Let us not mince words: For the past 8+ years, the international community has, at a minimum, looked the other way while Karzai’s government stole elections (plural), smuggled opium by the ton, systematically looted the people they’re supposed to protect, and literally got away with murder… on our dime. The justifications for this have been many, but let’s just focus on one thing: Has it worked?
If it had worked, we might see something like Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe – where patronage, targeted violence, personal loyalties, and social cleavages are successfully employed to suppress alternative political organization. We might see the government feared as effective repressors and monopolists of violence on the one hand, and effective rewarders of allies, clients, and employees on the other.
In Afghanistan, we see nothing like that.
Andrew Exum says that corruption might “eventually” undermine the host nation government to which we’re supposed to be doing a handover, but we can’t do anything about it because Karzai will just go into a defensive crouch (and we apparently can’t handle his defensive crouch!?)… But the problem is that the government is already thoroughly undermined, to the extent that that at the local level there’s currently no effective government to handover to. Prospects for the emergence of such are receding by the day.
This is what tolerating corruption gets us: The Malign Actor Networks are large and in charge. They are unwilling or unable to shoulder the sovereign burden, are not at war with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in the slightest, and don’t give a shit about the people of Afghanistan writ large. Like Zardari, they’ve got their villas sorted in Dubai and their kids in international schools, and as long as they don’t miss the last chopper off the roof they’re good to go… And these are the guys we’re supposed to hand over to??
So as the new conventional wisdom emerges that we have no choice but to tolerate corruption, let us remember that we’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work. We cannot rely on drone armies, “the tribes”, or corrupt pseudo-governance to keep Al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan. It’s BS. It won’t work. We know it won’t work because we’ve been trying it for a good 9 years.
What can work (or at least is worth trying) will be the subject of a later post.
PS: Thanks to Joel Hafvenstein for getting me to think about this stuff again. Cheers!