It’s the most understandable, intuitive and tempting mistake in geopolitics: secretly pay a powerful foreigner to do what you want. The CIA, like many spy agencies, has done it throughout its history, and now we know it helped undermine the America’s longest war.
Nearly every month since the war began in 2001, the CIA has sent a guy over to Afghan President Hamid Karzai with a bag — sometimes a suitcase, sometimes a backpack, sometimes a shopping bag — full of cash. His former chief of staff says they used to call it “ghost money,” and it totals tens of millions of dollars, according to an eye-opening New York Times story. Quite the hypocritical twist from a sponsor country that so frequently hectors Karzai about corruption. “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” a U.S. official levels with the paper’s Matthew Rosenberg, “was the United States.”
When Iran pays off Karzai, it’s disruptive foreign meddling. But when the CIA does it, it’s supposed to be an insurance policy to entrench U.S. influence in the president’s office. Alas, there’s something more important than influence in geopolitics: leverage. When Washington most needed leverage with Karzai, it didn’t have much — at least not that it was prepared to use — and the CIA ghost money helps explain why.
Consider some of the U.S.’ goals in Afghanistan over the past several years. (Put aside whether you think they’re smart or stupid.) In 2009, the Obama administration began pressing Karzai to clean up his kleptocratic government and expand its institutional capacity to provide services to a dispersed population. Where once the U.S. hugged Karzai close and publicly praised him, diplomats and top officials began talking more about free and fair presidential elections. During that election season, someone decided to let slip that Karzai’s brother was on the CIA payroll.
On April 13, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority resigned. It was an easy development to miss, but not one to be ignored. It was very bad news, because Salam Fayyad was the “Arab Spring” before there was an Arab Spring. That is, he was what the Arab Spring was supposed to lead to: a new generation of decent Arab leaders whose primary focus would be the human development of their own people, not the enrichment of their family, tribe, sect or party. That Fayyad’s brand of noncorrupt, institution-focused leadership was not sufficiently supported by other Palestinian leaders, the Arab states, Israel and America is really depressing. It does not bode well for the revolutions in Egypt, Syria or Tunisia — none of which have a Fayyad-quality leader at the helm.
Who is Salam Fayyad? A former economist at the International Monetary Fund, he first came to prominence when he was named finance minister of the Palestinian Authority in 2002, after donors got fed up seeing their contributions diverted for corruption. Shortly after he became prime minister in 2007, I coined the term “Fayyadism” — the all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or resistance to Israel and the West or on personality cults or security services, but on delivering decent, transparent, accountable governance.
Fayyad “dried up all slush accounts and went against Yasir Arafat’s orders by insisting on paying all security officials by direct bank account (rather than with cash given to their commanders based on a questionable list of personnel),” wrote Daoud Kuttab, a prominent Palestinian journalist, in The Jewish Daily Forward. “Fayyad also became the first Arab government official to publish his government’s entire budget online, ushering a new transparency not seen in the entire Arab region.”
More: Goodbye to All That
Just a quick personal story: I took a bus across the Midwest yesterday. As I was waiting to load my bag into the baggage compartment, I saw the handler refuse to take on another passenger’s (large and heavy) suitcase, telling him “you’re not going anywhere today”.
Anyway, after everyone else’s bag had been loaded and we were waiting to board, I noticed the two men in conversation. After a brief discussion, money changed hands and the bag was loaded.
That’s the sort of thing I remember seeing from travels in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s not the kind of thing I expect to see in the US. I can’t exactly blame the handler though. He’s on minimum wage with no benefits, and probably has to buy his own work uniform. If I was in that situation I’d probably find ways to make a few bucks on the side too.
Reclaiming the American Republic from the corruption of election funding
There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens. That’s the argument at the core of this blistering talk by legal scholar Lawrence Lessig. With rapid-fire visuals, he shows how the funding process weakens the Republic in the most fundamental way, and issues a rallying bipartisan cry that will resonate with many in the U.S. and beyond.
Brian S. Bentley is a former LAPD officer who had many experiences similar to those of Christopher J. Dorner. He was fired after detailing numerous accounts of racism misconduct, and corruption in a book called One Time : The Story of a South Central Los Angeles Police Officer. Before he was fired, he was the subject of a departmental investigation led by two officers he discussed in his book, one of whom had been promoted to Internal Affairs, and after several interrogations, Bentley was given a charge of misconduct himself for every incident of misconduct he reported on in his book, giving him the dubious distinction of having more charges of police misconduct than any officer in the entire history of the LAPD.
And when he left the department, he had his own “manifesto,” only it didn’t involve killing anyone, just a list of the people who had screwed him over during his LAPD career.
When Brian Bentley joined the LAPD, he explains that it during the time that personnel complaints were not taken.
He remembers trying to make a complaint to his captain about the racism he experienced and was told, ‘I’ve been on the job for 35 years, you don’t think I know there’s racism. Who do you want me to bring it to? The deputy chief or the chief are just as racist?’ and then proceeded to kick him out of his office.
When asked if he thought the Department had changed since he was a part of it, Brian said no.
Diversity training for officers not just in how to deal with the community that they serve, but with the officers they work with, is part of what’s needed he says.
“Even though officers today can file personnel complaints—look at what happens,” he says referring to Christopher Dorner. “There are clearly flaws in the system and Dorner is just one example of something that African-American officers have been experiencing for decades in the LAPD.”
Brian said that he’s still in close contact with friends who are LAPD officers and he says that he knows for a fact that it’s still a bad environment for African-American officers.
Sadly he recalls the experience of three of his fellow officers who also had manifestos similar to Christopher Dorner’s, two black officers and one white female officer, who – instead of acting on their manifestos – committed suicide. It’s something that Brian says is common amongst officers who are terminated and believe the Department has wronged them.
Read the whole article here
Good read and a bit unsettling.
By Karen Elliott House, Published: September 14
From afar, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia appears immune from the turmoil and uncertainty engulfing nations such as Syria, Egypt and Libya. But rather than being an oasis of stability in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is nearing its own crisis point.
The elderly sons of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, who have ruled sequentially since his death in 1953, are approaching the end of the line. And as that happens, the future of this kingdom on which the world depends for oil has never been more precarious.
The three historic pillars of Saudi stability are cracking.King Abdullah is nearly 90 and ailing. Crown Prince Salman is 76. The royal family can continue to pass the monarchy to remaining brothers and half-brothers, but even the youngest of those is already in his late 60s. None is likely to have the acumen and energy — or even the time — to usher in an era of reform to solve the kingdom’s mounting problems: poor education, high unemployment, a corrupt bureaucracy, a sclerotic economy and an increasingly young and frustrated society. These domestic challenges are compounded by external ones including Middle East turmoil, the nuclear ambition of the radical regime in Iran and a fraying alliance with the United States.
The three historic pillars of Saudi stability are cracking. Massive oil revenue, which has bought public passivity, is threatened by peaked production and sharply increased domestic energy consumption. A supportive Wahhabi Islamic establishment that bestowed legitimacy on the House of Saud is increasingly fractious and is losing public credibility. And now, the royal family is in danger of division as it is forced to confront generational succession.
Whether by the choice of the royal family sooner, or by the will of Allah a bit later, the crown is going to pass to the new generation. This entails risk as well as opportunity. […]
Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s.
Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s.
Inmates: Richland Parish Detention Center (Scott Threlkeld, The Times-Picayune)
The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash. A majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt.
Several homegrown private prison companies command a slice of the market. But in a uniquely Louisiana twist, most prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs, who hold tremendous sway in remote parishes like Madison, Avoyelles, East Carroll and Concordia. A good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations.
Everyone knows that China is on the rise, that the United States is in decline, and that the two countries depend upon each other more than ever to solve global problems. As it has since the onset of the global financial crisis, this received wisdom in part shapes the U.S.-China relationship, including at bilateral forums such as this week’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED). But what if this “wisdom” is wrong?
The S&ED, though overshadowed by the drama over the fate of activist Chen Guangcheng, addressed other critical issues such as North Korea, Syria, and bilateral economic tensions. But even without the Chen case, Washington and Beijing are approaching each other with more apprehension than usual these days due to each country’s ongoing concerns about the other’s strategic intentions. For the United States, the growing fear is that it will be “eclipsed” — that one day China will dominate Asia. For China, the perpetual fear is America’s overreaction to its rise. Chinese leaders, with some justification, view the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia as a move to contain China’s growing power and keep it down.
But the United States and China are worrying about the wrong things. The downfall of popular Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai exposed the high-stakes political struggles in Beijing during a period of political succession. And though we do not know Chen’s motivations for planning his escape during this already shaky period, a negative outcome of this drama could lead to further incidents involving activists who might sense cracks in the system. These sudden changes and their longer-term implications should cause Washington to be more worried about an unstable and unpredictable, yet likely still authoritarian, China. In the United States, a nationwide weariness with global leadership is manifested most concretely in a reluctance to fully fund its grand strategy, even though this will undercut the stated political goals that have provided the conditions for great-power peace in Asia. Beijing should be more troubled by a United States that cannot or will not fulfill its global obligations.
Officials in Beijing often try to reassure their counterparts in Washington that China “does not want to be No. 1” on the world stage. Americans watch China’s assertiveness in Asia and greet this reassurance with skepticism. In turn, Washington cajoles Beijing to take on more global responsibility. The Chinese view this as a trap — a way for America to tie China down in any number of international quagmires.
But, in fact, neither side is entirely disingenuous. Not only does China eschew the burdens of being “No. 1,” but the events of recent months demonstrate why it is not currently in a position to be a global leader. Meanwhile, the United States truly is looking to enhance cooperation with partner nations that could lead to the sharing of great-power burdens in the future. There was once a real hope that China might play such a role by applying real pressure to North Korea on its nuclear program or in policing the global commons. However, on these issues, China has largely indicated an unwillingness to play a constructive role.
The United States must adjust to deal with a changing China. Though it is maintaining a veneer of internal harmony, the Communist Party is spooked. The Bo scandal revealed the mafia-like nature of Chinese politics. The fate of Chen and his supporters is uncertain, even after the deal announced Friday, May 4, but their case does demonstrate the determination of reform-minded individuals to shed international light on Chinese human rights abuses and give credence to the fact that the government’s view is not the only one.
Growing internal fractures will make China a less predictable and pricklier power that remains authoritarian. But a weak China is nothing to celebrate, especially since the country’s failure to enact any democratic reform will make the potential fallout from a political crisis more dangerous. There are no Chinese institutions other than the military that can hold the country together if the leadership fails. A strong, authoritarian China has already demonstrated little interest in upholding the liberal international order. But a brittle authoritarian power may be even less likely to do so. Indeed, a China beset by strife, with a growing role for the military, may well lash out against its neighbors more forcefully. Washington’s mistake is assuming that the China it knows today is the one it will know tomorrow.