Billions of dollars worth of U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and Iraq could fall into disrepair over the next few years because inadequate provisions have been made to pay for their ongoing operations and maintenance, according to a report to be released Friday by a bipartisan legislative commission.
The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan says it “sees no indication” that the Pentagon, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are “effectively taking sustainability risks into account when devising new projects or programs.”
This is, sadly, an old-ish problem, one identified and hammered on repeatedly by the GAO and SIGAR/SIGIR. Despite that, the fundamentals haven’t changed: everything is top-down, administratively heavy, and building something is considered successful even if there’s no chance of it being maintained. In Afghanistan, we are creating a nation of ruins.
But the inability to follow through on temporary successes isn’t limited to reconstruction. For PBS this week I wrote about the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which has a similar problem:
But leaving aside the assumption that insurgencies have economic causes (there remains a debate in studies of conflict about the precise role a poor economy plays in driving conflict), it is difficult to say how successful the task force has been at accomplishing the aforementioned tasks. Over the past five years of operations in Iraq, the task force claims it got companies to pledge investments in Iraqi state-owned enterprises, create a hundred thousand jobs and restore dozens of factories to production. There simply is not enough data to say one way or another. In the reports hosted on the task force’s website and in a sponsored assessment published last year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), these claims are repeated but there’s very little documentation to support them.
For example, while the amount of foreign direct investment the task force has attracted sounds impressive — nearly $8 billion in investment pledges to Iraq alone — it is important to remember that these are just pledges. From the publicly available data, it is hard to tell how much of that $8 billion has materialized, and how much is likely to. For an organization focused on attracting western investment (Paul Brinkley, the task force’s gregarious chief, is famous for flying CEOs around the war zones in Blackhawk helicopters), such a lack of concrete investment data alone should give us pause.
Sadly, it doesn’t. We remain focused entirely on inputs and not outcomes.