By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Sarah Chayes
Narration by: Sarah Chayes
“Thieves of State” is a tiresome revelation by an author one admires for confronting state sanctioned corruption, but denies her argued etiology for corruption’s existence. Unquestionably, Hamid Karzai and his administration were corrupt during the ten years of his presidency. There is ample proof of corruption in Afghanistan; certainly during Karzai’s administration, and probably still today. Interestingly, Sarah Chayes reveals that Karzai’s corruption is abetted by America’s own CIA.
As Chayes notes, Mubarak’s government in Egypt was comparably corrupt, and probably is still 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 are corrupt 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. Karzai protects government functionaries that require bribes for favors because they are loyal to him. The same shenanigans are evident in the United States because 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 for the Iraq war.
Governor Rod Blagojevich is still serving a prison sentence for demanding a bribe from the Obama’ Administration. Money, power, and prestige motivate all human beings. Societies only defense is government regulation but even that is subject to human nature and motivational force.
Chayes is absolutely right when writing about how important it is to listen to the general population about their government and its effect on their lives. Only then can one gain some understanding of the corruption that exists. 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.
The only role an outsider like Chayes or the American military can play is publicizing indigenous public discontent. Marx was an outsider in the Russian revolution. Lenin, Stalin, and to a lesser extent, Trotsky changed the government. The same can be said of Mao’s China and Castro’s Cuba. Change may come from an outsider’s publicization but revolution only comes from within.
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 and protect CEO incomes to reinforce a widening gap between rich and poor. Chayes book would have been more revelatory if she had contrasted corruption’s insidious effect on America rather than on medieval Eastern, African, or European cultures.
Listening to “Thieves of State” is tiresome because America lives in a glass house. If America makes the mistake of invading Iraq or throwing money at the Afghanistan economy, it is only we Americans who are to blame. It is not the fault of Afghani or Iraqi corruption. It is the fault of an outside country interfering in a society and choosing not to invest in understanding that society. If one does not speak Arabic, one has little chance of understanding Arabic culture.
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 tyrannies 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.