After spending $145 billion in two decades, the U.S. has withdrawn from Afghanistan and brought an end to its economic nation building efforts, which "largely failed," writes The Wall Street Journal.
Although Afghanistan's economy did grow as a result of overseas efforts, the system the U.S. helped build "relies overwhelmingly on foreign aid, most of which evaporated overnight," per the Journal. And while that foreign aid built roads, schools, and health facilities, critics say it neglected a "self-sustaining private sector."
Nowhere was the "failure to strengthen the Afghan state" more stark than in agriculture, argues the Journal. Even with $2 billion in U.S. spending funneled toward the cause, output "barely increased" over the last 20 years; in fact, it's share of GDP "has fallen to 20 percent from 70 percent in 1994, even though two in three Afghans still live in rural areas," writes the Journal.
For example, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2010 paid the American Soybean Association to introduce soybeans to Afghan farmers, "it was a big failure," said one farmer who participated. By his account, there wasn't enough water to grow the crop, proper seeds weren't available locally, and there was no market for the harvested crop, writes the Journal. An ASA spokeswoman disagreed, saying the project achieved "successes in line with or exceeding its original objectives."
The U.S. also tried introducing alternative crops to opium poppies, but farmers were "reluctant" to give up one of their few cash crops. Other options like saffron, pine nuts, and cotton were "far less lucrative, and rutted roads and poor storage infrastructure made exports difficult."