Monday, November 15, 2010

Quickie: The Stimulus Package in Kabul

Woman passing next to police in KabulImage via WikipediaA piece by Tom Engelhardt via 

The Associated Press covered U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry's announcement that a $511 million contract had been awarded to Caddell Construction, one of America’s “largest construction and engineering groups,” for a massive expansion of the U.S. embassy in Kabul.  According to the ambassador, that embassy is already “the largest... in the world with more than 1,100 brave and dedicated civilians... from 16 agencies and working next to their military counterparts in 30 provinces,” and yet it seems it’s still not large enough.
A few other things in his announcement caught my eye.  Construction of the new “permanent offices and housing” for embassy personnel is not to be completed until sometime in 2014, approximately three years after President Obama’s July 2011 Afghan drawdown is set to begin, and that $511 million is part of a $790 million bill to U.S. taxpayers that will include expansion work on consular facilities in the Afghan cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat.  And then, if the ambassador’s announcement was meant to fly below the media radar screen in the U.S., it was clearly meant to be noticed in Afghanistan.  After all, Eikenberry publicly insisted that the awarding of the contract should be considered “an indication... an action, a deed that you can take as a long-term commitment of the United States government to the government of Afghanistan.”
Here in the United States, police are being laid off.  In Afghanistan, we are paying to enroll thousands and thousands of them and train them in ever greater numbers.  In the U.S., roads crumble; in Afghanistan, support for road-building is still on the agenda.

At home, it’s peace all the way to the unemployment line, because peace, in our American world, increasingly seems to mean economic disaster.  In the Greater Middle East, it’s war to the horizon, all war all the time, and creeping escalation all the way around.  (And keep in mind that the escalatory stories cited above all occurred before the next round of Republican warhawks even hit Washington with the wind at their backs, ready to push for far more of the same.)

The folks who started us down this precipitous path and over an economic cliff are now in retirement and heading onto the memoir circuit: our former president is chatting it up with Matt Lauer and Oprah; his vice president is nursing his heart while assumedly writing about “his service in four presidential administrations”; his first secretary of defense is readying himself for the publication of his memoir in January; and his national security advisor, then secretary of state (for whom Chevron once named a double-hulled oil tanker), is already heading into her second and third memoir.  But while they scribble and yak, their policy ghosts haunt us, as does their greatest edifice, that embassy in Baghdad, now being cloned elsewhere.  Even without them or the neocons who pounded the drums for them, the U.S. military still pushes doggedly toward 2014 and beyond in Afghanistan, while officials “tweak” their drawdown non-schedules, narrow the president’s non-options, and step in to fund and build yet more command-and-control centers in the Greater Middle East. 

Read the whole thing here.

In the US, our crumbling infrastructures include not just roads, but also bridges, schools, transit, wastewater, levees, waterways, dams and more.   The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our country a collective "D" in 2009 saying "delayed maintenance and chronic underfunding are contributors to the low grades in nearly every category."  You can check out how your state's infrastructures are faring here

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