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07 August 2011


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Babak Makkinejad

The Helmand Valley dam - in PNACN326 document - was a gigantic blow to agricutlure in Iran; Sistan province, the bread-basket of Iran, was destroyed due to lack of water.

Vert many Iranians, before and after the Iranian Revolution cursed that dam and attributed its construction to the nefarious and Machiavellian policies of the United States to weaken Iran and make her dependent on imported food.

William R. Cumming

BABAK! All dams have a useful life of at most 120 years. Silt is the problem. Not enough trucks in the world to remove silted up dams silt. Think of TVA and realize its useful life is about to end. But hey the structural engineers love then and 120 years often enough so that those who built the dam not around for the consequences.

Babak Makkinejad

William R. Cumming:

Can't they be dredged regularly?



I think you missed the point, water was diverted from Iran by the building of the damn. Engineering designs are far less important than the political ones.


I think genetically modified food is going to pose just as big a problem for many nations as water resource control and manipulation.

Jonathan House MD

Off topic
I recommend the blog Syria Comment which can be found at:
it is run by Joshua Landis who describes himself as:
Director: Center
for Middle East Studies
and Associate Professor,
University of Oklahoma

In particlular, this piece by Landis from August 5th struck me as helpful:


Jonathan House

Sidney O. Smith III

Academicians who are on the payroll of the USG/taxpayer and, at one time, deeply involved in COIN are starting to hedge their participation by publicizing they were not for it, after all.

Arguably, it’s a career move, with the aim of distancing one's self from that which is now becoming detrimental to career advancement.

If the academician wants to return to teaching in the civilian world, then odds increase such a person will start to argue that he or she was not for COIN after all. If the academician wants to remain teaching within the military culture, then odds increase that such a person will argue that COIN was improperly applied.

Mark Moyar is an example of the latter. It’s a shame because his thesis on the VN War is very worthwhile, although it looks like he did not give enough credit to Marguerite Higgins. Makes one a little suspicious. Higgins was there and reporting in real time. But, regardless, his work on the VN War comes across as high quality, albeit controversial.

Then Moyar got caught up in the post 9-11 COIN industry/economic bubble and became a royal court intellectual for the State -- as they are sometimes called. He is now one of the darlings of the WSJ and people like Victor Hanson, which tells you all you need to know.

Initially Moyar praised Petraeus but now he distances himself.

It looks like a career move by someone involved in the cottage industry attached to COIN and paid for by our nation’s future generations.

In all likelihood, Moyar is not the only one "hedging".


One of the best sources for historical information on the Helmand Valley project can be found here.


Diane Mason

I remember seeing about 2 years ago a fascinating slideshow about how "modern" and "Western" parts of Afghanistan used to be. Naturally, I can't find the original article, but some of the photos without captions are reproduced here: http://tinyurl.com/3pb6ao6.

If anyone can link to the original, I'd be grateful.

Babak Makkinejad

Diane Mason:

That slide-show almost certainly was a pack of lies.

Afghanistan was never modern nor Western in any sense. I mean, even in 1970s a fellow with an engineering degree come back from US and contract an arranged marriage with an illiterate (literally) woman.

Afghanistan was a pre-industrial, backward, agricultural country that was gradually altering some of its state institutions based on Russian, European, and American models.

But, until Davoud Khan's coup and the subsequent disasters, she was a functioning country. It was safe to travel in and her people could live their lives in tranquility and peace - however undemocractic, unfree, or un-enlighened their social millieu might have been.

No amount of money can put Afghanistan back to where she was in 1974. Best you can hope for is something like Somalia: with a portion (or portions) functioning while other parts wallowing in anarchy and lawlessness.

Diane Mason

I doubt whether it was "a pack of lies". I think it was a selective slideshow of model projects; certainly at the time it struck me as somewhat reminiscent of the kind of pictures we might have seen coming out of the Soviet Union during the Cold War to illustrate for us "the benefits of life under Communism".

I don't recall anybody claiming the slideshow was representative of how Afghanistan as a whole. Certainly I didn't, that's why I put modern and Western in quotes.

I was simply interested in it because until I saw the slideshow I wasn't aware of the USAID-type projects that had been tried decades ago in Afghanistan, and seeing them discussed here in the last few days reminded me.

Dan Gackle

Some months ago I heard an interview with Nick Cullather, a historian with a recent book out on the history of food aid. He stated that projects like the Helmand dam were intended to settle the Pashtun herdsmen as wheat farmers. Traditionally, they had migrated out of the uninhabitable Hindu Kush into what is now Pakistan with their flocks for the winter, then returned. This was seen as an impediment to nation-building in Afghanistan, hence the wheat-farming idea. According to Cullather, the trouble was that the dam brought up
salts in the earth that rendered the soil inhosiptable to wheat, so the plan failed. You can guess the one crop that he said *does* thrive in such soil: poppy.

I thought this was a fascinating tale of unintended consequences. Certainly I had no idea that Afghanistan had been the recipient of vast amounts of US foreign aid in the 1950s (and Soviet too, apparently) and held up as the poster child for the engineering-based development projects of that era.

Can anyone here with knowledge of this region/history say whether the above narrative is accurate?

Babak Makkinejad

Diane Mason:

Thank you for your comments.

Regrettably, I seem to have "jumped the gun" as it were.

Babak Makkinejad

Dan Gackle:

So US built a dam, ostensibly to settle Pashtuns, which deprived Iran of one of its major wheat-growing regions.

Of course, a man in the street of Zabul will ask: "Did the Americans - with all their techncial knowledge - ignorant of the consequent salinity increase and the uselessness of the damn?

And his friends will answer certainly they knew; they wanted to ruin us here in Sistan - where Ayatollah Sistani hail from.

Patrick Lang


I never thought you a fool before. So, you think that 35 years ago the US was plotting against Iran.

I hope that you are actually the Iranian government. if you are then this level of blind stupidity is understandable. pl

Diane Mason

Babak Makkinejad,

Thank you, that's very gracious of you.

That sort of miscommunication is easily done on the internet.

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

Most of the time I hope I am no more foolish than the next man.

I was illustrating a train of thought that, regrettably, very many people in the Near East are prone to; namely conspiracy theories.

I persoanlly doubt that US had aimed in damaging the bread-baskedt of Iran but I had heard Iranians making such statements even at the time of the Shah of Iran.

I wonder what Ayatollah Sistani's take on the Helmand dam has been.

Dan Gackle


While I am without firsthand knowledge of the Helmand project or of
public opinion in Zabul, I can tell you that it's quite plausible that
a major engineering effort might hit some unforeseen consequence (in
this case, alkalinization of the soil) only after most of the work had
been completed. No amount of technical knowledge can anticipate all
possible behaviors of a complex system, though the hubris of
technocratic man never wants to admit it. All the more so when the
project was in so foreign a place to the builders, and during an era
when naive belief in purely technical solutions was so widespread. (I
suppose it still is.) On the contrary, there are so many cases of
major development projects running aground on unintended consequences
that one might almost call it par for the course. The novelty here is
not that the dam plan wasn't realized, but that its consequences are
so fatefully intertwined with what's happening 50 years later -
assuming of course that the historian in this case is reliable. If he
is, I'm surprised that this was the first I heard of it. Ten years of
Afghanistan coverage and no reporter figured out that we'd been
through this before? Why haven't the principals been interviewed?
Surely some of them are still around?

Babak Makkinejad

Dan Gackle:

Thank you for your comments.

William R. Cumming

Babak! Dams cannot be successfully dredged to prolong their useful life although many have tried.

Fred! Dams are storage systems often allowing power generation but they themselves are not flowage diverters but delayers.

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