Everyone knows a bit about the failed U.S. efforts in Afghanistan to win the hearts and minds of the people and to install a stable government, but in historian/journalist Doug Wissing's upcoming book, "Funding the Enemy: How U.S, Taxpayers Fund the Taliban" the stark details are laid bare. Wissing spent months in country with U.S. soldiers, conducted hundreds of interviews, and his conclusions are revelatory and scandalous.
While waste and corruption are part and parcel of most aid programs that take place in a war zone, the scale of these problems in Afghanistan is off the charts. One telling example: the Bush administration encouraged the return of opium poppy cultivation and production in order to entice allies, then (ineffectually) changed course 180 degrees and outlawed poppy production, only to lose their allies while the opium trade stayed in place.
Afghan warlords play the U.S. officials for all they are worth, using U.S. money to further their own interests, while accepting Taliban money to further the Taliban's interests. And, in a bizarre turn of events, the U.S. eventually has found itself paying protection money to the Taliban in order to protect material that is needed to sustain American troops.
While the Bush administration and U.S. officials were overseeing this fiasco, they were full of empty rhetoric about how well the war effort was going, but the troops on the ground understood the truth, which contradicted almost everything that was being claimed by their "leader" in the Pentagon and the White House.
"Funding the Enemy" illustrates how deception and hubris endangers and demoralizes American troops in Afghanistan, who understand just how great the disconnect is between official pronouncements and the facts on the ground. When Wissing raised questions about the efficacy of the U.S. involvement, it was like he entered Alice's wonderland. "What we have is a cognitive dissonance" Wissing told me, "Officers will parrot the party line, then branch off with specifics that directly contradict the party line." The administration and the Pentagon force these officers to lie about the big picture, but those officers have enough integrity to make sure that they describe the actual facts on the ground that expose the party line for the pack of lies that it is. Wissing witnessed a regional Afghan leader known to be a Taliban leader demand U.S. aid money which was almost certainly to be used to buy fertilizer to construct bombs targeting U.S. troops. And this is not a rare exception, it is the new normal.
Doug Seymour, an intelligence officer from Las Vegas, notes the parallel between Vegas casinos and Afghan insurgents. "Afghans know just the right amount of fighting to keep us here" he said, explaining that if they killed too many Americans, we would pull out, but by just going up to that line without crossing, the insurgents keep the U.S. in the game, which means that the money will keep flowing into their hands, thus funding their war against the U.S. One soldier noted how "the military industrial complex is all making money." Wissing remembers seeing a "piece of sh.. plywood shack that the government paid 28 thousand dollars to KBR [a Halliburton subsidiary that is making billions off of this war]to build."
Why does this still matter? George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are bad memories, Obama promised change, so why should we care? According to Wissing, "Obama put the Bush plan on steroids." The Obama administration is counting on the big lie to convince the American people that Afghanistan will soon be another notch in our victory column, and it can ill afford the truth to be known. Americans will not be pleased to know that the only reason this war continues is because so many are making money off of it. As Wissing said, "The revolving door between USAID and for profit development companies keep the funds flowing, even though 90% of it is wasted."
Our soldiers have long lost faith in winning the hearts and minds of Afghanistan's population. As Wissing quoted front line soldiers who told him repeatedly, "F... this. The juice ain't worth the squeeze."