Welcome back for the conclusion of my interview with writer Ann Jones. It didn't seem as if many of the officials on the ground described in your book had a deep understanding of the Afghan culture and situation. If that is true,what does that mean in terms of efficiency of delivering aid and the future for our involvement over there, ostensibly to be helping them?
Kabul in Winter
I don't think that "helping them" was
ever an American objective, and it certainly isn't now. "Delivering aid,"
as you put it, was part of State Department strategy under the Bush
administration, designed to serve US (not Afghan) national interests. In any
aid organization, it's always difficult to find people steeped in the language
and culture and willing to stay long enough to see projects through, but as a
minimum requirement they should be good at what they're hired to do.
Yet under Bush, we delivered (never competently) what we wanted to give--that is, whatever Bush/Cheney corporate friends wanted to be overpaid to deliver. Things like shoddy roads at a million bucks per mile, exorbitantly expensive schools with collapsing roofs, private bodyguards for the warlords we'd put in power.
USAID was established by JFK as a kind
of professional peace corps, staffed with specialists--teachers, hydrologists,
public health administrators, engineers, agriculturalists--capable of working
with people at the grass roots on projects they initiated.
Over the years, it dwindled into a blunt instrument of foreign policy, and under Bush it became a contracting shop, handing over ridiculous sums to for-profit private contractors who share the wealth in kickbacks to their favorite congresspeople. (When Afghans do things like this we call it "corruption," and just the other day President Karzai responded to charges of corruption by saying that America must share the blame.)