The Wall Street Journal has a curious front-page story in its weekend edition about the history of shameful neglect at Dawood National Military Hospital, Afghanistan’s version of Walter Reed. After spending nearly a full broadsheet page describing the horrifying neglect of soldiers and police wounded in action—some were allowed to starve to death or die of simple infections because they could not pay bribes for food and medicine—the article notes that last December, the Afghan army’s politically connected surgeon general, Gen. Ahmed Zia Yaftali, who was widely seen as the chief culprit, was removed from his post. This occurred, the article notes, because Gen. David Petraeus personally raised the issue with President Karzai.
In the penultimate paragraph one reads this: “The hospital has seen major improvements since then. A surge of coalition military mentors is helping ensure that Afghan nurses and doctors conduct regular checkups of patients and provide routine feedings and dressing changes. There haven’t been any documented cases of starvation since February, American mentors say.”
In other words, the conclusion of the article directly contradicts its premise, stated on the front page: “The way senior Afghan officials tolerated such deadly graft shows just how deeply rooted corruption has become in President Hamid Karzai’s administration, as well as the limits of Washington’s ability to rein it in.” In point of fact, while the article does demonstrate the depth of corruption in Afghanistan (hardly a news flash), it also shows that, with concerted top-level action, the U.S. can rein it in. Petraeus did just that in the case of the military hospital, which is now widely cited as one of the biggest American successes in fighting corruption.
Corruption is a major issue in Afghanistan–maybe even the biggest issue because it drives people into the Taliban’s arms—but fighting it is hardly a mission impossible. All that is needed is to make it a higher priority—which Gen. Petraeus finally did after taking command last summer.