One thing you won’t read about in the magazine this month is the fall of Kabul and the Taliban regaining power in Afghanistan. The swift collapse of the American-aligned Afghan government has been dominating headlines both domestic and foreign the week that I write this in mid-August.
We had a lot to say about Afghanistan in these pages 19 years ago, both in the brief interval between the 9/11 attacks and the US invasion on October 7, 2001, and afterward. (At least until the Bush administration trained its eye, Sauron-like, on Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction and we began covering this second front in the War on Terror.) While it was clear at the time that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was aiding and abetting Al Qaeda, offering it a safe haven from which to launch overseas attacks, it was less clear—at least to the editorial staff of this magazine—how successful a nation-building enterprise would be in a country that had eluded attempts by other great powers to tame it.
After the 9/11 attacks, however, there would be no stopping an aggrieved nation crying for blood with righteous anger and a government built by design to spill it.
(And the blood did flow. As of this writing, there have been 2,448 US military deaths in Afghanistan, and nearly 4,000 more US civilian contractors killed. Add to that the deaths of an estimated 69,000 Afghan military police, 47,000 civilian deaths, plus 51,000 dead opposition fighters. And don’t forget the 20,000 nonlethal US military casualties.)
We also were curious as to how much a war would cost, in dollars. At the time, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and other architects of the war were mostly mum about budgeting, but when they did speak in (vague) particulars, the number they seemed to agree on was $100 billion for the war, and we’d be out in a year. While both this number and timeline were both farcical, little scrutiny was applied to the administration’s estimates. Some outlets, like Chronogram, suggested that based on the best guesses of military experts not in the employ of the current government, the War in Afghanistan would take longer than a year and cost way more than $100 billion.
As the final US military flights are taxiing down the runway at Kabul airport, we can now get a final bill for the war. According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, the total spending on the war in Afghanistan was $2.26 trillion. To break that down a bit: That’s $300 million per day, every day, for 20 years. Or $50,000 for each of Afghanistan’s 40 million people. And there are more costs to come, as we’ll have to pay back (with interest) the money borrowed to finance that war. The Costs of War project estimates that more than $500 billion in interest has already been paid, and that by 2050 the cost of interest alone on US Afghan war debt could reach $6.5 trillion. That’s $20,000 of debt for every American. What a phenomenal waste of blood and treasure to wind up right back where we started.
That Other CrisisWhat we are covering in Chronogram this month is of less geopolitical importance, but nevertheless, there is at least one story about the implications of a toppled government—that of Governor Andrew Cuomo. In “Change of Atmosphere”, Lissa Harris talks with environmental activists about what the governor’s resignation means for climate action in New York. Though Cuomo has held up the state’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act as a national model, recent actions by the governor belie his support for the CLCPA. With Cuomo out of the picture, environmental activists hope that Governor Hochul and the legislature are up to the task of taking the transformative action necessary to reach the state’s ambitious climate goals.
Related A Change of Atmosphere
This article was originally published last month on The River Newsroom, our sister site that publishes investigative journalism and analysis on regional topics of national importance. From March 2020 until a few months ago, Lissa Harris spearheaded The River’s coverage of COVID. She crunched the numbers, parsed the data, and read the tea leaves of governmental pronouncements to make sense of the pandemic in real time. A self-described (and quite adept) disaster reporter, Lissa has now shifted her beat to oversee coverage of another seemingly inextinguishable Dumpster fire of a catastrophe: climate change. In July, The River launched the Climate Lab,a project dedicated to original reporting and analysis on how the climate crisis is changing the Hudson Valley and Catskills region, and the solutions that are helping us prepare for and adapt to that change. The Climate Lab’s reporting is regionally focused, solutions-oriented, and independent.
We plan to feature much of its coverage in these pages in the coming months. In October, we’ll be digging in on community aggregated solar as part of our Climate Solutions Week coverage, in partnership with Sustainable Hudson Valley. Find all of Climate Lab’s ongoing coverage at Therivernewsroom.com/climate-lab.
A Note of AppreciationA couple of years ago, my colleague Samm Liotta showed up at my desk one afternoon with a bottle of whiskey and a tumbler full of ice. I knew, at once, something terrible had happened, and I knew what exactly what the terribleness was.
“You’re pregnant,” I said.
“I am,” Samm said, pouring me a stiff one.
Samm is thoughtful. And a good project manager. She knew that the thought of her absence from the office for multiple months on maternity leave would have a deeply destabilizing effect on my psyche. That afternoon, she managed me effectively and with empathy. This has been Samm’s MO during her nine-year tenure with us, from overseeing the creation, launch, and execution of the Chronogram Block Party (remember those?) to testing and adopting and dropping digital marketing platforms to conceptualizing and coordinating the successful roll-out of the Chronogrammies readers’ choice awards in the middle of a pandemic. And so much more: Writing and recording cheesy radio ads, turning difficult clients into grateful ones, discreetly assisting me through one disastrous wardrobe malfunction in the office (I’ve not worn white pants since), knowing how to manage up gracefully, lighting up a room with her sheer irrepressibility.
This is the first issue since Samm has left the employ of Chronogram Media and gone on to “pursue other opportunities” as the saying goes. And I do believe this time she’s gone for good. (I am saving her favorite red office chair in case something shifts, however. Hear that, Samm?) While this organization has lost a valued and trusted colleague, I have been lucky enough to find that rare thing in its place—a good friend.