In 2003 Iraq received $26 billion in reconstruction aid while Afghanistan, larger and more populous and with a fraction of Iraq's wealth and infrastructure, received less than $1 billion. Meanwhile, the 2003 opium crop brought an estimated $2.3 billion, accounting for roughly 95 percent of the heroin sold on the streets of Europe. And the Bush administration admits that the 2004 crop is expected to be 50 percent to 100 percent higher than last year's.Elsewhere, as Matthew Yglesias notes, Rick Barton is portraying the US approach to Afghanistan in a more favorable light. (Barton, former United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees and a founder of USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives, is co-director of the CSIS Post-Conflict Reconstruction (PCR) Project.)
All of this illegitimate wealth only serves to further enrich criminal elements, from the warlords who control the countryside to suspected Al Qaeda remnants rumored to be funding future operations with this uncontrolled wealth. Taken together it is an alarming picture of a country spiraling out of control. Meanwhile, the American political calendar ensures that we will hear predominately heartwarming stories of how children's toys better Afghan lives.
By playing leapfrog with Afghanistan, the Bush Administration jeopardizes the safety and health of poor Afghans who will suffer if their country once again becomes hostage to narco-terrorists, warlords, and unlawful rulers. Humanitarian concerns aside, the policies also threaten to destabilize the country in ways that, as we've seen, lead to tragic consequences for the rest of the world, too. When your playmate is a country teetering on the edge of a chasm, leapfrog is the most dangerous game of all.
Yglesias attended a CSIS forum yesterday and reports that Barton suggests the US adopt the "Kabul model" for Iraq. Yglesias understands that to be:
Be happy that Basra and the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa are calm and semi-safe and keep it that way. Focus resources on getting Baghdad -- where a huge proportion of the population lives -- up to that standard. More or less let things drift elsewhere and start worrying about that if and when Baghdad is under control.Meanwhile, Barton did have an intelligent comment about the situation in Iraq: "I don't think you can flatten cities and then hope to gain popular support."