The U.S. will spend more money trying to fix Afghanistan than it did on the Marshall Plan after World War II by the time its combat troops depart at the end of 2014.
This is the shocking conclusion of a quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a government watchdog created by Congress to oversee reconstruction projects and activities in Afghanistan.
The Marshall Plan cost about $13.3 billion in 1950’s dollars. Adjusting for inflation, the Marshall Plan investment would be equal to about $103.4 billion in today’s dollars. Under the same adjustments, the SIGAR report calculated that the actual investment in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan totals over $109 billion.
Now, to jog your memory, the Marshall Plan is credited with helping to spur the economic revival and restore the economic infrastructure of all of Western Europe in the wake of World War II.
The recovery effort in Afghanistan—arguably a more modest task buoyed by a larger amount of funding—does not even come close to the success of the Marshall Plan.
What the billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan have achieved remains to be seen. As of now, the U.S. war in Afghanistan has become the longest in our history, surpassing even the Vietnam War. The Taliban insurgency remains entrenched, and many reports indicate that it is making gains as international combat troops depart. The Afghan government has little legitimacy and is regularly listed as one of the most corrupt in the world, and the overall political and economic situation remains dire.
The 30 audits, inspections, special projects and other reports SIGAR issued this quarter examined $182 billion worth of recovery projects and programs. Unsurprisingly, the investigation uncovered poor planning, subpar construction, mechanical failures, and inadequate oversight.
There are obviously limits to the comparison between the Marshall Plan and Afghanistan. For example, the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan includes a vast amount of money for building and sustaining local military and police forces, while much of the Marshall Plan was spent on imports such as food, machinery, and fertilizer.
However, there is no denying that the return on investment in Afghanistan has been marginal at best—especially given the fact that most of the money and effort has been spent on security, an area of the reconstruction where the least progress has been made.