Last month, while the United States’ pullout from Afghanistan unfurled, the office of the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a thorough 140-page report on lessons from Washington’s two-decade presence in the country. Amid details of political decisions and missed opportunities, the report offered a run-through of the one element the United States consistently overlooked during its occupation: corruption. Specifically, the SIGAR report details the American choices that, time and again, “increased corruption”—corruption that rotted the U.S.-backed regime and that allowed the Taliban to topple the government far more quickly than many assumed.
The examples of American decisions and policies that expanded rampant corruption—and how such expansion stemmed directly from the U.S. presence—are too numerous to list. Delivering “ghost money” to corrupt Afghan officials, looking the other way when investigations into elite corruption stalled out, ignoring signs that paid-off warlords were in hock to Taliban insurgents—the United States’ presence in Afghanistan is saturated in stories of how America and its NATO allies ignored metastasizing corruption, especially in Kabul.
Nor was it all the kind of simple, bags-of-cash bribery we may be accustomed to. As SIGAR notes, much of the U.S.-fueled corruption stemmed directly from increased U.S.-backed investment in the country, without any commensurate oversight….