Sure, ‘Buy Afghan’—But Get The Extended Warranty

US General David Petraeus said this in his “state of the Afghan war” message on Tuesday:

[W]e will have to expand our efforts to help Afghan officials implement President Karzai’s direction to combat corruption and the criminal patronage networks that undermine the development of effective Afghan institutions. In our support of the latter effort, we will need to pursue initiatives to ensure that our contracting and procurement activities are part of the solution rather than a continuing part of the problem.

This is not the NATO Commander’s first acknowledgement that America’s way of blending war and business has had some counterproductive results. Last September, Petraeus laid out a “counterinsurgency contracting guidance” for procurement officers involved in the Afghan war.

The new instructions read like Consumer Reports For Dummies, offering such elementary prescriptions as:

Know those with whom we are contracting.


Act on identification of links between contractors and criminal networks.

The guidelines imply that the US military doesn’t know with whom it is contracting, and doesn’t act when it is aware of criminal links to contractors.

Petraeus’ speech this week was meant to reassure. But what American could be reassured to know that the people entrusted with spending billions of taxpayer dollars every week on an endless foreign occupation have more or less no clue where that money is going? Who, furthermore, could be comforted to learn that Pentagon employees must be reminded to stop doing business with criminals?

Another one of Petreaus’ contracting guidelines might rub some union organizers and America-Firsters the wrong way, but it makes sense in the context of counterinsurgency theory:

Hire Afghans first, buy Afghan products, and build Afghan capacity.

In other words, don’t contract with KBR to build a well in an Afghan village—hire the young men in the village to do it (assuming they’re not already gone fighting for the Taliban). This program sounds good in theory—just as to many Americans, ignorant of Afghan culture and history, the invasion itself seemed like a good idea 10 years ago.

Unfortunately, things are rarely so simple. A good-in-theory invasion has become a what-the-fuck-are-we-doing-here occupation. Petraeus should be pressed to explain how he will have NATO “buy Afghan” at the same time it is supposed to “combat corruption and the criminal patronage networks.”

In this week’s state-of-the-war speech, Petraeus failed to state what everyone, at this point, must know: President Karzai himself is tied to one of the biggest criminal patronage networks in Afghanistan.

Sure, the general’s wording leaves room for interpretation: NATO will “help Afghan officials implement President Karzai’s direction” to combat patronage. This could be taken to mean that other Afghan officials will help the US “combat corruption,” as Karzai has promised, but failed, to do. But reading so much into the general’s diction is a silly parlor game. So long as Petraeus can mention Karzai’s name in the same sentence as “combat[ing] corruption,” it’s clear that the “counterinsurgency contracting guidance” is a lost cause.