How Does Bribery, Corruption, and Heroin Support Democracy?

This is one of those stories that have been reported before in piecemeal fashion, but the New York Times has hit is again: “With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan.”

“The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing. Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan. ‘The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,’ one American official said, ‘was the United States.’”

The money flowing into the Afghan government might make us wonder why those fighting our soldiers are called “insurgents.” After all, even if we assume they are fighting against the Afghan government, and not US forces, the fact remains that they are fighting against a government that is receiving foreign funds.

The only good news in this scenario seems to be that the money didn’t work. Karzai has not acted like a bought politician. If that is true, I doubt it is only due to Karzai’s character. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that Karzai knows he has to keep the Afghan people happy and figure out a workable plan with the threat of the Taliban. This wouldn’t be due to Afghan ballots, which he can probably control, but to Afghan bullets, which he doesn’t want aimed at himself or his government.

But the money seems to still have consequences:

“…much of the C.I.A.’s money goes to paying off warlords and politicians, many of whom have ties to the drug trade and, in some cases, the Taliban. The result, American and Afghan officials said, is that the agency has greased the wheels of the same patronage networks that American diplomats and law enforcement agents have struggled unsuccessfully to dismantle, leaving the government in the grips of what are basically organized crime syndicates.”

One other point of this story, is that we really have no “friends” or “allies” in Afghanistan at all. It is one thing to use money or influence to sweeten or ensure a basic friendship between governments. It is another thing to simply hire mercenaries. From what is stated in the story, I think it is probably that we have only hired mercenaries in many cases:

“Handing out cash has been standard procedure for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan since the start of the war. During the 2001 invasion, agency cash bought the services of numerous warlords, including Muhammad Qasim Fahim, the current first vice president. ‘We paid them to overthrow the Taliban,’ the American official said. The C.I.A. then kept paying the Afghans to keep fighting. For instance, Mr. Karzai’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was paid by the C.I.A. to run the Kandahar Strike Force, a militia used by the agency to combat militants, until his assassination in 2011. A number of senior officials on the Afghan National Security Council are also individually on the agency’s payroll, Afghan officials said.”

Ahmed Wali Karzai was also a chief leader in the opium trade. If this is the democracy our leaders export, what kind of democracy can we expect to take shape on the home front?