Where’s the outrage?

Posted: October 25, 2010 in Af/Pak, Middle East, South Asia, U.S., Uncategorized
Tags: ,

The New York Times reported on Sunday that a top aide of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was receiving cash by the bagful from the government of Iran.  Karzai stopped denying the story today, stating,

“They give us bags of money – yes, yes it is done,” Mr. Karzai said. “We are grateful to the Iranians for this. Patriotism has a price”

Wait, what kind of money are we talking about here, a couple thousand dollars perhaps? Not even in the ballpark. Afghan officials told the Times that individual payments ranged as high as $6 million. I know this was only reported yesterday, but where is the outrage?  This blatant bribery by Iran, a state sanctioned by the United States and most of the world, shows us the nature of the Afghan government we’re fighting to support. I’m not sure if bags of cash were listed in UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (the most recent resolution sanctioning Iran), but perhaps we should think of lobbying for their addition.

President Karzai’s rhetoric recently has become increasingly anti-Western and anti-NATO.  Whether that’s the Iranian cash talking or simple pandering to domestic sentiment (unlikely due to mixed polls on U.S. popularity), it’s hard to tell.  But this event further signals the erratic and downright corrupt nature of the regime we’re fighting for.  Why do we put up with it? Because the U.S. Government doesn’t believe it has an alternative to Karzai.  We’ve staked our hopes on him and we don’t know what to do if he turns out to be as corrupt as all this evidence shows.

Let’s just hope these bags of cash don’t make Iran’s word more important than NATO’s in influencing Afghan policy, or Afghanistan may start buying uranium for its own nuclear research reactor.


  1. Eric says:

    Why exactly is it wrong for Iran to meddle in the affairs of its next-door neighbor, while the United States has a free hand to do so? Why is our money okay and Iran’s isn’t?

    Karzai isn’t stupid. Anti-Western rhetoric has a powerful ability to help him in the domestic sphere politically, and to curry favor with regional powers who he will need the support of if his government is going to have any hope if/when the American presence in the country goes down.

    By all means be skeptical toward the Karzai government, but American interests are not, sad as it is, everyone’s interests. Any government in Afghanistan is going to face the same incentives Karzai has in front of him, and there isn’t a magic fix to make them more amenable to what we would want in an ideal world.

  2. Fifth Indian says:

    Outrage requires surprise, and this isn’t a surprise to most.

    What distinguishes foreign aid from bribery? Conditionality? Which donor attaches more strings to its bags of money than the United States? Even if I weren’t agnostic on the normative implications here, giving financial aid is a lot more aboveboard than passing anti-armor explosives and small arms to the Mahdi Army in Iraq (cf Col. Felter’s dissertation).

    In fact, Iran’s funding doesn’t bother me much at all. Iran’s long-term interests in Afghanistan are pretty close the the United States’: keep the (Sunni, Iran-hating) Taliban and AQ out of power, and shore up Karzai. The only clash with the US might be one of leverage: if the Quds can smuggle guns to a few select proxies in Baghdis or Herat, they might be able to accelerate NATO’s withdrawal; and if they can create temporary chaos at will inside of Afghanistan, the U.S. loses leverage on the nuclear issue.

    As soon as NATO leaves, though, Iran might even be our best hope for a stable Afghanistan. That Tehran sends aid to Kabul shouldn’t worry anyone in Washington. After all, what we give Karzai makes $6 mil look like chump change.

    • Fifth Indian says:

      Also, LAPD–didn’t you just tell write a post called “Why all the worries about Iran”?

      • It was badly phrased perhaps, I wasn’t necessarily making an argument either for worrying or not about Iran. My point here is that a government we’re fighting to prop up is accepting bags of cash from a second government on the list of state-sponsors of terrorism, and is sanctioned by most of the international community.

  3. Amir says:

    Where’s the outrage? The real question is so what? Most observers have suspected that Karzai received support from Iran for years. When he confirmed that support just a few days ago, Karzai claimed that he even told President Bush about the cash transfers. Whether or not that’s true, most U.S. officials weren’t surprised by this information.

    Iran and the U.S. surely aren’t the only states funneling support to Karzai. He sings a different tune to every world leader he meets with, and states like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia see this as an opportunity to gain influence. Karzai’s main concern is self-preservation, and getting cash deliveries from foreign governments helps him buy support domestically. By diversifying his portfolio, he’s able to play countries like the U.S. and Iran off each other, garnering more external assistance (this helps explain the timing of the revelation).

    I think the interesting question is how Iran will use its strategic influence in Afghanistan. It seems as though Iranian and American interests actually align in this instance. Iran wants a stable neighbor that won’t send thousands of refugees flooding across the border during a crisis. But at the same time, it remains cautious of the U.S. presence there. With U.S. troops beginning to withdraw next year, we’ll have to keep a watchful eye on how Iran chooses to leverage its influence over Afghan leaders as the U.S. footprint diminishes.

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