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Petraeus to Afghans: Do as We Say, Not as We Do

In an interview posted yesterday by Germany’s Der Spiegel ISAF Commander David Petraeus was asked about corruption:

SPIEGEL: The build-up of an Afghan security apparatus is a key element of the whole effort. How concerned are you about corruption in the ranks of police and the army?

Petraeus: Corruption has to be put into context. We have to recognize that the Afghan government has taken numerous steps against corruption. The border police chief for West Afghanistan is in jail, a number of provincial police chiefs have been fired or put into custody. Numerous commanders as well as provincial governors have been replaced. In the broader Afghan administration hundreds of judicial workers, including judges, have lost their jobs due to problems with their integrity. Having said that, President Karzai is the first to announce publicly that more needs to be done because corruption undermines the legitimacy of governance on all levels.

SPIEGEL: It might sound disrespectful, but one could also say that if President Karzai wanted to fight corruption he could start doing so within his own family …

Petraeus: There are plenty of locations in which corruption can be countered, there are plenty where it has been countered and there are plenty where it needs to be countered.

SPIEGEL: What steps are taken to counter corruption in a practical manner?

Petraeus: I have just issued a "counterinsurgency contracting guidance". You know the saying that in counterinsurgency missions "money is ammunition," but we have to be careful into whose hands we put that ammunition, that money. The new guidelines are issued to make sure that we supply people who support our policies and not those who oppose them. We also created a new agency to oversee and implement greater transparency within all the organizations that are involved in contracting issues. But again: I don’t think that anyone is under any illusion that we’re going to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland in five years or less. President Obama has said that our aspirations should be realistic. We are not going to turn one of the poorest countries in the world, that was plunged into 30 years of war, into an advanced, industrialized, Western-style democracy. What we want to achieve is Afghanistan’s capacity to secure and govern itself.

Spencer Ackerman described the counterinsurgency contracting guidance like this last week, noting a significant omission:

But “COIN Contracting” goes beyond knowing whose business to patronize. Get the community involved, Petraeus’s guidelines say, using “local shuras and Afghan government and private sector leaders” to sign off on projects and expose troops to a wide array of Afghan businesses. Look for relatively small-scale projects that Afghan companies can take on and sustain, like “agriculture, food processing, beverages, and construction.” Buy local goods and labor whenever possible. If you can’t use an Afghan business for a project, encourage the people you hire to use Afghan workers. And if you find out that a project you’re funding benefits “criminal networks” ­ insurgents, powerbrokers, random ne’er-do-wells ­ stop what you’re doing.

One conspicuous absence from Petraeus’s guidelines: there’s nothing in here about private security contractors. Granted, many of them work for the State Department, guarding diplomats, or for the CIA, doing… other things. But some also work for NATO troops, directly or indirectly, to the point that Karzai has made an issue of seeking their wholesale ouster from the country. Petraeus just doesn’t touch the issue.

The latter paragraph kind of makes a mockery of the former, don’t you think?

From the counterinsurgency contracting guidance itself:

Where our money goes is as important as the service provided or the product delivered. Establish systems and standard databases for vetting vendors and contractors to ensure that contracting does not empower the wrong people or allow the diversion of funds. . . . Hold prime contractors responsible for the behavior and performance of their sub-contractors.

Whether or not our private security contractors are reporting to State, CIA, DOD, or anyone else, they’re *our* contractors — and holding prime contractors accountable seems to be in short supply. (As Marcy notes, this is an ongoing problem, not anything new.)

The question this leads me to is quite simple: is "do as we say, not as we do" ever going to work as a military strategy in a COIN operation?

If the answer is "no," then the followup question is daunting: how much more must be spent and how many more people must die as we pursue a doomed strategy?

[Photo: DoctorWho via Flickr]

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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