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13 June 2010


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"Corruption" seems to have become a catch-all term meant to explain away every problem with America's Afghan experience. Is the Afghan government more corrupt that say, Egypt, or Sudan, or Saudi Arabia? Indeed, some would argue that bank bailouts by a congress that receives massive campaign donations from banks is an example of serious corruption. (I certainly would.) If COIN only works in the absence of corruption, it is a very limited strategy indeed.

The problem with the Afghan government is not 'corruption.' The problem is that it isn't even there. And that most Afghans have managed to get along without it.

clifford kiracofe

Of course there is NO corruption at all in the US in politics and in business not to mention the military. None whatsoever and the whole world knows this. Never has been, never will be.

This is one reason we are the "leader" of the "international community."

Because we are lily white, we can tell the rest of the world what to do. We are "pure" and "they"--the "Other" is not....it is corrupt. How horrible. They, the "Other", certainly need correction from the lily white United States.

Because our motives are "pure" we should naturally dictate to the world....all those corrupt wogs out there after all.

Besides, according to the Bible we are the Chosen Nation (after Israel that is) so we have a "moral" duty to dictate to the world and to protect Israel.

On the other hand, one can argue more credibly that anti-corruption campaigns like human rights campaigns are pretty thin cover for political warfare.


With Congress being the most corrupt institution I can think of (see their sellout to AIPAC) there is little light the U.S. can claim in that field.

Then there is whole logistic line the U.S. military has completely outsourced in Afghanistan.
Private companies running the logistic lines paying bribes left and right to get "stuff" through to the U.S. bases.
Those bribes go to "security companies" feeding the rich in Kabul as well as to the Taliban. Now everyone involved in that line wants to keep the business going and would hate for this war to end.

There is also the drug business. The CIA wants Karzai's brother in Kandahar to stay in his position as "an asset." The military wants him to go away because he hinders them. He is the big drug runner. The CIA knows this. What is their interest in the drug business? Weakening the civil societies of the neighboring countries, Iran, China, Russia through drugs? Making money?

It seems like everyone involved there is corrupt but maybe a few Generals. They will work in the corrupt defense industry only after the socialist retirement.

dan bradburd

As Col Lang suggests, there are two problems here. However, the first, whether or not our officers understand "business" seems trivial in contrast to the second, the failure to understand that "corruption" is not an absolute entity but is, instead, a cultural construct. As the colonel suggests, what is corruption to us may not be to the Afghans (and lots of other peoples as well)and what is honest to us may seem corrupt to them. This initiative seems another attemptto force the Afghans to live their lives within idealizations of our own cultural constructs. It is more likely to add another layer of anger and distrust to Afghan/American relations than to succeed.
It is not for nothing that Clifford Geertz titled one of his books "Local Knowledge."

frank durkee

A question?: If you know going in what the customs of the area are, and you intend to improve them, why are you surprised when they turn out to be what you knew going in? Why wouldn't you use those customs to your advantage as you were able and to your foes disadvantage as you are able? Do the US rules of war say one cannot do this [ whatever the local 'this' is ]?
In my experience any compotent street level organizer seeks out and works within the norms and mores of the area. These are not necessarily nice, middle class norms and mores, but to be effective one needs to know them and respect them even when seeking to facilitate changes to them. Somehow I think effective COIN would involve something of the same nature. Or did I miss something abouy how it is meant to work?
I am an observor in these areas and am asking as one with little background in these areas to those who do.

Patrick Lang


No. You got it right. pl


In our days of trading in the East, we use a local agent.

Unlike the Australian Wheat Board in Iraq, we steadfastly refused the common and illegal short deliveries, inflated invoices, secret commissions and suchlike.

Invoices and deliveries an accounts matched 100%. As a result, there was some business we never got after 20 years of trying.

We paid our agent his commission on everything.

What he did with all of it was his business.


FD, it is illegal for Americans to bride foreign officials under The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977.

However, we are allowed to give grease payments, oops, special incentives to expedite events, processes, or orders.

You see we are to pure to bride anyone...

frank durkee

I was aware of the act you reference. What I was trying to point to is a different type of economic system and how to work within it to take advantage of what it offers to ones tactics and goals. Stupid illustration perhaps but if warlord/leader "x" can be bought off or neutralized within that system but not ours, and that is congruent with ones goals, why not find a way to make it work? War after all isby definition a situation in which the normative rules have broken down and other rules come into play.



You and many of your contributors have questioned the professionalism and competence of the top American commanders in Afghanistan
(e.g., Walrus’s accusation of “narcissism”).

But is not the real problem that
they have been assigned “Mission Impossible”
by a Washington political/media elite?
Is not the fundamental failure of realism represented by
any number of Washington Post editorials recommending approaches to Af-Pak
that are grounded in total wishful thinking, ignorance, and unreality?
And, finally, is not the one man in Washington who can stand tall regarding Afghanistan,
having predicted since 2004, in print, exactly the future,
Michael Scheuer?
And yet, due to his philistinism regarding Israel,
he is the one most left out in the cold.
So much for justice.



You'll never make it in the ranks of beltway consultants....

The Twisted Genius

The Pentagon has conducted surveys in Afghanistan and discovered nearly a trillion dollars of untapped mineral resources, most notably lithium. Now we have an economical reason to keep the occupation going. The article even has a quote from Petraeus, "There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”

Now our troops may have the opportunity to die for the mining industry. That ought to go over well on the home front. My guess is that China will come out the winner here.



There is one Lobby that trumps AIPAC; namely the U.S. Military. It was able to veto the sale of advanced Israeli drones and other military hardware to mainland China.

Iran has historically retaliated against the Israeli and U.S. covert and overt war against it by driving up the casaulties in the Irak and Afghan theatres. Dubya finally wised up, cooled it for a while with Iran, Iran reciprocated, & the Surge had a chance to succeed in Irak.

Inexplicably, Gates & company suicidally signed off on the latest round of Iran sanctions. The results can almost be seen immediately in Irak and Afghanistan. A chopper goes down in Afghanistan. British Prime Minister Cameron has to cancel his trip to Bastion because of fears that the Taliban have acquired the equivalent of Stingers and his helicopter might be shot down. Wonder what third party would have supplied these anti-aircraft weapons all of a sudden?


Frank, I was agreeing with you, just don't use "brides" when special incentives sound so much better.

I have posted before that we should cut a deal and get out of this mess, these people are not going to change to our liking regardless of what we do.

Ali Mirza


"Stupid illustration perhaps but if warlord/leader "x" can be bought off or neutralized within that system but not ours, and that is congruent with ones goals, why not find a way to make it work? War after all is by definition a situation in which the normative rules have broken down and other rules come into play."

So considering AIPAC/Congress, is Israel in a state of war with the US. Wow, they have bought off the entire US congress as it is congruent to their goals. International politics is a joke now.
Its so sad one has to laugh (bitterly). Frankly, there seems little difference b/w the politicians of the third/first worlds. Would be so much fun if the entire world had a "Liar Liar" moment ala Jim Carrey.

Ali MIrza

clifford kiracofe


Yes, resource wars...I remember working on them back in the 1970s with respect to Southern Africa. Assignments took me out that way to SA and Zim and Namibia. In SA I met with mining folks and railroad folks and so on not to mention the usual security services and the navy types ("Cape Route", remember?) and all that.

A couple years ago, a colleague of mine who edits an academic journal on Africa suggested I dust off my Southern Africa/resrouce war interest and write something up on the current situation. I demurred having been there and done that three decades ago.

From the BGS anent Afghanistan:


And what about the Chinese out there? Old news but:

"...morituri te salutamus."

Sidney O. Smith III

Professor Kiracofe:

Aren't you affliated with VMI? Have you guys considered honoring the USS Liberty vets in some way? Say at halftime of a football game and ask Senator Webb to speak during halftime to honor them and then speak on how the VMI tradition has supported the Liberty vets while others have not and that perhaps Annapolis should look up to VMI as a shining example of leadership?

clifford kiracofe

Sidney Smith,

I teach at VMI but am low on the totem pole thus your suggestion is way above my rank (civilian) and pay grade.

General Marshall was no doubt correct in his position on Palestine but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since.

Sidney O. Smith III

Prof. K

Well, you certainly are a learned man. Whatever path you took, it led you to the cutting edge. And isn’t that all that matters? For you, it was the civilian path that got you there. For others, it may be different. (ain't that what Western literature suggests?)

And yes, it is strange how people are ignoring the wisdom of George Marshall, not to mention George Washington. Maybe St. George Tucker, while we are at it. (William and Mary plug, although I believe some of his descendants taught law at W and L).

My path, for what is worth, has me ordering all star specials at the Waffle House from time to time. I am blessed.

Cold War Zoomie

Maybe us peons see life more clearly since we're not part of the "leadership" clique. Nope, we're the worker bees who must make their visions come true, working with counterpart worker bees whether they be Afghan villagers or Honduran conscripts or British squaddies. You name it.

I said years ago that Afghanistan was a free-for-all at the bottom, and a bottom up approach was needed. And one of the first steps was to leverage the inherent corruption in their society for our favor by throwing around piles of cash to the little guys at the bottom. Who has more truckloads of greenbacks to spend, us or the Taliban? We know that answer. Others have said the same thing on these pages much more eloquently than I.

It's becoming obviously clear that the life us peons spend while overseas running around with the hoi polloi provides a much better education than the officer class receives by mingling in the "better" circles.

That's just one issue among many.

Cold War Zoomie

And I'll add one more thing after living the high life in Central America: corruption is a wonderful thing when you are the one with the most money.

We Gringos got whatever we wanted, for relatively little cash. And a lot of Hondurans were very happy to see us when we rolled into view.

It ain't rocket science!

Cold War Zoomie

...all star specials at the Waffle House from time to time.

Oh man, the Awful House. How I miss thee!

clifford kiracofe

Sidney Smith,

A Henry St. George Tucker taught at Washington and Lee (where I also teach). He was Dean of the Law School here and also at George Washington U in DC.

I strongly recommend his book "Limitations on the Treaty Making Power" (Boston: Litle Brown, 1905). He wrote "Tucker on the Constitution" as well.

He was the grandson of the Henry St. George Tucker who taught at William and Mary and also at the University of Virginia.

Had no idea anyone today would remember the name. These were significant figures in American law. My father was a lawyer so I have a particular interest in legal history, a subject to which he introduced me. Delighted by your reference.

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