never has. Quoting from the WaPo’s Afghanistan Papers:
“In developing countries, ‘the idea that there are perfectly functioning markets without subsidies is pure fiction, fantasy,’ Rubin, a New York University professor and leading academic on Afghanistan, told government interviewers. ‘Every late-developing country happened by government picking winners.’“
There were trained people ready to transform Afghanistan. But they were socialists — commies, in the US view.
“There was a solid pool of educated, enthusiastic, honest Afghans with bureaucratic experience. But they wanted to recreate the socialist society of Afghanistan’s ‘Golden Era’ of the mid-20th century.
“…several U.S. officials told government interviewers it quickly became apparent that people who would make up the Afghan ruling class were too set in their ways to change.”
“’These people went to the communist school,” said Finn, the former ambassador. A common Afghan fear, he recalled, was ‘if you allow capitalism, these private companies would come in and make profit.‘”
As the US occupation of Iraq went from bad to worse around 2005, there was even less energy in DC to worry about the pattern of stagnation in Afghanistan.
By 2007, the NYT was already doing post-mortems with titles like “Afghanistan: How A ‘Good’ War Went Bad,” detailing the complete failure of the ludicrous “Afghan Marshall Plan”:
“When it came to reconstruction, big goals were announced, big projects identified. Yet in the year Mr. Bush promised a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Afghanistan, the country received less assistance per capita than did post-conflict Bosnia and Kosovo, or even desperately poor Haiti, according to a RAND Corporation study. Washington has spent an average of $3.4 billion a year reconstructing Afghanistan, less than half of what it has spent in Iraq, according to the Congressional Research Service.”
All remaining investment in Afghanistan went to the war, not development.
“…[A] senior American commander said that even as the military force grew…he was surprised to discover that ‘I could count on the fingers of one or two hands the number of U.S. government agricultural experts’ in Afghanistan, where 80 percent of the economy is agricultural. A $300 million project authorized by Congress for small businesses was never financed.”
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