Greenbacks vs Gunboats

Money down the drain

© 2011
Licensed via CC BY 2.0 license.

So we spent about $2.26 trillion over two decades in Afghanistan–not to mention the US, allied, and Afghani lives lost or damaged by injuries, and the cost of various sorts of devastation to the Afghan people, and future costs of lifetime care for veterans and future interest on money the US borrowed for the war–and all we got is a Fall of Saigon on steroids.

I may be a broken record here (see bulleted links below), but if you consider that the population of Afghanistan is circa 27 million (it was less 20 years ago, but let’s take that as our back of the envelope number), then we could have paid every Afghan circa $4,185 a year for twenty years instead of invading.

That $4,185 a year is less than the average salary of $18,500 per year [a number I suspect reflects urbanized participants in the modern market economy plus some oligarchs who raise the average], but well above the modal salary of $1,000 per year. If we take the Afghan GNP to be circa $19.5 bn per year, that GNP works out to about $722 per Afghani per year. So our annual $4,185 for every woman, man, and child is about 5.8 times the average GNP per person per year. [While these numbers may seem odd, they may be due to an agrarian country with a child-oriented demographic skew.]

I would bet that the prospect of payments over four times the modal salary and 5.8 times the average GNP per person could have bought you quite a lot more than what we got–had we been able to find a way to pay it to the average Afghani. Those would have been terrific bribes in a country that is not unused to the concept. Might even have bough some serious political reform; it certainly would have paid for a lot of education for girls (and boys) and for construction, driven by bottom-up demand rather than erratic top-down supply.

But that’s not how we roll.

Incidentally, that $2.26 trillion equals about $788 annually, for twenty years, per US taxpayer (using the current 143.3 million number as a ballpark divisor).  I find it much easier to grasp $3,152 last year for the four taxpayers in my immediate family as representing US’s out of pocket costs than some number of hundreds of billions, not to mention the trillions over time.


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One Response to Greenbacks vs Gunboats

  1. Vic says:

    Afghanistan was lost from the beginning. It’s tribal culture was simply not compatible with strategic or tactical war. The Brits learned this the hard way, as did the Russians. Our Administrations and generals on the ground refused to fully understand this. Hubris. The inevitable fall was fully predictable since the ONLY thing sustaining any sort of war between the Afghan factions at all was us insisting on it. With us gone, the Afghans went back to their traditional way of immediate negotiated ceasefires between tribes. They were NEVER going to fight each other, and they certainly were not going to fight for a Government that had nothing to do with them or their centuries old way of life.

    The real problem here is that our Administration, our Intelligence Community, and the Pentagon, seemed oblivious to this fact and made no plan to do the pullout beyond asking the Taliban to let us. Seriously. Does Psaki really think the Taliban care about their image in the “International Community!?” Or more clearly stated, do you think their desired image is other than exactly what we are seeing now?

    Afghanistan was always going to fall. It was ONLY a question of how much money and lives would be tossed at it before we backed off and let it happen. Nobody wanted the inevitable blame (and remember my First Rule of Politics applies here), so it waited until the dam could no longer hold. That’s it. The only real surprise is that we actually thought it would go smoothly. All we’ve accomplished it to give an entire generation of young urban Afghans a false hope. The rest of the country doesn’t care, never cared, and will never care.

    Maybe some of these Generals should actually READ Larteguy’s The Centurians, and take in what it says, instead of just putting it on their bookshelves make making their officers read it. The U.S. has no really won a war since WWII, and we won’t, until we start learning from the past.

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