Culture of Corruption

We are approaching our tenth year of the war in Afghanistan. A recent Charlie Rose update on this topic reminded me of just how dire the situation there is.

The biggest problem in my mind is not the violence, the poverty, the instability, etc. The biggest problem is the corruption at all levels of government including at the village level (though it could be argued that corruption is just the symptom not the disease).

This is especially clear to me when compared to an example on the other side of the ethical spectrum, a person who I happen to work with closely: a research advisor, colleague, and friend of mine, Moshe, who happens to be the current IEEE president. We talk often and joke about many absurd aspects of the world, but even in jokes or careless conversation there is never an indication of a chink in his professional ethics “armor”. IEEE is an international organization in the full meaning of the word international, so garnering a culture of ethical behavior in all those regions is a tough job but it starts at the top. In this regard, to me, IEEE is a success story, while the government in Afghanistan (with Hamid Karzai at the head) is a failure. What is the difference? What makes one ethically sound and the other a chaos of unproductive greed.

What drives the ethics of a human being when he receives one hundred, one million, or one billion dollars to distribute to the people he represents? I don’t know, but it feels like the right decision requires character, and a strong character requires a lifetime of practice. This makes me think that the culture of corruption in Afghanistan is not going to be resolved by July 2012, July 2022, or perhaps any of our lifetimes.

What then is the role of the United States in all this mess? … When every dollar we send there is more likely to end up in a pocket of a fat cat than a starving child with no access to clean water, medicine, or school.

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