In this week’s New Yorker, TCF fellow Patrick Radden Keefe takes a look at corruption: all nations have it, but just when is it too much? In “Corruption and Revolt,” Keefe tracks Sarah Chayes’ attempt to work with the Karzai administration over the past decade to install and anti-corruption regime in modern-day Afghanistan.
“The classic error that outsiders make in Afghanistan is to single out a proxy,” Chayes writes. The predicament is familiar: the foreign interloper, whether a journalist, a general, or a colonial administrator, arrives ignorant of the local languages and customs, and needs someone who can serve as interpreter and guide. The foreigner often pays (or overpays) for this arrangement, with money or some other inducement, and thus a codependence between proxy and patron is born. A central theme of “Thieves of the State” is the subtle power that these proxies can accumulate and the tendency for the unschooled yet profligate outsider to become hopelessly stymied by his man on the ground.
What are the implications for U.S. foreign policy? One disturbing conclusion is that the “United States has a tendency not just to ignore international corruption but to compound it, and that in places like Afghanistan this willful ignorance can be destabilizing and dangerous.”
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