September 16th, 2010
05:37 PM ET

White House mulls: Just how much Afghan corruption is too much?

Obama Administration sources say the U.S. is undergoing a gut-check about how to approach the Afghan corruption issue. While everyone acknowledges corruption is an important problem that must be addressed, there is concern in the administration that the near-myopic focus on corruption over the last several months is detracting from the bigger picture.

Recent discussions, including a White House meeting on Afghanistan this week, have centered around the most productive way to approach the corruption issue, according to the source.  Central to the conversation was how corruption plays into U.S. goals in Afghanistan and what can the U.S. realistically expect in terms of combating corruption.

While Afghanistan has recently been viewed as corrupt from top to bottom, the administration seems to be considering taking a more nuanced view about what actually constitutes corruption, the sources explained. There is the "predatory" corruption that the police and other law enforcement and government officials are engaged in, which affects Afghans' daily lives. That is considered the most dangerous kind, which many in the administration think the U.S. should be focusing on.

But officials realize "baksheesh," the practice of small bribes which are part of doing business in Afghanistan, is never going to be completely eliminated. In short, a police chief on the take which influences arrests of Afghan citizens is dangerous, but is some mid-level official getting a freebie going to be the death of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan?

There is a lot of ambivalence and confusion about Karzai in the administration.  His often controversial public statements stand in contrast to private discussions, the sources said, and the U.S. is trying to find the right steps to work with him to benefit the U.S. goals. There is a recognition that Karzai is not perfect. But some camps in the administration do think he has legitimate gripes when he speaks of the humiliation he suffers when the international community talks ad nauseam about cleaning up his corrupt country.

When we were in Afghanistan earlier this month, CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty and I often heard the phrase "Afghan good enough." Gen. Petraeus used it when referring to Afghan-led military operations, but we also heard it as it relates to the corruption issue. Officials are now saying that if Karzai genuinely does something to tackle corruption, beyond rhetoric, and if Afghans are actually investigating corruption and prosecuting guilty offenders, then that is the U.S. goal at the end of the day.

The Obama administration is starting to realize that maybe it needs to give Karzai the space to do that. It may not fit the strict U.S. definition of adequate anti-corruption efforts, but if it's "good enough" to satisfy the Afghans, then that could meet U.S. objectives. There are going to be conversations with Karzai and allies about this next week in the UN General Assembly, sources told me.

The administration will be thinking through a lot of these issues as it prepares its next review of the Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy, due this December. There is also discussion now about how to explain these complex issues to Congress, which is concerned about U.S. taxpayer dollars fueling corruption, and to an American public who mostly views Afghanistan as a corrupt state. The administration doesn't have easy or pithy answers, officials say. They are simply trying to find the most constructive way to tackle the problem.

soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. USMC Forever

    They asked the experts of corruption, the Democraps and the white house!!!!

    October 27, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Luisa Miranda

    To Blogers
    Your observations are remarkable,full of truths,full of logical thought ,full of ground issues to be salved,full of rightfull anger,a standing out spoken front on religious ,social and political thought of the 21 century.

    like a classroom of students in discussion of vital issues,I enjoy you blogers immensely.I learn a lot from you.I don't participate,have little skill in computers and to slow writting but I am there reading ,learning and enjoying all you say.

    The Bystander Roure

    October 7, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Curt99

    Long before we should worry about corruption in other countries I think we should clean up the corruption in our own banking system, on wall street, at the fed, in the senate, in the congress, and in the elctions and lobbyists, they make afghanistan corruption look like childsplay.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  4. Robert Toth

    Since the early 1980's we've known of the collusion, conspiracy, bribery and distrust amongst and between the locals, yet alone adding un-wanted, culturally & linguistically ignorant Americans to the mix.
    Make poppy growing and selling LEGALLY profitable; Third Worlds countries' hospitalized populations are in need. Cut out the middle man – a.k.a. arms dealers. Has anyone seen "Murphy's War"?!

    September 22, 2010 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  5. U. No Who

    The US Government took over the heroine for Brits & CIA & Israel, hired Kharzi the trafficker to run it.

    September 21, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. U No Who

    The US Gov. took over the heroine for Brits & CIA & Israel, hired Kharzi the trafficker to run it.

    September 21, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. RichP, easton, pa

    DC is 'mulling' how much corruption is too much, give me break. Talk about the inmates running the asylum. LOL

    September 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Gene

    If we know the government is corrupt from top to bottom, why do we keep giving them American taxpayer dollars? Any money provided just lines the government pockets and does nothing to help the people. Are we just stupid or is there a larger picture which only the U.S. government believes exist?

    September 21, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Braveheart

    Keel zem, Keel zem all !

    September 21, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Collin

    How about right here in the good ol U S of A? How much corruption is too much? Come on, lets stop playing the saint we don't do it very well

    September 21, 2010 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  11. chris

    This is a hard one for CNN to tackle since the line between liberal and conservative is so skewed over there. They risk everything they stand for should they expose a liberal.

    September 20, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JEM

    If we were to legalize heroin, the Taliban would disappear into the black hole of gainful employment and our war would be won. Roughly one third of terrorist funding comes from illegal drug profits.

    Unfortunately, too many people would rather loose two wars than legalize drugs

    September 20, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joe NY, NY

    Karzai fired his no. 1 prosecutor just a few weeks ago because he was investigating (and finding) so much corruption among the top ranks of government. Karzai has no credibility anymore; he's become a criminal thug with a charming smile and pretty robes - but he's a greedy, narcissistic thug nonetheless. The good and decent Afghans have little to no chance at power; the corruption is endemic and everywhere, ruthlessly enforced by horrific violence. Afghans take great pride in that they've never been subjugated by another military (as if they're unconquerable) yet after centuries still fail to assert anything resembling a stable society among themselves. If it weren't for opium poppies, it seems they only thing they could grow is rocks and beards. Bullying the weak, taking bribes, beating, cutting up their women, rampant drug addiction - yes, Islamic-based "legal" and social systems work wonders. . . .

    September 20, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  14. D

    No offense, but I am beginning to think we need to clean ours up alot more than we need to worry about theirs...Just look at what Repubs are trying to do w/ health care's nuts, and since the republican owned supreme court is allowing anybody to buy a politician, there's not much hope here for real representation. I don't think America can dictate terms to ANYBODY until we clean this mess up over here.

    September 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • USMC Forever

      D must stand for "DUMB" The Republicans are doing nothing with healthcare, The Health Care debacle is a Liberal Democrap thing. The Supreme Court is NOT Republican, its Liberal and Democrap. Man I just can't believe how lost some Americans are. Get your cranium out of your rectum!!!!

      September 20, 2010 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Affinity

      I actually found this more entretinanig than James Joyce.

      October 2, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • ihceoffzaif

      aSa7DG rzgevswovezd

      October 2, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |

    Just how much Afghan corruption is too much?...


    September 18, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  16. publius enigma

    I thought we were there to fight terrorism. When did the focus shift to corruption and what right do we have to police it in a foreign country?

    September 18, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  17. dan

    like the obama administration has any right to call foul about corruption.

    September 18, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  18. ag

    Clean your own house before pointing fingers at others...

    September 18, 2010 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  19. fred

    please all people upset with wars vote against the extreme right. afganistan is only a country in name. it should be diviided among the warlords who control their turf anyway.karzai just purchased a home in dubai for millions of dollars of his countrys know where he plans on going.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  20. USMC Forever

    This is a very good question, I guess it depends if Washington wants to impose "Their" standards of corruption to this
    situation we would be screwed!!! I like this idea, I guess the experts in Washington should be able to make this call since they are the best in being CORRUPT!!! What a shame that America's Politicians are a bunch of BUMS!!!!! Thats OK, they will be replaced this election, the Tea Party is already kicking their rears. Can anyone believe the Tea Party will probably win!!!

    September 17, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Dennis

    Hmmm, let me think. How much corruption is enough? Let's see, now. First we drop palates of cash...literally palates of cash to be "distributed" to the ??? god knows who. Then we drop thousands of bodies; some ours, some theirs. Then we give the leaders more cash for them to stash, then more bodies, ours and theirs, then more cash, and our esteemed leaders, civilian and military alike say, "we need to invest more cash and more bodies, but we don't know where the cash is going. Not to worry. The bodies we usually find."

    If ANYONE in Congress had some skin in the game, this would have been over a long time ago. But, Congress is paid with taxpayer dollars, so it isn't their money. Then they take more taxpayer dollars to distribute to whomever they think should get it. What a great job! They get flown around the world on the taxpayer dollar; they have staffs on the taxpayer dollar; they get chauffeured around on the taxpayer dollar; and then they ask for more taxpayer dollars. No wonder they love their jobs.
    My solution is simple. if you vote for a war, then someone in your immediate family has to serve on the front lines. And i don't mean in the base camp office. i mean put on the bomb suit!
    Guess what? No more endless, pointless wars!

    September 17, 2010 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  22. Jay

    I am an American Citizen who live in Afghanistan. I have some good idea of how to reduce the corruption but I cannot trust anybody except some official in the United State to talk about. But I do not know how can I contact them. if anybody
    can give me some hint in this area I appreciated. tanks

    September 17, 2010 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  23. Sallie


    September 17, 2010 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  24. Java714

    My father was a disabled American Veteran. I support our troops but our American leaders' agendas are way "Out of Whack." Our leaders, especially those in Washington are not in touch with the America working people at all.
    Also, how did Congress get by with voting for themselves the following policies: Those serving in Congress and the President are granted lifetime benefits including healthcare, COST OF LIVING INCREASES ON AN ANNUAL BASIS (with an exception for one of the recent years when our economy collasped), and many other perks for just serving in Washington. Most working Americans haven't come close to a COL raise/Increase in 10 to 15 years, while the Cost of Living has dramatically increased in AMerica. REALITY: Our leaders' priorities are messed up, many American values and morals have been thrown out the window or traded off for politician's own agenda for their own bank accounts.
    Why should they get "Lifetime Rewards for serving in COngress or as President??????????????????

    Numerous Americans are fed up with the way our country and taxpayer's dollars are handled (MISHANDLED). WHere is the COMMON SENSE that our leaders once had in AMerica???? Our Freedoms in America are threatened with more and more rights & freedom taken away each day. Your giving your best outside America, to people in all other countries, and not to the America people. You are digging a hole for most Americans, and with most American's futures. Please start placing American people's needs first on your agenda and add us back to your priorty list.

    September 17, 2010 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  25. semark

    Since working in low governmental positions people cannot survive on their salaries. Bribes/corruption are for most a necessity to survive in lack of a descent salary. The whole Afghan society is more or less built on these premises
    The corruption is so integrated in the community that many bribes in everyday life are since long more or less standardized.
    One way to address corruption is to simply make it legal and standardized on "low level corruption"/bribes. Convert bribes to legal fees. They are already existing. But most likely very unfairly executed. It should of course not exceed an reasonable salary. This must be a extremely easier course of action than taking away peoples livelihoods. Not saying it would be easy. Start at local levels. Let the locale police, judges etc have an income they can live on.
    These fees should consequently be replaced with normal salaries as they rise to acceptable levels.

    This of course does not address at all the "high level" corruption.
    The Tolerance from the population would probably greatly diminish for corruption on higher levels if not for anything else that people dislike unfairness. Attack corruption from the top (extremely difficult in itself) and a different matter but it should be easier with support from the grassroots.
    People in general just wants to be treated fairly.

    September 17, 2010 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • DMG

      And who is to pay for these wages? The American taxpayer? The Afghans apparently don't have the kind of money needed to pay a decent wage to public sector employees. If, in our generous stupidity, the government did give this type of aid to the Afghan government, the money would never make its way to those it is earmarked to benefit - that's how corruption works, the top of the food chain gets the biggest cut, by the time it gets to where it needs to be there's little left. We are not dealing with a Western society here. Does anyone out there believe the aid money that is sent to places like Afghanistan and Pakistan ever actually benefits those it is suppose to benefit? If it did, there wouldn't be such crushing poverty in this area of the world. We need to figure out how to do something on the scale of what does around the world to help and teach people how to provide for themselves and to share the wealth with their clan or village. Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.

      September 17, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Java714

    Its about time for Washington's political agenda to start placing us, the American citizens FIRST. Looks like meeting the basic everyday needs for each person in America should come first and foremost before American's political Agenda starts taking care of folks and other country's governing officials. Get out of Afganastan, bring our troops home to take care of our national emergencies. Damn, I never saw the like of spending enormous amounts of taxpayer's money on their personal causes: We (American people) should be the people to decide how we want our taxpayer money spent and whats worth going to war over. But, No we left that up to people we were electing in to office, thinking they had our (Americans) best interest in mind. Hell, Afganastan furnishes over 90 per cent of the world's herion, and then they also send over the weed too, and anything else they can do to gain dirty money. Are our leaders turning their heads when these deals are made and depositing payoffs into their own bank accounts????? Troops come home, we have an emergency that has gotten to its head on our Mexican border. Yes "Gotten" been coming to this for a long time. Let it continue and the Drug Cartels will take over America in another 10 years. Also, get all this damn violence off TV. Censor TV. If I had grown up watching all the violence that has been allowed on TV, I would have been immune to violence too. It takes EXCESS VIOLENCE to even get anyone that watches TV attention, then you have others in America committing these acts of violence on OUR U.S. STREETS. THen you have those immune that try to come up with extreme violent acts to make them or their gangs stand out in the news media.,
    WAKE UP WASHINGTON, Congress and State LEADERS, your leading America to a point of NO RETURN TO A CIVILIZED LIFE. Don't let the border issues continue. Get out of Afganastan or bomb their illegal Poppy Fields that funds terrorists like Bin Lauden.
    WAKE UP ---You all have been in DENIAL for too many years. Give future generations a chance at what America once was--FREE.

    September 17, 2010 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  27. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    The history of US dealings with the Third World shows that, despite lip service to democracy and human rights, US administrations and corporate interests have always had a preference for dealing with bribable thugs. The problem is when the stench becomes too great to ignore.

    September 17, 2010 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Well said,Ralph.Thank you.

      September 17, 2010 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • SAM

      Well said,Ralph.Thank you.[2]

      September 21, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  28. davidraj

    I am, being from from India and working in the educational sector in Afghanistan strongly agree with the action of US that the US has to fight not only against the terrorism but also against the corruption in Afghanistan. The recent collapse of Kabul Bank is one of the incidents to show how much the deeply the corruption is rooted in the country.

    September 17, 2010 at 4:55 am | Report abuse |
    • SAM

      I agree with you that Afghan extremist and corruption both needs to be fought against but its not America's job. Why should my tax money should go to welfare of Afghans when we have our infrastructure breaking. We need to lay foundation of new Ammerica. We are losing our edge in the world. We need to come back home regain our energy. Our resources are streched too much.

      September 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Honyak

    Hey 121, regarding the Shinwari tribal goals; what is their long-term plan for Afghanistan (or the Pashtun)? Can you elaborate? I remember listening to Abdul Rashid Dostum pledge 20,000 fighters to rid the country of Taliban in the aim of promoting Uzbek dominance of the south. So I am by force viewing any claims of tribal assistance with one half-closed eye.
    What do you guys want to do? Are you just another Afghan Tribal Faction who wants to kill their old tribal enemies and gain some local power over the unwashed masses? Tell us your story.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
  30. Honyak

    The thing that Obama & 90% of the Western world fail to realize is that this is AFGHANISTAN.
    It is not New Jersey. By Western Standards, Karzai is corrupt. Of course he is: He's an Afghan. By Western Standards, ALL Afghans are corrupt. It's just the way they look at life. (360 degrees?) Afghan culture has no concept of American-style Democracy. We cannot put our (American) values on these people and expect them to jump for joy at being "liberated" from the way of life that they have followed for 3,000 yrs. Their culture is the world of the Warlord, the strong will rule the weak uneducated masses by the sword or the Kalashnikov, all acording to the will of Allah. Corruption is an accepted way of life; to lie, cheat, or steal is an honorable thing...if Allah will allow it. If it was wrong, Allah would not have allowed it to happen. That is how they view their world, what right have we to say that is wrong? It works for them. How did America go from eliminating Al Qaida to Nation-Building in one easy step? Do the Afghans really want what we are jamming down their throats like it was a Health Care Reform? Is what we are doing Cultural Waterboarding? Things to ask ourselves on a cool autumn night.
    As for Karzai...he's doing the best as he can for himself, his family, & his clan; and for his country along the way. He's an Afghan after all. Look at his possible many would meet American standards for purity? The Afghans have a saying about political change that Obama, the GOP, & the Tea Party should not fail to appreciate. They just say with a smile from the corner of their dusty beards, "New donkey; Same cart." Yeah, Karzai is the best corrupt Afghan that we've got over there.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Angela

      Thank you!!! I get so tired of us AMERICANS thinking that we are always right and that we have to push our democracy & religion on every other culture and think they should be grateful for us doing so.. It's just like Iraq, I didn't agree with some of Sadam's tatics but people do not realize that the way he ran his country was how it had to be done. We are at war because he was charged with having weapons of mass destruction and what's really funny is that for 1 he never had them and for 2 Iran admits to having them and says they will use them. We tell every other country that they can't build nuclear weapons but we are the only country to ever use the horrible weapon!!! We killed Sudam Hussain for killing the Kurd's but what never gets told is that he got the weapons to do this from US! We are the biggest arms dealors there ever was. I think we need to start worrying about our own border's and taking care of our own people before it's too late.

      September 17, 2010 at 7:00 am | Report abuse |
    • nice

      Great post!

      September 21, 2010 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  31. 121

    Shinwari tribe elders told Col. Randy George, a senior commander in eastern Afghanistan, that they wanted
    to unite to oppose the Taliban and stamp out opium cultivation. As a reward, George offered the Shinwari elders the power to decide how to spend $1 million in U.S.-funded development projects.

    It ended after the local power broker, Gov. Gul Agha Shirzai, a towering and controversial figure in Afghan politics, complained to President Hamid Karzai, who lambasted U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry in a February meeting for meddling in tribal politics.

    September 17, 2010 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  32. 121

    Strengthen and support the Pashtun tribes.

    September 17, 2010 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
    • 121

      Elders from the Shinwari tribe, one of the largest Pashtun tribes in a Taliban stronghold agreed to support the American-backed government, battle insurgents and burn down the home of any Afghan who harbored Taliban guerrillas.

      September 17, 2010 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
      • John

        Would you care to tell me how they were paid to do that by us,the American taxpayers? I guess that you too believe that a military victory over there can be bought and paid for just like Iraq and Chechnya!

        September 17, 2010 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  33. Steve

    I'm glad we are settin g the bar low for them. That's the way it goes over there. First they say "no afghan soldiers will be able to smoke weed" and after they find they can only find 200 soldiers in the entire country, they will simply lower the bar, and remove that prerequisite. What a joke.

    September 16, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • SAM

      this is a hopeless situation. why are the ammerican people funding this war which is only giving money to these durg adicts while american people see drug prices/ Medical insuracne going up.

      September 21, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Testament

    Afghan corruption? ........... afghan corruption???? Thats a bold and hypocritical statement coming from the most corrupt agencies on the planet. IE The Governments and mainstream media all over the world.

    September 16, 2010 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  35. Joseph McCarthy

    If you really want to rid Afghanistan of it's corruption,the best if not the only way of doing it is by reinstating the Communists to power as they are most anti-corrupt people over there,if there are any still alive.

    September 16, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Military-Industrial-Complex Right-Wing Nutjob Bla-Bla-Bla Tea Partier


      You're joking.

      Please, PLEASE say you're joking.

      September 16, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
      • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

        Is that you again Ernie Beatty,trying to be funny?Please tell me I'm wrong!

        September 16, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
      • The Prophet Mohammed

        Just nuke them all, problem solved. Might as well nuke the entire Middle East while we are at it, That's what Mohammad would do, WWJD, the same I bet.

        September 23, 2010 at 5:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

      Thank you,Joseph.Like you say,we need an Afghanistan that is both free of corruption and foreign rule.Unfortunately,the right-wing thugs in Washington won't let that happen any time soon as they strive to achieve their hidden agenda.

      September 16, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Good posting,Joe.Thank you.

      September 16, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  36. 360 degrees

    The land of Ali Babas

    September 16, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

    It's pretty obvious we can't secure Afghanistan until Karzai and his corrupt government are gone.

    September 16, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry Valecia, Calif.US Army Forever...

      The only concern for the right-wing thugs in Washington is that how much of all this corruption is giving NATO bad publicity,not that they give a damn about the Afghan people!

      September 16, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • bailoutsos

      "Afghanistan has been the graveyard and battlefield of empires for centuries." - Get all troops out and let them deal with their problems.

      September 17, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mac

      Afghanistan is a country where a very major part of the economy is growing opium to manufacture heroin to be sold to our teens. Our planes do not bomb or spray the poppy fields belonging to our "friends." Are you really surprised that both our "friends" and our more obvious enemies are both corrupt? Exactly how are we going to solve this problem? If we cannot, we should not be there.

      September 17, 2010 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
      • dj

        IMHO it's best to stay focused. The allies entered Afghanistan to stop the Taliban from sheltering terrorists. That's hard enough. Promoting democracy, women's rights, secular rule and abolishing the drug trade are bonuses. Currently it looks like the primary goal is in danger. Afghanistan is the second poorest country in the world, and the mineral deposits which seem to be the only alternative to raise the standard of living are difficult to develop – good luck trying to abolish opium production.

        September 18, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • bailoutsos

      Wow. In Vernon, CA everyone was told how to vote. So why are Americas in Iraq and Afghanistan dying to give them the right to vote and some cannot do that in America? Democracy at work.

      September 20, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • SAM

      who put him in power at the first place. what is history of this guy? Which oil firm he used to work for?

      September 21, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |