Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bribery of the Checkpoint Guards

Imagine a world without corruption. Afghanistan would no longer be an issue; the people, however tribal they really are, would trust their leaders. China’s growth would accelerate and local people would explode with even greater pride at what that nation has accomplished. Efficiencies in technology and economic growth would become staggering. In Russia, seemingly random (but mostly certainly not) acts of murder of political and business functionaries would stop, and the only folks to lose their jobs are the tens of thousands of absolutely necessary bodyguards. Mexico’s lower classes would find their standard of living skyrocketing, and drug cartels would find their hold on the trafficking routes slipping away. Many American politicians would live more modestly, and special interest legislation would not carry the same pernicious weight currently felt in government offices everywhere – buildings and bridges would be safer and tax dollars would lose a massive “inefficiency burden” instantly.

But alas, corruption is more deeply rooted in human tradition than heart disease or cancer and probably kills more people. The two words that describe the impact of corruption on the people of the planet are sadness and waste. The slightest payment of the least important government official to look the other way or grant a favor that really shouldn’t be granted… ripples like a small wave that gives birth to a tsunami of incalculable destruction. There are no small missteps of inconsequential impact in the world of corruption. It does tend to be a black and white issue. Bernie Madoff started with a small step and found himself unable to stop the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

Corruption – graft, bribery, misfeasance – is bad in the United States, but at least we have the press and the FBI in hot pursuit, looking for the missteps and pointing fingers. We do investigate, arrest and convict many of those who have crossed the line. Fallen but heroes no longer, we vilify those who have taken our trust and then deceived us. In many countries of the world, those on top have benefitted greatly from the flow of money and favors and are not about to cut off the epidemic of graft from below. Badly paid third world officials almost uniformly supplement their incomes with extracurricular revenues. It is the way of life in the second and third world, where governments seldom investigate themselves and where rich people avoid hefty and needed tax burdens with the slip of an envelope stuffed with cash to the right tax official.

We’ve paid over a trillion dollars (about $900 billion in direct military costs alone in Iraq according to our own Congressional Research Service) for the pleasure of invading a country, deposing a dictator we once funded, establishing a political system that the people don’t seem to want and most certainly isn’t working as we begin to withdraw and to stop the development of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Think of the American lives extinguished in this nasty endeavor! Bomb blasts from disenfranchised minorities are still killing scores of innocents at a time, particularly in the Iraqi capital. We refer to these folks as terrorists, Islamist or insurgents. But would it bother you at all to know that government guards were paid to look the other way?

The October 28th New York Times: “A recent internal report on corruption by the inspector general of the [Iraqi] Interior Ministry specifically mentions the bribery of checkpoint guards: The blast on Sunday at the Justice Ministry, surrounded by checkpoints, killed nearly 160 people, while a similar attack in August on the Foreign and Finance Ministries killed at least 122.

‘These car bombs didn’t come from the sky!’ said Judge Abdul Sattar al-Beiriqdar, spokesman for the Higher Judicial Council. ‘They must have been driven in streets until they reached their target. If there were no corruption, the attackers wouldn’t risk passing through these checkpoints.’”

Simply put, American taxpayers have paid to install one of the most truly corrupt regimes imaginable into this ancient land. The Times: “Money is skimmed off of salaries. Contracts are manipulated and fudged to wring personal profit. Ghost police officers are listed on payrolls so commanders can take the salaries, and other police officers are told they are fired even as commanders continue to take their pay. Criminals and insurgents are freed with a well-placed bribe, criminal records are expunged for payment, detainees are abused by guards in order to extort money from relatives… Beyond the outright financial corruption, there is also political corruption, in which the parties vying for power here look to secure the loyalty of large chunks of the security apparatus, according to Iraqi and Western officials.”

And then there’s the Karzai government in Afghanistan that makes the Iraqi government look like a model for a trustworthy and honest government. Abdullah Abdullah, President Hamid Karzai’s rival, is quitting the runoff election – calling for a boycott of that election (which now has only one candidate anyway) – as a hopeless effort in a profoundly corrupt nation, where even the United Nations observers threw out as fake nearly a third of the ballots of the recent election that forced the runoff . The November 1st New York Times: “‘All the infrastructure that caused the elections to be flawed and wrecked are still there,’ said Ahmed Wali Massoud, an Abdullah adviser. ‘I don’t know how anyone can go to an election with these conditions.’” Would there even be an election? Would the Taliban violence in the last election escalate? And exactly why are the NATO forces – led by the U.S. – fighting on behalf of a government without legitimacy or probably even a constituency? Your tax dollars at work.

I’m Peter Dekom, and I think we need to look at corruption before we make decisions about sending more troops anywhere!

No comments: