Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thieves of State

I'm pleased to recommend to you a book I just read, Sarah Chayes' Thieves of State, Why Corruption Threatens Global SecurityHere are some excerpts from a review provided by Budd Shenkin:

Chayes' thesis is that failed states are not really failed states, they are countries captured and run by criminal associations. Their modus operandi is the shakedown at all levels. Therefore, the strategy of the United States – first to establish stability and only afterwards to root out corruption – does not and cannot work. Oppression is not a good strategy for the long term.

Chayes starts with Afghanistan, where she started out working for NPR and then left to work for an NGO headed by the older brother of one Hamid Karzai. She soon discovered that the Karzai's could easily have been directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the only problem being to decide who was Michael, who was Sonny, and who was Fredo. She literally watched the CIA hand over large bills to one of the brothers wrapped in aluminum foil. She did not witness the obtaining of a receipt.
Chayes' thesis to end corruption first is based on obtaining the good will of the people. They are the ones who are actually oppressed and extorted. Chayes cites four or five “mirror” would-be ruler advisers, the most familiar being Machiavelli, who have sought to bring reason to rulers through the ages. They all say the same thing, that you have to be basically fair to the people, responsible for them in rooting out the corruption of your subordinates, etc. If you don't act this way, they will revolt, and that the revolt will often be based on an extreme religious element, such as Martin Luther. Viewed this way, one comes to think of the Taliban and other Islamic movements as a typical reaction to official corruption.  
It's nice to think of a Westphalian world where states respect each others' boundaries and internal politics, where legitimacy is respected inside and outside of the state. Unfortunately, with these kleptocratic states, that's not going to be possible. They will experience upheaval and threaten those around them and increasingly the rest of the globalized world. It's not a bad idea to try to help the states develop internal legitimacy and coherence. But to help them, the helpers need to understand both those states and the mirror-writers and history. There is little evidence that this is happening at anything like the scale we need.

It's a powerful argument in a short book.

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