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Day of mourning for military Development

afghan warNews sources say that President Obama will choose “escalate” with additional troops for Afghanistan in his speech at West Point tonight. I and many like-minded individuals find this disastrous.

“Like-minded” means that critics of top-down state plans for economic development are also not fans of top-down state plans for military development. If the Left likes the first, and the Right likes the second, that just shows you how incoherent Left and Right are.

Will Wilkinson has a great column mocking the anti-PC Conservatives for mindless Conservative PC on militarism:

The public praise of martial virtue encourages a martial culture in which war is seen not as a gruesome tragedy but as a stage for the performance of righteous valor. … applause only reinforces a deeply ingrained American habit of easy patriotism so mindless and self-satisfied that we cannot see the brazen moral relativism of it. This is our war, so it is just.

And when you military claim the sanction of some development economists for armed intervention, I think other development economists have a right to fight back. If you military are going to do development, then we will do military. If you think you can impose conditions on Karzai for military aid, why don’t you read some of our articles on the failure of conditions for economic aid.

The somewhat clumsy words of George Kennan during the Vietnam War have seemed eerily appropriate to many reviewers recently:

If we can find nothing better to do than embark upon a further open-ended increase in the level of our commitment simply because the alternatives seem humiliating and frustrating, one will have to ask whether we have not become enslaved to the dynamics of a single unmanageable situation – to the point where we have lost much of the power of initiative and control over our own policy, not just locally but on a world scale.

And lastly the masterful essay by Garry Wills in a recent New York Review of Books:

We sink deeper into blood, with no foreseeable end in sight…Some leader has to break the spell before costs mount further while our wars are passed from President to President…Barack Obama said he would rather be a one-term president than give up on his goals. Here is a goal no other president we can imagine would have a possibility of reaching. Presidents who just kick the can down the road are easy to come by. Lost lives and limbs are not.

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  1. Justin Kraus wrote:

    I think we have to be careful how we approach this topic. Aid quality and quantity need to be carefully parsed. Obama’s predicated choice to “escalate” America’s involvement in Afghanistan could be a good thing or a bad thing.
    Certainly more of the same top-down military intervention is not a step in the right direction. Greater quantity without improved quality gets us nowhere.
    However if escalation means that America increases its commitment to helping the Afghans develop their nation in a bottom-up fashion, I don’t see why we should be “mourning.” On the contrary greater quantity with greater quality should be cheered.
    Lets see what his plan is before we start crying.
    As for Mr. Will, sadly lives and limbs are going to be lost whatever we do. Certainly we have an obligation to try an minimize such losses but we kid ourselves if we think that by pulling out we are going to save lives. A few more Americans will live, maybe, but at what cost? Gone, I (naively) hope are the days when the mere existence of an “us” and a “them” justifies the saving of one life while condemning another.

    Posted December 1, 2009 at 1:48 am | Permalink
  2. James Bean wrote:

    I am really impressed that this blog is addressing this critical issue. Why does the current debate and approach in Afghanistan and Pakistan bother us so much?

    Many of us – esp. aid workers and field practitioners who work on DDR and post-conflict recovery – feel that ‘the Surgettes’ are repeating many of the mistakes from Viet Nam that should never be repeated.

    That Holbrooke is taking a leading role bothers many people immensely, if only because it lends an eerie symmetry to the comparisons.

    Many of you will note that just as Holbrooke was rocketed up the career ladder by a powerful benefactor, he is now doing the same with Mia Farrow and Woody Allen’s son, Ronan Farrow. All of twenty-one years old advising and liaising with experienced NGO interlocutors in Pakistan. Sorry, but that’s not cool – regardless of whether he is a boy-wonder or not.

    What many field practitioners worry about this latest Surge is as follows:

    1. The cooption the aid/development vernacular within counter-insurgency/military policy discussion. This is pursued in order to give their tired views (yes, tired – Galula, Mao, Caldwell, etc. promulgated 90% of the doctrine) additional appeal. When Surgettes say development, human-security, governance, rule-of-law, and nation-building they mean something completely different from the way aid and development practitioners and civilians understand it. Each of these terms is an agenda item and separately and schematically they equate to his/their intention to social-engineer profound paradigm shits in a tribal context of converted peoples which has a trauma history that is atypically vivid (and still forming). And in almost each and evry case development, human-security, governance, rule-of-law, and nation-building is reducible to a set of narrow military objectives. To a field practitioner, the use of the aid-idiom is disingenous to the point of being insulting.

    I also think that the persisten confusion of long-term developmental objectives with short-term military objectives is precisely how domestic resolve ‘back home’ becomes exhausted. Just like in Viet Nam.

    2. To an extent the “population-centric” approach is symptomatic of a military mindset. For an aid-worker in the field, the way that “nation-building” projects are selected and prioritised always presumes military objectives as part and parcel of “the process”. Take for instance, road-building; perhaps “the process is the outcome” (an old aid chestnut). But, the processes Surgettes applaud are “permanent presence”; bringing “the fight” to US/NATO troops on favourable terms, winning local support in order to precipitate an intel-cascade, and “integrated campaign management” which appears to suggest that govt is a participant-spectator not really running anything important. Many of us are left with the unambiguous conclusion that the nation-building/development approach is clear, hold, build, kill. And at least from where I look at it, that’s enemy-centric.

    3. The entire corpus of counter-insurgency theory with respect to AFPAK relies on the alignment of too many fundamental/critical/key/must-have/important requirements. I lose count of the number of conditions-precedent Surgettes prescribe for this COINtastic solution to work. “Priotization is critical”; “our strategy must seek first and foremost to build… an Afghan state capable of managing its own problems”; “Effective COIN requires security forces who are legitimate in local eyes”; “Population-centric…human-security 24 hours a day is critical”; “Integration with Pakistan strategy is also fundamental”; “Building the planning and oversight capability of the Afghan government is key”… It just goes on and on. Sorry, but from a technical viewpoint, the presumption of so many enabling factors being in place or being created concurrently for this military approach to work.

    Consider the following:

    Annual funding for US combat operations in Afghanistan, 2002: $20.8 billion.

    Annual funding for US combat operations in Afghanistan, 2009: $60.2 billion.

    Total funds for US combat operations in Afghanistan, 2002-2009: $228.2 billion.

    War-fighting funds requested by the Obama administration for 2010: $68 billion (a figure which will, for the first time since 2003, exceed funds requested for Iraq).

    Funds recently requested by US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry for non-military spending in Afghanistan, 2010: $2.5 billion.

    Funds spent since 2001 on Afghan “reconstruction”: $38 billion (“more than half of it on training and equipping Afghan security forces”).

    This means that in 2002-2009 the proportion of military versus non-military funding for achieving the objective(s) in Afghanistan was approximately 92.9% vs. 7.1% respectively.

    These figures are problemmatic due to source (The Nation) and the fact that I estimated 19 billion in reconstruction funds for 2001-2009 (the non SSR component).

    Being that as it may, what is alarming is that spending patterns planned for 2010 seem to indicate that the proportion of military versus non-military funding for achieving the new/tried objective(s) in Afghanistan will be approximately 96.5% vs. 3.5% respectively. This suggests that the COIN/winning the hearts and minds/ population-centric approach is being further de-emphasised by the Obama Administration.

    The figures also suggest, all other things being equal, the Bush administration put paid to winning hearts and minds to a much greater extent than Obama.

    And to ‘governance’:

    Annual budget of the Afghan government: $600 million.

    Maintenance cost for the force of 450,000 Afghan soldiers and police the US plans to train: approximately 500 percent of the Afghan budget.

    Unemployment rate in Afghanistan, according to the CIA World Factbook: 40 percent (2008 figures).

    Monthly wage for Afghan National Police: recently increased to $165 or less than $7 per day.

    Daily wage Taliban reputedly pays its fighters: $4-8.

    Security sector reform (SSR) spending when viewed against public revenues is obviously unsustainable and poor policy-making, both on the part of the Afghanistan govt and the US. Unless of course Afghanistan has 10 billion barrels of oil squirreled away, or some other natural resource windfall. Which they don’t.

    Given the unemployment rate is estimated at 40%, I wonder what will happen to all the police and soldiers when the military/civilian aid bubble bursts, and these trained police/soldiers are laid off? I suspect what we will see is more unemployment leading to felt-grievances, and a predictable backslide into conflict. The Afghan economy is primed for conflict: hardly the hallmarks of good governance, let alone the prospect of long-term stability.

    Posted December 1, 2009 at 4:51 am | Permalink
  3. Word_Bandit wrote:

    Parallels between Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan are too easily played, like those who would compare Bush to Hitler or (chuckle) Obama to Hitler.

    Once again, it seems that Obama’s letting his advisers too much color his sight. We’ve seen how Geitner and the gang blurred the boundaries of Obama’s moral landscape when it came to Wall Street; now he seems to be abandoning his grassroots common sense Gandhi informed approach to conflict . . .

    That written, Lincoln had similar difficult choices, that only now seem “successful,” with the benefit of hindsight. It was not so during the fact.

    I will not abandon ship on a man who was left a mess after Bush & Co. repeatedly raped this country, morally, financially, constitutionally. Obama needs the support of the left, and he knows this move will alienate the base,

    I’m ignoring the critics who are abandoning ship, if for no other reason than “hope springs eternal,” even in the darkest and bleakest of decisions.

    Can’t speak directly to your parallel, but seems certain that aid and conflict resolution go hand in hand, and that the money spent on troops and military would go much farther on the ground in education and winning “hearts and minds.”

    Posted December 1, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  4. clay wescott wrote:

    Defeating Taliban in Afghanistan needs work on both development and military tracks.

    For the latter, the Vietnam war experience indicates that the key is cooperation from Pakistan’s ISI. See

    Posted December 2, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  5. interested_reader wrote:

    The US government’s goal for Afghanistan is not purely economic development of the region. Instead, the goal is to establish security and prevent future attacks against America and allied nations, a point Pres. Obama made clear in his address to the nation. One method by which the USG hopes to establish security and maximize value to the US is through economic development; development is a tool used to accomplish an end, not the desired end in itself.

    This is an important distinction to make, as it shifts focus from whether or not we should be in Afghanistan to a discussion of how best to utilize economic development tools in establishing security in quasi-conflict regions. If you are not a fan of military intervention aimed at establishing security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, work through political means by petitioning legislature and the president to end it. Blaming the military for the incongruence of the two goals is a cop out and muddles the distinction between military action for national defense reasons and economic development for economic development’s sake.

    Posted December 2, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Permalink
  6. Skeptic wrote:

    Bill: Don’t get too worked up about the surge. The only reason for the surge is to avoid criticism from domestic political critics and to not look like we’re leaving too fast. There’s an illusion that the military surge is what changed the situation in Iraq, when in fact it was the political change in strategy that made all the difference: the US started dealing with (and buying off) the Sunni leaders, who realized that the US was a more reliable protector against Shia domination than al-Qaida. A similar thing is happening now in Afghanistan and its a good strategy. The troop surge is political window dressing.

    Posted December 3, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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