By Chet Yarbrough
Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security
Written by: Sarah Chayes
Narration by: Sarah Chayes
Unquestionably, Hamid Karzai and his administration were corrupt during his ten years as President of Afghanistan. There is ample proof of corruption.
As Sarah Chayes notes, Mubarak’s government in Egypt was comparably corrupt. Chayes ten years in Afghanistan and her ability to speak Arabic offer tremendous credibility to her observations. However, her suggestion that corruption threatens global security is tiresome because “Thieves of State” exist in all forms of government, including the United States.
Most, if not all, governments have some level of corruption because their leaders are human. In Afghanistan, Karzai protects his family’s interest by allowing his brother to sell land at high prices when it is virtually given to him by the government. President Trump chooses to stay involved in the management of his corporate interests around the world. His justification is day-to-day management is in the hands of his sons. How credible is that argument?
Karzai protects government functionaries that require bribes for favors because they are loyal to him. Trump has tweeted that loyalty, above all, is expected from the people who report to him. Trump chooses to use government functionaries that are closely tied to industries that the government intends to regulate. When does loyalty become more important than fair-dealing?
Greed is a part of human nature. It is disingenuous to think Vice President Cheney did not have an interest in seeing his former employer become the military supplier in the Iraq war.
Chayes is absolutely right when writing about how important it is to listen to the general population about their government and its affect on their lives. Only then can one gain some understanding of a nation’s corruption. The consequence of human nature’s truths are dire. Human nature’s truth, when added to an outsider’s cultural misunderstandings, can be catastrophic.
Chayes suggests that an Afghani citizen will refuse to warn Afghani policemen of an IED “…because policemen require bribes to do their job”. Chayes concludes “…corruption is a threat to global security”. This is a reasonable conclusion but what can an outsider do about it? Correction of corrupt practices can only come from the people who are governed.
History shows that cultural outsiders destroy national comity and identity. Marx was an outsider in the Russian revolution but he formed the basis for communism’s takeover of Russia. Lenin, Stalin, and to a lesser extent, Trotsky (all indigenous Russians) changed the government based on an outsider’s machinations. The same can be said of Mao’s China and Castro’s Cuba. Change comes from an outsider’s interference; while revolution only comes from within. The only consequential role an outsider like Chayes can play is publicizing indigenous public discontent. That is the true value of her observations in “Thieves of State”.
Chayes points to a Nigerian oil CEO that makes $1,000,000 per year. Chayes exposure of kleptocracy in Nigeria is only legally different from that which exists in the United States. The difference is that kleptocracy in America is legalized by a stable government. Robert Walker of Andarko Petroleum makes over $15,000,000 per year. American tax subsidies and American tax policy subsidize the oil industry. CORRUPTION IS LEGAL IN AMERICA:
The American government protects CEO incomes that reinforce a widening gap between rich and poor. At least two of President Trump’s cabinet are billionaires and most are multi-millionaires. Few of the super-rich have much interest in, or concern for, the poor.
Chayes’ book would be more interesting if she had contrasted America’s corruption with Afghanistan’s. She limits her comparisons to medieval Eastern, African, and European cultures. Listening to “Thieves of State” is off-putting because America, like all nation-states, have some level of corruption; i.e. legalized corruption is still corruption.
If America makes the mistake of invading Iraq or throwing money at the Afghanistan economy, it is only we Americans who are to blame. Invading Afghanistan is understandable because of its role in harboring terrorists. However, it is a waste of American lives to believe an outsider’s intervention will change the hearts and minds of an indigenous population. It is not only the fault of Afghani or Iraqi corruption. It is the innate nature of humanity. Fault lays at the feet of an outside country invading a foreign culture. CORRUPTION IN AFGHANISTAN:
Respectfully, Chayes invested her time in understanding Afghanistan which puts her far and away ahead of most Americans but she misses the root cause of corruption which is unregulated human nature. That is why many countries that have poor government regulation turn to religion. If a secular government cannot regulate human nature, Taliban-like martinets fill the vacuum with public executions or Mullah Dictates. Neither secular nor religious governance is a guarantee of perfect human justice, equality, or equity. Justice, equality, and equity must come from the desire of indigenous populations.