Bill Zimmerman, the longtime strategist against failed wars, calculates that we could give every Afghanistan family at least $59,444 instead of killing thousands of people in an unaffordable war. Zimmerman writes:
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) says the U.S. spent $738 billion (in 2011 dollars) fighting the war in Vietnam. The World Bank estimates that when the war began in 1964 the population of Vietnam was 38 million. Assuming five per family, simple arithmetic reveals that instead of waging a ten-year war that killed two million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans, we could have given each of those families $97,105. Had we done so, we would have obtained just what we got by fighting and losing the war: a law-abiding trading partner willing to assert its independence from China and Russia.
This startling fact begs the question about our policy in Afghanistan. The CRS estimates that the war there has cost $321 billion to date (again, in 2011 dollars), not including hundreds of billions more when post-war expenses like veterans' benefits come due. The World Bank estimates that when the war began in 2001 the Afghan population was 27 million. Again, if their average family size is also five, we have already spent $59,444 per family. If we had given that amount to each, or provided, say, a new pick-up truck and a free college education for one of their daughters, we would not now be bogged down in a war that all agree cannot be won.
Bill Zimmerman is a partner in Zimmerman & Markman, a political consulting firm. His most recent book is Troublemaker: A Memoir from the Front Lines of the Sixties.