The Surge Goes Awry
THE SOURCE: “Bureaucracy Does Its Thing, Again” by Frances Z. Brown, in The American Interest, Nov.–Dec. 2012.
Imagine you’re a district governor in war-torn southern Afghanistan. A few years ago, nobody wanted your job. It was too dangerous; the Taliban lurked. In faraway Kabul, an unelected governing body widely seen as a tool of President Hamid Karzai appointed you anyway. Then, in 2009, President Barack Obama announced a “surge” of money and troops to Afghanistan, with an emphasis on winning hearts and minds in hotly contested areas such as yours. American soldiers harried the Taliban. Eager American civilians bypassed the ministries in Kabul and brought you cash to build schools, repair roads, and clean irrigation canals. You, an unelected political lightweight, suddenly became a very powerful local king.
Welcome to the wild world of post-surge Afghanistan. The United States sought quick gains in security and development at the local level, so it poured money into the most contentious of the country’s 399 districts, explains Frances Z. Brown, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the U.S. Institute of Peace. In Nawa, in the southern province of Helmand, American aid generated jobs for more than half of the men in the district and totaled $300 annually per person, a sum equal to almost a third of Afghanistan’s per capita gross domestic product.
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