2011 July 04 Monday
Corruption Endemic In Afghanistan

The US intervention in Afghanistan props up a thoroughly corrupt government which is fighting a corrupt Taliban. An AP story highlights the pervasiveness of corruption and bribery in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON ó The farmer picking apples in the outskirts of Kabul must pay the Taliban $33 to ship out each truckload of fruit. The governor sends in armed men to chase workers off job sites if the official bribes arenít paid. Poor neighborhoods never get their U.N.-provided wheat, long since sold on the black market.

Read the whole thing to see how bad it is. Also see this WikiLeaks US diplomatic cable about corruption in Afghanistan. We can't lift up the Afghans into a democratic republic. But why? With one of the world's highest rates of consanguineous (cousin) marriage they lack the attributes necessary to build an uncorrupt society. Consanguinity prevents Middle Eastern political development The US-European intervention in Libya runs up against the same problem with high rates of cousin marriage. What has made Europe so different than the Middle East? Multiple causes no doubt. But "hbd chick" says Europe was able to develop democratic nation-states because the Catholic Church banned consanguineous marriage a long time ago. Critics of the Popes should take note.

Here's a previous explanation I've given on why cousin marriage is the enemy of civil society.

The need for alliances: First off, people are more willing to help their brothers and sisters than their cousins. But they are more willing to help their cousins than to help strangers. Okay, so suppose a man marries his female cousin. Now both he and his wife can go to her brothers and ask for help. They are far more inclined to provide that help because they'll be helping not only their cousin but also their sister with the same act of help.

But if you are married to your male cousin's sister and he is married to your sister you are both far more loyal to each other. But if you are far more loyal to each other you are far less loyal to everyone else. This creates problems in the society as a whole because then there's less motivation to treat all people fairly and do perform acts that benefit everyone.

Middle Eastern societies are very corrupt. Their governments are very inefficient and have bureaucracies that are hard to deal with. You have a hard time getting fair treatment from their bureaucracies and court systems. Why? Lots of the workers in those organizations have primary loyalties outside of the government that are very demanding on them. They've got to cheat and steal from non-relatives in order to fulfill their extended family obligations.

The need for alliances grows out of the lack of ability to deal anonymously with organizations. You've got to have family connections in order to get by. This feeds on itself in a vicious cycle. If you need cousin marriage then you engage in it to help yourself. But that makes you more inclined to screw others which means they need cousin marriage too.

A realistic foreign policy would throw out the last half century of politically correct nonsense about human nature and go back to earlier wisdom for guidance. John Adams on virtue and republics comes to mind:

The Form of Government, which you admire, when its Principles are pure is admirable, indeed, it is productive of every Thing, which is great and excellent among Men. But its Principles are as easily destroyed, as human Nature is corrupted. Such a Government is only to be supported by pure Religion or Austere Morals. Public Virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty: and this public Passion must be Superiour to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions and Interests, nay, their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in Competition with the Rights of Society.

If a people lack Virtue as Adams understood it then US foreign policy should not assume an outcome is possible which relies in that Virtue.

Why doesn't US foreign policy adopt a much more realistic view of the character of individual nations? Why not accept that factors like consanguineous marriage place severe limits on what we can hope to achieve in our many foreign interventions? Unfortunately, too many elite interests stand in the way of a foreign policy shaped around only vital US interests. Part of the problem, I suspect, is as biological as cousin marriage. Daniel Larison notes a recurring theme of invented enemies even in 19th century European statecraft. This problem is not just the result of neoconservatives trying to make the US dominate the Middle East. A bunch of guys with a large amount of military power are going to tend to look around for enemies. The might of the US military attracts people who invent enemies in their minds to the levers that control it.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 July 04 11:36 AM  MidEast Afghanistan

red said at July 4, 2011 12:04 PM:

People like to fight. You need external enemies or people start fighting with in their own nation. A wise nation fights few actual wars but keeps people focused on their external enemies instead of their internal ones. The most unfortunate part about a democratic empire is the fact you must spread democracy. A regular empire would just subject an adjacent nation from time to time but allow them to rule themselves pretty much how they always have while sending the empire a small amount of tribute. Democratic empires must change nations they subjugate for their own good. Do gooders are the root of many problems.

Daybreaker said at July 4, 2011 10:55 PM:

America's basic strategy is to be so big, militarily, to spend so much, that it discourages competition. This can save money and blood in the long run, because you are telling countries that might otherwise ally and start to get into an arms race with you: "don't even try".

The problem is, "if you build it, they will come." "They" are the expatriate, covert and diplomatic assets of almost every country on earth, intent on using the American military machine as their national deterrent and to solve their problems at America's expense.

Some of these countries pull their weight in return for the protection they want, others don't. Some are clients that make sense anyway from a U.S. geopolitical standpoint, others aren't. Some are tremendously effective in getting America to fight wars in their interests rather than America's interests, most are quite ineffective. But the temptation to try to win your wars for the price of a campaign to shape opinion in America is global.

I don't know of any planning that went into negating this danger. (I suspect that the effective planning was all done by people who wanted to ensure that they and not their local rivals got to use the American military.) Anyway, whatever planning was done to ensure that America didn't wind up being lured into dubious conflicts failed.

Ross N. said at July 5, 2011 11:19 AM:

Zbigniew Brzezinski expounded on central asia, stating that whoever holds this area "holds the world." Caspian oil and minerals in Russia, the land bridge between East and West, all of these are key to imperial ambition.

If Europe and Asia ever become EURASIA, and have tyrannical leaders (Russian's or Moslems?), then that could be very bad for us. Trade zones could form, forcing the world into competing spheres. This would suck up lots of resources that would have formerly gone to standard of living imporvements.

I'm definately not a neo-con, but their strategy seems to have become our strategy, and so it should be mentioned.

We are in Afghanistan and Central Asia for strategic reasons.

California kid said at July 5, 2011 12:51 PM:

Another USA attempt to turn brown-skinned people into Oreos. It might work in the case of a few individuals but in the main it fails. The whole thing with African-Americans is a fraud. Here we are in 2011 after 50-60 years of social engineering and huge numbers of them are still stuck in a violent life-style. Will it work any better with Afghans ? America is willing to try. Liberalism is good business. Invest your son (or daughter).

Wolf-Dog said at July 6, 2011 8:15 AM:

As soon as the US leaves Afghanistan (and the cost is prohibitive in the long run), Taliban will revive the training camps of Al Qaeda. We will be back to square once again, minus a lot of blood and treasure lost.

The question is this: what other kind of response will the West choose when there is another 9/11? Even if it is a nuclear 9/11, this time we won't have the resources to invade distant countries, and by then Pakistan will not help us anyway.

As one of the commentators above said, most of the important minerals are in regions that are hostile to Europe. South America is problematic. So there will be very few mines Europe can access if the world becomes much more chaotic. It was Lenin who said: "He who controls Africa, controls Europe."

But the US and Canada still have a lot of mineral resources, and if the new extraction technologies turn out to be as good as they are claimed to be, maybe the US can restart supplying Europe with oil? Or how about new nuclear reactors?

Abelard Lindsey said at July 6, 2011 9:38 AM:


Most of the world is corrupt, even Japan and South Korea. Its an inherent characteristic of much of humanity.

Randall Parker said at July 7, 2011 6:57 PM:

Abelard Lindsey,

What are the odds that a policeman in Finland will demand or accept a bribe?

Same question for Afghanistan.

I trust you see my point.

Engineer-Poet said at July 11, 2011 8:46 AM:

If we have another 9/11, I hope we have the guts to just cover the area with high-fallout bombs and invite India to have some Lebensraum after it cools off.

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