Leaving for Kabul in a few hours, navigating New York city transit to JFK and then on to Dubai. I can't believe in 20 hours I'll be touching down someplace which seems to me like the moon. I have never been outside of the states in my life. Been in the same house for twenty years, with a trip on the Boston subway more than 3 stops away a bothersome adventure that makes me think twice. And now I am going to Afghanistan.
The people at embassy in New York and along the way leading to this moment have been extraordinarily kind. They seem so happy that someone is trying to push for civilian aid to go for the creation of jobs, simple, unskilled labor $10 a day jobs, which would help the country become something more than the sink hole of misery it now is. Blind elderly and deformed children begging in the street everywhere, one out of four babies dies by the age of five from malnutrition and-or dysentery. Two-thirds of population without clean drinking water. We've been here how long? And all we've managed to give them is bombs and bullets.
My hosts are sponsoring my Afghan friend and I, a recent Harvard Kennedy School of Goverment graduate I met in my hometown in Boston, to fill them in on what we are asking the U.S. to do, which is simply to spend the non-military assistance we are already spending there in a way which helps the people, not foreign contractors like Halliburton. Half the Taliban would throw down their weapons and run for $10 a day jobs, digging ditches, leveling rural unpaved roads using shovels and gravel, simple work. Instead we insist on ramming schools down their throats.
Schools are nice, but you've got to eat first, and that is what too many Afghans are not doing. Anytime I hear someone say, forget creating jobs for them, we need to create our own jobs, I am reminded of the most selfish, stupidest kinds of behavior. It's like the gay marriage debate: since we are already spending that money on reconstruction funds, as taxpayers, and all they are asking is that it be spent better, it's no skin off anyone. That money is gone and appropriated as of this budget cycle, with a Senate Subcommittee hammering out final details. If it doesn't affect you, or cost you anything, why care, what reason is there to oppose it, except it makes other people happy? The U.S. is not leaving Afghanistan any time soon. Obama has made that clear. It's not going to happen. So why not spend the money to create $10 a day jobs so men don't have to join the Taliban to feed their families, because the Taliban pays $8 a day, that's right, $8 a day, and at 40% unemployment, it's the only job in town?
I don't care who gets married. That doesn't affect me. And if the little reconstruction money we spend in Afghanistan gets spent on helping actual Afghans with jobs, instead of making Halliburton rich, that doesn't affect me either. To say "don't think about their jobs," even though it would amount to a paltry, tiny fraction of what we are already spending on the military occupation, is an idiotic mindset that will come back to haunt us in the form of a hideously expensive, protracted war. That hurts our economy, not helps it, if it's our economy one is worried about. If that's what makes them happy, fine. We're already spending the money. What does it hurt?
Americans have never been known to be particularly forward-looking or prescient thinkers, at least not since the New Deal or the Marshall Plan. That's when a little thinking about someone else's job besides your own gave us decades of peace and prosperity, for everyone, not just a few. Now wouldn't that be nice again?
The way your reconstruction money is getting spent in Afghanistan is now getting hammered out in a conference committee on War Supplemental Appropriations bill, co-chaired by:
Sen. Daniel Inouye, Ph: 202-224-3934 Fax: 202-224-6747
and Rep. David Obey. Ph:(202) 225-3365 Fax: (715-842-4488)
The key pressure points are manageable now, and you can make a huge difference by calling these two at this time, asking them to adopt something like the plan described here, then fax it to them.
Ralph will be blogging from Afghanistan this week. You can follow it at JobsForAfghans.org.
Starvation in Kandahar