The War on Terror Was Corrupt From the Start

The war in Afghanistan wasn’t a failure. It was a massive success — for those who made a fortune off it.


Consider the case of Hikmatullah Shadman, who was just a teenager when American Special Forces rolled into Kandahar on the heels of Sept. 11. They hired him as an interpreter, paying him up to $1,500 a month — 20 times the salary of a local police officer, according to a profile of him in The New Yorker. By his late 20s, he owned a trucking company that supplied U.S. military bases, earning him more than $160 million.

以希克马图拉·沙德曼(Hikmatullah Shadman)为例。美国特种部队在9·11事件发生后进入坎大哈时,他还只是一个十几岁的少年。据《纽约客》(The New Yorker)上一篇关于他的人物特写,特种部队雇了他来当翻译,每月付给他最高1500美元,是当地警察工资的20倍。他快30岁时已拥有一家为美国军事基地提供物资的卡车运输公司,这让他赚了逾1.6亿美元。

If a small fry like Shadman could get so rich off the war on terror, imagine how much Gul Agha Sherzai, a big-time warlord-turned-governor, has raked in since he helped the C.I.A. run the Taliban out of town. His large extended family supplied everything from gravel to furniture to the military base in Kandahar. His brother controlled the airport. Nobody knows how much he is worth, but it is clearly hundreds of millions — enough for him to talk about a $40,000 shopping spree in Germany as if he were spending pocket change.

如果像沙德曼这样的小人物都能从反恐战争中赚这么一大笔钱的话,想象一下,军阀出身的省长古尔·阿迦·谢尔扎伊(Gul Agha Sherzai)这样的大人物,自帮助中央情报局把塔利班赶出城以来已经赚了多少钱。他的大家庭为坎大哈的美军基地提供从碎石到家具的所有物资。他弟弟控制着坎大哈机场。没人知道他身价几何,但显然有数亿美元,多到足够让他把一次在德国的4万美元购物狂欢说得像是花口袋里的零钱似的。

Look under the hood of the “good war,” and this is what you see. Afghanistan was supposed to be an honorable war to neutralize terrorists and rescue girls from the Taliban. It was supposed to be a war that we woulda coulda shoulda won, had it not been for the distraction of Iraq, and the hopeless corruption of the Afghan government. But let’s get real. Corruption wasn’t a design flaw in the war. It was a design feature. We didn’t topple the Taliban. We paid warlords bags of cash to do it.


As the nation-building project got underway, those same warlords were transformed into governors, generals and members of Parliament, and the cash payments kept flowing.


“Westerners often scratched their heads at the persistent lack of capacity in Afghan governing institutions,” Sarah Chayes, a former special assistant to U.S. military leaders in Kandahar, wrote recently in Foreign Affairs. “But the sophisticated networks controlling those institutions never intended to govern. Their objective was self-enrichment. And at that task, they proved spectacularly successful.”

“西方人经常对阿富汗政府机构的持续无能苦思不得其解,”曾为在坎大哈的美军领导人担任特别助理的萨拉·查耶斯(Sarah Chayes)最近在《外交事务》(Foreign Affairs)杂志上写道。“然而控制这些机构的复杂关系网从来都没打算治理国家。他们的目标是为自己敛财。在这个任务上,他们被证明取得了了不起的成功。”

Instead of a nation, what we really built were more than 500 military bases — and the personal fortunes of the people who supplied them. That had always been the deal. In April 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dictated a top-secret memo ordering aides to come up with “a plan for how we are going to deal with each of these warlords — who is going to get money from whom, on what basis, in exchange for what, what is the quid pro quo, etc.,” according to The Washington Post.

我们真正建设的不是一个国家,而是500多个军事基地——以及为这些基地提供物资者的个人财富。这是自始至终的交易。据《华盛顿邮报》报道,2002年4月,时任国防部长的唐纳德·拉姆斯菲尔德(Donald Rumsfeld)口授了一份绝密备忘录,要求助手提交“一份我们将如何与这些军阀打交道的计划——谁将从谁那里拿钱,以什么为依据,以什么为交换,回报是什么,等等”。

The war proved enormously lucrative for many Americans and Europeans, too. One 2008 study estimated that some 40 percent of the money allocated to Afghanistan actually went back to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries. Only about 12 percent of U.S. reconstruction assistance given to Afghanistan between 2002 and 2021 actually went to the Afghan government. Much of the rest went to companies like the Louis Berger Group, a New Jersey-based construction firm that got a $1.4 billion contract to build schools, clinics and roads. Even after it got caught bribing officials and systematically overbilling taxpayers, the contracts kept coming.

事实证明,对许多美国人和欧洲人来说,阿富汗战争也是巨大的赚钱机会。据2008年的一项研究估计,拨给阿富汗的资金中大约有40%以企业利润和顾问工资的形式返回了出资国。美国在2002年至2021年期间向阿富汗提供的重建援助中,只有大约12%真正落到阿富汗政府手里。其余大部分资金都流进了路易斯伯杰集团(Louis Berger Group)等公司的腰包。这家总部位于新泽西州的建筑公司拿到了价值14亿美元的合同,让他们修建学校、诊所和道路。即使在公司被抓到贿赂官员、系统性地让纳税人多掏腰包之后,他们的合同仍源源不断。

“It’s a bugbear of mine that Afghan corruption is so frequently cited as an explanation (as well as an excuse) for Western failure in Afghanistan,” Jonathan Goodhand, a professor in Conflict and Development Studies at SOAS University of London, wrote me in an email. Americans “point the finger at Afghans, whilst ignoring their role in both fueling and benefiting from the patronage pump.”

“阿富汗的腐败被如此频繁地引为西方在阿富汗失败的理由(和借口),这是一个让我很头疼的问题,”在伦敦亚非学院研究冲突与发展的教授乔纳森·古德汉德(Jonathan Goodhand)在发给我的电子邮件中写道。美国人“指责阿富汗人,却忽视了他们在这个互惠互利链中既提供资金、又从中受益的角色”。

Who won the war on terror? American defense contractors, many of which were politically connected companies that had donated to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit that has been tracking spending in a series of reports called the Windfalls of War. One firm hired to help advise Iraqi ministries had a single employee — the husband of a deputy assistant secretary of defense.

谁赢得了反恐战争?是美国国防承包商。发表《战争财》(Windfalls of War)系列报告的非营利组织“公共诚信中心”(Center for Public Integrity)一直在跟踪支出情况,根据该报告,美国国防承包商中的许多公司有政治背景,他们曾为乔治·W·布什(George W. Bush)的总统竞选活动捐款。一家受雇为伊拉克各部提供咨询服务的公司只有一名雇员——国防部一位副助理秘书的丈夫。

For George W. Bush and his friends, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan achieved a great deal. President Bush got a chance to play a tough guy on TV. He became a wartime president, which helped him win re-election. By the time people figured out that the war in Iraq had been waged on false pretenses and the war in Afghanistan had no honorable exit plan, it was too late.


What stands out about the war in Afghanistan is the way that it became the Afghan economy. At least Iraq had oil. In Afghanistan, the war dwarfed every other economic activity, apart from the opium trade.


Over two decades, the U.S. government spent $145 billion on reconstruction and aid, and an additional $837 billion on war fighting, in a country where the G.D.P. hovered between $4 billion and $20 billion per year.


Economic growth has risen and fallen with the number of foreign troops in the country. It soared during President Barack Obama’s surge in 2009 only to plummet with the drawdown two years later.

经济增长随着外国军队在该国的规模而起落。2009年巴拉克·奥巴马(Barack Obama)总统增兵期间,它出现了飙升,但两年后随着减员又暴跌了。

Imagine what ordinary Afghans might have done if they had been able to use that money for long-term projects planned and executed at their own pace. But alas, policymakers in Washington rushed to push cash out the door, since money spent was one of the few measurable metrics of success.


The money was meant to buy security, bridges and power plants to win “hearts and minds.” But the surreal amounts of cash poisoned the country instead, embittering those who didn’t have access to it, and setting off rivalries between those who did.


“The money spent was far more than Afghanistan could absorb,” concluded the special inspector general of Afghanistan’s final report. “The basic assumption was that corruption was created by individual Afghans and that donor interventions were the solution. It would take years for the United States to realize that it was fueling corruption with its excessive spending and lack of oversight.”


The result was a fantasy economy that operated more like a casino or a Ponzi scheme than a country. Why build a factory or plant crops when you can get fabulously wealthy selling whatever the Americans want to buy? Why fight the Taliban when you could just pay them not to attack?


The money fueled the revolving door of war, enriching the very militants that it was meant to fight, whose attacks then justified a new round of spending.


A forensic accountant who served on a military task force that analyzed $106 billion worth of Pentagon contracts estimated that 40 percent of the money ended up in the pockets of “insurgents, criminal syndicates or corrupt Afghan officials,” according to The Washington Post.

据《华盛顿邮报》(The Washington Post)报道,一名曾在军事特遣部队服役的法务会计师在分析了价值1060亿美元的五角大楼合同后估计,其中40%的钱最终落入了“叛乱分子、犯罪集团或腐败的阿富汗官员”的口袋里。

Social scientists have a name for countries that are so reliant on unearned income from outsiders: “rentier states.” It is usually used for oil-producing countries, but Afghanistan now stands out as an extreme example.

社会科学家对如此依赖外来者非劳动收入的国家起了一个名字:食租者国家(rentier states)。这个名字通常用于产油国家,但阿富汗现在是一个极端的例子。

A report by Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network outlined how Afghanistan’s rentier economy undermined efforts to build a democracy. Since money flowed from foreigners instead of taxes, leaders were responsive to donors rather than their own citizens.

阿富汗分析师网络(Afghanistan Analysts Network)的凯特·克拉克(Kate Clark)的一份报告概述了阿富汗的食租者经济如何破坏建设民主的努力。由于资金来自外国人而不是税收,因此领导人只对捐助者而非本国公民做出回应。

I knew the war in Afghanistan had gone off the rails the day I had lunch in Kabul with a European consultant who got paid a lot of money to write reports about Afghan corruption. He’d just arrived, but he already had a lot of ideas about what needed to be done — including ridding the Afghan Civil Service of pay scales based on seniority. I suspect that he could have never gotten an idea like that passed in his own country. But in Kabul, he had a shot at getting his ideas adopted. To him, Afghanistan wasn’t a failure, but a place to shine.


None of this is to say that the Afghan people don’t deserve support, even now. They do. But far more can be achieved by spending far less in a more thoughtful way.


What does the Taliban takeover say about the war? It proves that you cannot buy an army. You can only rent one for awhile. Once the money spigot turned off, how many stuck around to fight for our vision of Afghanistan? Not Gul Agha Sherzai, the warlord-turned-governor. He has reportedly pledged allegiance to the Taliban.


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