Measuring a war gone to hell.
Here may be the single strangest fact of our American world: that at least three administrations — Ronald Reagan's, George W. Bush's, and now Barack Obama's — drew the U.S. "defense" perimeter at the Hindu Kush; that is, in the rugged, mountainous lands of Afghanistan. Put another way, while Americans argue feverishly and angrily over what kind of money, if any, to put into health care, or decaying infrastructure, or other key places of need, until recently just about no one in the mainstream raised a peep about the fact that, for nearly eight years (not to say much of the last three decades), we've been pouring billions of dollars, American military know-how, and American lives into a black hole in Afghanistan that is, at least in significant part, of our own creation.
Annual funding for U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, 2002: $20.8 billion.
Annual funding for U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, 2009: $60.2 billion.
Total funds for U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, 2002-2009: $228.2 billion.
War-fighting funds requested by the Obama administration for 2010: $68 billion (a figure which will, for the first time since 2003, exceed funds requested for Iraq).
Funds recently requested by U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry for non-military spending in Afghanistan, 2010: $2.5 billion.
Funds spent since 2001 on Afghan "reconstruction": $38 billion ("more than half of it on training and equipping Afghan security forces").
Percentage of U.S. funding in Afghanistan that has gone for military purposes: Nearly 90%.
Estimated U.S. funds needed to support and upgrade Afghan forces for the next decade: $4 billion a year ("with a like sum for development") according to former Assistant Secretary of Defense Bing West. (According to the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon, "It's a reasonable guess that for 20 years, we essentially will have to fund half the Afghan budget.")
Afghan gross national product: $23 billion ("the size of Boise" Idaho's, writes columnist George Will) — about $3 billion of it from opium production.
Annual budget of the Afghan government: $600 million.
Maintenance cost for the force of 450,000 Afghan soldiers and police U.S. generals dream of creating: approximately 500% of the Afghan budget.
Amount spent on police "mentoring and training" since 2001: $10 billion.
Percentage of the more than 400 Afghan National Police units "still incapable of running their operations independently": 75% (2008 figures).