The U.S. government publishes its failure to stabilize Afghanistan. “…SIGAR’s overall assessment is that despite some heroic efforts to stabilize insecure and contested areas in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2017, the program mostly failed.” SIGAR is Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development, runs the stabilization programs in conjunction with the Department of Defense.

While admitting the failure, the report doesn’t recognize that at no reasonable cost can stabilization in Afghanistan result from U.S. efforts. The U.S. government is incapable in most circumstances, under most conditions, in most countries and with most peoples of being able to stabilize, which means to create support for the State, create respect for government and create security by a variety of infrastructure, health, education and welfare programs and projects.

An earlier SIGAR report has lofty goals “The stabilization programs were intended to support at risk populations, extend the reach of the Afghan government to unstable areas, provide job opportunities, build trust between citizens and their government, and encourage local populations to take an active role in their development.” USAID created instability: The “data from hundreds of districts, found that stability was actually lower in those villages that had received USAID support.”

The U.S. government didn’t succeed in “stabilizing” the defeated native American populations, the defeated South, the former slave population, the Appalachian poor, or ordinary Americans living in poverty; and these were cases where the U.S. could and did exercise a great deal of power and control. USAID hasn’t stabilized Iraq or Libya as any study will reveal.

The U.S. policy is to destroy and rebuild. The U.S. has the power to knock Humpty Dumpty off the wall and shatter him into a thousand pieces. But

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

The rebuilding of Japan and Germany after World War II cannot be replicated in places like Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, whose pre-destruction state structures and peoples were held together in ways far different from the cohesion of the Japanese and German peoples. Furthermore, Japan and Germany were completely under the control of the U.S., whereas places that USAID is trying to stabilize like Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan are not. Japan and Germany were not countries riven with insurgencies, terrorism, rival forces, and rival tribes, peoples and religions.

The failure of stabilization by government agencies has several causes that are unalterable and guarantee government failure under most conditions. The alternative that actually succeeds is self-stabilization, which is part and parcel of spontaneous order.

Government stabilization is by bureaucratic decisions about allocation of scarce capital. In any given country, USAID makes investment decisions. It chooses projects, like a World Bank. In Somalia, USAID selects wind turbines, classrooms and a camel milk project. In the U.S., the Congress chooses food stamps, Medicaid and hundreds of other projects. All of it is a variety of socialism in which the financing of projects is through taxation and the investing is decided by government. (Taxation is a way of the government’s claiming ownership of the human means of production.) No matter what government decisions are made, they are fatally flawed up and down the line, from A to Z, whereas free-market decisions, uncontrolled by government, will turn out to be self-stabilizing.

The government method has built-in fatal flaws that are revealed by comparison to how capitalists operate. Capitalists decide how much to save and in what forms to save it. The profit motive permeates their decisions. Government lacks the profit motive; worse, government power attracts perverse uses of capital that pass no market test. Capitalists have sophisticated means of controlling the capital that they allocate. They have means of monitoring their capital’s designated uses, so that it is not stolen, wasted, diverted and misused. Government bureaucrats are not held to account from their slack controls and inability to monitor the success or failure of their pet projects. Capitalists have incentives to treat their fellow countrymen in ways that generate goodwill and revenues. Bureaucrats lack such incentives. Government failure is enhanced by bureaucratic and department rivalries, such as between USAID and DOD. There are weak or non-existent incentives to diminish these rivalries and coordinate. Capitalists have incentives to coordinate various departments into an integrated effort. Otherwise they court failure and the subsequent inability to raise capital to finance other projects.

The 21st century U.S. War on Terrorism is a deeply flawed strategy on four counts. It’s a “Destroy and Rebuild” strategy that has been morally bankrupt, enormously expensive, a failure at reducing terrorism, and a failure at rebuilding.

As much as possible, the U.S. should not interject its forces, its aid and its money upon other countries, including those threatened by Islamic State and al-Qaeda franchises. Other powers and regional hegemons may step into the resulting situations. So be it. Perhaps their local and regional knowledge and perhaps their different incentives will result in greater success than the U.S. has had. Perhaps the threatened countries will, working under a new set of incentives, devise ways to bring in external actors or revise their own governments so as to defeat the insurgencies. What we know for sure is that the U.S. method of being the world’s policeman is not working. It is producing the spread of Islamic State franchises to more and more vulnerable countries throughout the world.


9:13 am on June 4, 2018