Corruption isn’t just Karzai’s problem

Fred Kaplan writes:

It’s tempting to skip over the recent news stories about fighting corruption in Afghanistan. (“Of course there’s corruption,” you might have muttered while turning the page.) But resist the urge; go back and read them. They’re just as important as the stories about fighting the Taliban in Kandahar — maybe more so.

In a counterinsurgency war, such as the one we’re waging in Afghanistan, the legitimacy of the host government, in the eyes of its own people, is key to the prospects for success. And legitimacy is nearly unachievable if the government is blatantly corrupt.

Kaplan is right in suggesting that the topic of corruption in Afghanistan is one that does not evoke much intense interest, but I think we look at it from the wrong perspective when considering it as a local problem and a problem that should only concern Americans in as much as it impacts an American war.

The problem of corruption is in many ways, the political problem of this era — the corruption in Afghanistan merely happens to be one of the worst manifestations.

In as much as we think of the issue in terms of ballot rigging, involvement in the drugs trade, the exchange of bribes and so forth, we tend to overlook the fundamental nature of corruption. Whether or not it involves cash in brown paper bags, what political corruption is all about is misrepresentation.

A politician presents himself as serving one set of interests when in reality he serving a different set of interests.

Washington and Kabul are much more alike than we care to see. The difference is in the degree to which the victims of misrepresentation feel aggrieved.

In our obsessive focus on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, we give nearly all our attention to the ways in which people react to their grievances and amazingly little to the origins of their grievances.

From Cairo to Kabul, the United States props up corrupt governments and the people ruled by those governments think we bear some of the responsibility for the misery in their lives.

And yet somehow a fiction still has currency — that the source of most of the problems in the Middle East is people who hate freedom.

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4 thoughts on “Corruption isn’t just Karzai’s problem

  1. scott

    This IS a vital point. It justifies, from an Islamic perspective, jihad–“If they come into your lands, subvert your way of life through subterfuge and deception, Go and kill them where you find them, but if they call a truce, or wish to negotiate in fairness and good faith, you have no cause where by to fight them.”

    How would you read that? This also makes the neo-cons and Bush right. The problem in the Middle East, in the Arab world is indeed democracy. Now, they aren’t willing to tolerate democratic representation for those guys; but, I dare say that remains our challenge. How do we move from the American supported dictators that rule today for a truly democratic Middle East, Southeast Asia and North Africa?

    I say we have to allow a free press, free and open elections in local races initially, expanding to lower legislative houses, then further to upper houses and eventually to the highest offices in the land. We must challenge them with the burdens of governance, forge them with the mundanity of potholes, sanitation and coping with agriculture. We must straighten our image and embrace the ideals that we teach our children. Otherwise, we will only drag ourselves into the fellaheen mess they’re in

  2. Ian Arbuckle

    I appreciate your question Scott “How do we move from the American supported dictators that rule today for a truly democratic Middle East, Southeast Asia and North Africa?”

    Your conclusion however leaves me dumbstruck in its simple naivety. “Free press and elections” have neither mattered nor made a difference to the rise of corporate lead fascism in America. The press has been a faithful servant of capitalist corporatism in providing the propagandist line, supporting wars and occupations and allowing the pilfering of public funds and the electoral system has been completely undermined by corporate sponsorship of sudo-twidle-didi-or-didum party politics as well as electronic and other vote rigging. A more accurate way to look at things might be that America is the world leader in covert and overt corruption, and the denial of democracy at home and abroad in the service of its elite and their chosen allies.

    Did you miss the link between Cheney’s interests in Halliburton and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or that the players were then as they are now chosen by corporate interests. How about Bush’s background in oil and the family connections with the Saudis. Did the penny not drop that Obama worked on Wall Street in ‘83 for Business International Corporation as a researcher, a reported cover organization for the CIA, by the way, and then turned up handing hundreds of billions to Wall Street firms while letting them get away with a fraud of trillions.

    And you think Karsai and that lot over there are crooks and that you and America can teach the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt or Timbuktu something about eliminating corruption and replacing it with fair and representative government?

    Perhaps you can teach those tyrants running those countries as quislings for America Inc. how to dumb down their people so that they become as stupid, pacified and sheep-like so as to accept the blatant lies and corruption dished out by their “elected” representatives and leaders as the Americans do. That way they too will praise their great nations and love their leaders as they are lead to debt slavery and slaughter by profitable wars brought to them thanks to disaster capitalism by the new world order.

  3. Christopher Hoare

    Thanks, guys. This one is really entertaining.
    The rest of the world knew what kind of disaster was coming as soon as baby Bush started spouting about bringing democracy to the world. What in Hell does the Republican party know about democracy? (There might be people who know in the Democratic party, but they don’t want to rock the boat.) The US made a gallant attempt at democracy over the years, and came close at times before the 1980s but it has been an oligarchy ever since.

    The US is going to bring a free press to the people of the world, Scott? Where would they ever find people who could teach anyone that? Just compare the news on Al Jazeera, Asia Times Online, and most of the European centrist press (on their better days) to the corporate ‘newspeak’ on American media, and tell us who has the free press. Why do you think this site and hundreds like it are telling the stories that need to be told — that the mainline press would not touch for fear of offending their rulers — who feed them with their advertising dollars.

    As for Karzai’s problem — the way things have always been in Afghanistan have been what we choose to call corruption. Compare it with the fraud and embezzlement of the development dollars by American corporations in Afghanistan, and the roads and irrigation canals to nowhere. The Afghan’s graft is rather modest by comparison.

  4. Eleonora

    To Ian
    WOW – excellently written and down to the point! The only differences I see between the USA and the rest of the countries you mention is that most Americans (still) believe they have democracy whereas we know we don’t have and, therefore, take the opposite of whatever our governments tell us. That way we come closest to the truth – and by visiting sites like this one. And if we want to know what’s happening here, at what sell-out price Egypt donates the gas to Israel or how the President’s health is – we visit Ha’aretz …

    Corruption here has infested everybody down to the little traffic police guy who gets at best US$ 10 p/m. If it weren’t for the baksheesh handed out to him he would not be able to survive. That’s not the worst part – that’s intention from above as one of the means to control the people tightly; the real cancer sits at the top.

    To Scott
    You start it at the wrong end and on the wrong foot – the fish rots always from the head! All your demands can only be met by having a truly democratic and elected leadership who has the interest of the people and, therefore, the country at heart. Give me just one reason why a tyrant should allow free press, free local elections and so forth – all points which ultimately will oust him from power. They might be stupid but not THAT stupid to dig their own graves. So – change the head first!

    Our media (Egypt) has opened up lately and we have some truly daring newspapers and TV channels = “free” media. But they too are clearly told their limits. Every now and then a broadcaster gets “messed up” by the state security or a journalist brought to trial (like Ibrahim Eissa and Wael El Ebrashi) to make it clear who’s the boss. In other words: we have “freedom of expression” … but (almost) no freedom after expression.

    Another example: look at the campaign of Dr. Mohamed El Baradei – if that’s at all mentioned in your part of the world. A prime example of a tyrannical shook-up regime in almost full swing to finish him with all means possible – the worst is yet to come when elections approach.

    And why we have “crew cut guys” in the higher ranks of the riot police with fair complexion and a broad Yankee accent is still a “puzzle” to some of us … guess they’re on a vacation?!

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