Are We Overpaying On Our Afghan Bribes?

by Noam Scheiber | November 17, 2009

Mike Allen highlights an interesting piece from the Times of London in today's Playbook. Apparently the British army has just released new counter-insurgency guidelines with an emphasis on bribing potential Taliban recruits in Afghanistan: "Addressing the issue of paying off the locals, the new manual states that army commanders should give away enough money to dissuade them from joining the enemy," the paper reports. "The Taleban is known to pay about $10 (£5.95) a day to recruit local fighters."

What's especially interesting about the piece is that it dwells on how the British haven't been able to keep up with all the money the U.S. military is spreading around Afghanistan:

British commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq have complained that their access to money on the battlefield — cash rather than literal gold — compares poorly with their US counterparts.  ...

The positive impact of military units going into battle with bags of cash at their disposal is underlined in the manual by the experience of a top British commander who served in Iraq. “The hoops that I had to jump through to get the very few UK pounds that were available were . . . amazing; the American divisional commanders were resourced and empowered in ways that we could only dream of,” he says.

Etc.

Which raises an interesting question: Why have we been spending so much more than the British to bribe potential Taliban recruits? Once you've outbid the Taliban by enough to make it worthwhile for an Afghan to cooperate, it doesn't make sense to spend much more. After all, Afghanistan is a very poor country. Beyond a certain point, spreading a lot of money around should only trigger inflation, with people simply bidding up the prices of goods and services rather than being able to afford more.

And it certainly doesn't seem to make sense for us to bid up the price of bribes on the British. Couldn't we just get together with them and collude on a price that's high enough to do the trick and no higher? I really don't think the Justice Department's antitrust division is going to mind.

P.S. For what it's worth, others have also raised the problem of inflation in Afghanistan.

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