Foreign Policy Blogs

A quick anti-corruption stopover

Last week President Obama flew to Afghanistan to rally the troops before the upcoming offensive in Kandahar. He also paid a visit to President Karzai. According to the Associated Press, “The trip was intended to let Obama tell Karzai that he must deal with corruption and cut the flow of money from poppy production and drug trafficking that is sustaining the insurgency.” As if a quick flight to Afghanistan in absolute secrecy amid extremely high security concerns is a small price to pay in the name of anti-corruption.

Perhaps it is. Afghanistan’s corruption situation does not appear to have changed much over the months since the fraudulent presidential election in 2009. The United States is hoping it is headed for the end-game in Afghanistan, but this may require partnership with clean Afghan government and not just Obama’s 30,000 additional troops. Any country’s problems can only truly be solved by its own people, but in Afghanistan’s case the particular problem of criminal elements infiltrated into the public and private sectors means that the people pulling the strings are not those on the Americans’ side (not that it’s really clear who is on the Americans’ side these days).

Obama’s trip gives a powerful message that fighting corruption is a priority for the administration, at least in Afghanistan. That message may not have come across. Karzai has his own battles to fight at home, and the United States’s anti-corruption agenda is likely a low priority. As Karzai plays to the domestic crowd with accusations such as that the United States was the perpetrator of last year’s election fraud, the Obama administration may wish it had rigged the election a bit more securely.