The CIA’s Self-Fulfilling Premises in Afghanistan

Dexter Filkins has a good dispatch from Afghanistan — or as the headline dubs it, “Corrupt-istan.” He (correctly, in my opinion) criticizes all too many senior U.S. officials for their condescending attitude toward governance in Afghanistan:

Since 2001, one of the unquestioned premises of American and NATO policy has been that ordinary Afghans don’t view public corruption in quite the same way that Americans and others do in the West. Diplomats, military officers and senior officials flying in from Washington often say privately that while public graft is pernicious, there is no point in trying to abolish it — and that trying to do so could destroy the very government the West has helped to build.

Filkins notes that this has become a self-fulfilling premise with the CIA, for example, “putting on its payroll some of the most disputable members of Mr. Karzai’s government.” But ordinary Afghans turn out to be just as disgusted by widespread corruption as ordinary Americans would be. Writes Filkins:

Ahmed Shah Hakimi, who runs a currency exchange in Kabul, had just finished explaining some of the shadowy dealings of the business and political elite when he stopped in disgust.

Hakimi’s attitude is, indeed, widespread in Afghanistan. There is little of the “tolerance” for corruption that senior American officials seem to think is prevalent. Instead, corruption is driving more and more Afghans into the arms of the Taliban, who claim to crack down on immorality. That makes it imperative to reduce the runaway graft that is fueled by Western money. General David Petraeus realizes that; he is bent on reducing the power of what his aides call, according to Filkins, “the MAN” — short for “malign actor network.” But other U.S. agencies, especially the CIA, are working at cross-purposes by empowering the “MAN.” There needs to be greater cohesion from the top of the administration to make sure that all agencies of the U.S. government work together to push Afghanistan in the right direction.