There’s no way to measure how much corruption the U.S exports to other countries. But sometimes events reveal what may be happening. The latest case is Kyrgyzstan and a revolution triggered largely by public disgust with so much sleaze.
Writing in Forbes, Ariel Cohen said, “What’s behind the revolution in Kyrgyzstan? Its people were fed up with the graft, nepotism and authoritarian ways of deposed president Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The irony is that Bakiyev rose to power riding the same wave of public discontent and revulsion. It enabled him to depose Askar Akayev, his equally corrupt predecessor, five years ago.”
Where did Kyrgyzstan’s corruption come from? The U.S. has used the country as a staging area for the war in Afghanistan. “Many Kyrgyz demonstrators,” according to Tom Malinowski in Foreign Policy, “were disgusted by signs that their leaders were personally profiting from the increasingly high payments they extracted from the United States for use of the country’s Manas air base (and believed that the U.S. government stayed silent about their government’s abuses to keep the base).”
In Afghanistan itself, President Hamid Karzai has accused the U.S. of importing corruption into his country. While it’s tempting to think he’s merely deflecting blame, that’s not the whole story. Stephen M. Walt said last week, also in Foreign Policy: “But even as we are telling the Afghans to stop corruption, we are contributing to it by pumping vast sums of cold hard cash into Afghan society. According to yesterday’s New York Times, part of our strategy in southern Afghanistan consists of flooding places like Marjah with ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars a week,’ in an effort to buy the loyalty of the local population.”
U.S. companies also play a role in overseas corruption, as FCPA enforcement actions demonstrate. A story in the Chinese press in December 2007 said, “According to a report by local consulting company Anbound, of the 500,000 bribery cases investigated in China over the last 10 years, 64 percent involved foreign companies.” It mentioned allegations involving Lucent Technologies Inc., IBM, Cisco and NCR. The story quoted a Beijinger as saying: “I cannot understand after many foreign companies complain about corruption and bribery in China, then why are they doing similar things?”
What should we do with news about American’s role in fueling overseas corruption? We shouldn’t declare our country hopelessly hypocritical and unworthy of the right to enforce the FCPA. But knowing that American money contributes to the graft we’re supposed to be fighting should give us some humility. It’s too easy to scold someone else’s graft while justifying our own.
Above all, the news should remind those in charge that our actions need to be consistent with our words, including the words of the FCPA. Otherwise, the world will laugh in our face.