A 2009 critique found that the taxpayer has invested some $53 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq since 2003, or about $9 billion a year. Most or all of it has been or will be wasted.
Nonetheless, here we go again, this time in Afghanistan, at least on a small scale. "Marines Invest in Local Afghan Projects" reads the New York Times headline and it provides details of American soldiers making nice, starting with an anecdote from Bograbad, described as an impoverished Afghan village, where American soldiers provided $1,200 for a mosque's new concrete floor and two windows. (Beside the inutility of this gesture, I have severe doubts about its constitutionality, as I elaborate at "The U.S. Government Builds Mosques and Madrassahs.")
The Marines' investment, to pay for building materials and labor, was part of an outreach effort intended to reduce violence in Helmand Province. Following the emphasis on a more assertive counterinsurgency approach mandated last year by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, here on some of the country's most dangerous ground, infantry units are using this winter to try a soft touch. In the province's lower Nawa District, many conventional missions for now are a low priority. Airstrikes and high-explosive artillery fire are in disfavor. Even mortar fire is rare.
U.S. Marines are paying for a new bridge over this canal.
Instead, in places where it is able, the infantry is sending patrols to enter into development contracts with local men. The ambition is to use local labor to build bridges over canals, shore up irrigation systems, repair water gates or small dams and, in the most determined contest of influence against the Taliban, renovate mosques.
The effort rests on a simple premise: to fight the Taliban, money may be more effective than guns. "We're trying to buy a little peace," said Capt. Paul D. Stubbs, commanding officer of Company W, First Battalion, Third Marines, which operates in this area.… In all, the company has spent $50,000 on 20 projects since early December, and committed another $50,000. It anticipates spending $200,000 on as many as 75 projects by late spring.
Comment: "We're trying to buy a little peace" exactly fits McChrystal's "war as social work" approach. It also amounts to the worst war-fighting idea the U.S. military has yet come up. (January 30, 2010)