New York Post Online Edition: postopinion:
"THE WORST PLAGUE
By RALPH PETERS
February 17, 2006 -- CORRUPTION KILLS
WHAT does a standoff be tween a Texas sheriff's department and Mexican soldiers over a drug bust have in common with the electoral victory of Hamas and the current government crisis in Kenya?
Here's a hint: They all tie in with the fate of Iraq's new government, the Enron trials and environmental degradation in China.
The winning — and losing — answer is: corruption.
No single factor has been as destructive of good government and the hopes of billions of struggling human beings.
AIDS? Malaria? Avian flu? Corruption undercuts efforts to provide decent health care — just as it wrecks education systems and corrodes social bonds. Corruption is the great plague that makes all others worse.
Corruption kills. Sometimes directly, as when Mexican narco-insurgents shielded by regional politicians assassinate journalists fighting to clean up their country. Or when a crusading African politician dies in an 'accident.'
Usually, though, corruption kills indirectly. By robbing honest chances for better lives. By siphoning off funds meant for sewage systems or piped water. By delivering medicines long past their expiration dates — or no medicines at all.
From Latin America to China, university spaces and grades are for sale, while government jobs and contracts require kickbacks. Meritocracy — that great human hope — doesn't have a chance. Markets are distorted, and capitalism, which relies on the rule of law, gets a bad name where it never had a chance. The poor suffer. And they vote their desperation, putting fanatic religious parties in power in Palestine or electing a demagogue to the presidency in Venezuela.
Corruption makes a mockery of every religion, every system of government, every public institution. From Argentina through Nigeria to Pakistan, countries that should've punched their way to the economic middleweight bouts failed miserably instead — while privileged citizens bought luxury homes in Europe.
Corruption makes wars worse, too. Illicit arms deals, the lure of profits from "blood diamonds" or narcotics, or simple land grabs increase human misery geometrically. The Vietnam-era slogan "War is Good Business" applies far more viciously to the crippled "developing" world than it ever did to our own country.
Yes, we have corruption in the United States. You bet. After sex and violence, corruption's easily the third-oldest human pastime. But we don't look away. When we encounter corruption, we get angry. And we prosecute. Whether the case involves executives so rich they think they're untouchable, arrogant D.C. lobbyists — or members of Congress. It may take time, but here the corrupt go to jail.
Elsewhere, they go to Paris. Or Geneva. Or parliament.
Elsewhere, billions of human beings are born without hope if they don't belong to the right family, the right clan or tribe or the right religion.
Elsewhere, the rich and powerful not only steal from the poor and helpless, they rub their superiority in the faces of those they've dispossessed.
If you want to see cruelty more pernicious than physical torture, study corrupt societies. Much of the immigration, legal and illegal, to the USA isn't just a flight toward hope but a flight away from corruption and its consequences.
Corruption undercuts our strategic ambitions, too. In the course of a how-to-fix-Iraq discussion on Capitol Hill last fall, I remarked that, as long as we don't quit, the greatest threat to Iraq's future isn't terrorism, but the deeply embedded tradition of corruption. I don't think the senator hosting the meeting believed me, but I was deadly serious.
Without a sense of social responsibility that transcends blood and sect, it's hard to build a rule-of-law democracy. Corrupt politicians don't just steal money — they steal their country's future.
While we don't tolerate corruption here at home, we're still too willing to overlook it abroad. Yes, we have sound anti-corruption laws for our multinational corporations. But the scrutiny still isn't what it should be. And laws are worthless unless enforced.
As you'd expect, the hypocritical Europeans are much worse — despite holier-than-thou European Union anti-bribery rules (honored about as often as the old Soviet constitution). As for the Chinese and other up-and-coming economic players, they don't even pretend to obey international anti-corruption codes.
And we don't call them on it. Back in the overrated 1960s, a now-forgotten novel had a great title, "Everybody Knows and Nobody Cares." When it comes to global corruption, that's a perfect slogan.
Yes, fighting corruption abroad is tough. We lose contracts. "Friendly" governments turn against us. Demagogues blame us for their own sins. Nationalists are outraged.
But doesn't the fate of billions of human beings matter more?
Washington has to take an uncompromising stand against corruption — and not just a rhetorical one. If we're remotely sincere about democracy, human rights or religious tolerance, the battle starts with the fight against corruption.
It's about self-interest, too. 9/11 had its roots not only in religious fanaticism but also in the suffocating corruption of the Middle East. Nothing will deter hardcore fanatics, but give the average man or woman a chance and they're far less likely to strap on a suicide bomb.
Meanwhile, those Enron trials aren't about what's wrong with our system. They're about what's right with it."
Ralph Peters is a regular Post contributor.
You just keep telling us Ralph, please.