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Long Read of the Day: Failing States? by Sarah Chayes

EXCERPTED FROM: Failing States?

Now consider the McMansions that have sprung up like growths around Washington in the past twenty years. Consider the properties in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, the pay packages and portfolios, the offshore bank accounts — and the no-bid tenders — enjoyed by executives of defense contracting and financial investment firms, pharmaceutical and fossil fuel giants, and the lawyers and brokers who service them. Under administrations of both parties, many of those executives have cycled in and out of government.

Excerpt: Revenue streams. More than at any time in a century, money is what we count — and what counts. It means social standing. It means winning. And who controls Afghanistan, controls great sums of money.

Excerpt: Picture the three great basins of civilization: Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Iranian plateau. Picture a massive, craggy rock wall dividing them. Afghanistan owns two doors in that wall. Southern spurs of the ancient Silk Road ran through that land. Part of why Pakistan’s military government spun up the Taliban in the first place was likely to clear the highways for long-distance trade. After 2001, customs dues — or bribes for allowing drivers to dodge them — poured into the coffers of the strongmen who controlled the main crossings (clockwise from the south: Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i Sherif, and Jalalabad). Now the Taliban gain access to that revenue.

Excerpt: It is Pakistan, not India that has mounted most of the cross-border violence in the past two decades, usually via extremist proxies analogous to the Taliban. (Remember the Mumbai Bombing?)

Why is that? Why, if you’re afraid of someone, would you punch them in the eye? Why does Islamabad want to keep India riled up?

Perhaps because those making the decisions in Islamabad are the leaders of a military dictatorship. A good pretext for asking your citizens to allow unelected military officers to rule them is the fear of an existential military threat.

Excerpt: In such contests, the poorer, “weaker” insurgents aren’t trying to rack up the bodies of opposing soldiers. That’s conventional warfare. Insurgents aim to achieve the maximum psychological impact for as little human and material investment as possible. They target emblematic people and kill them in demonstrative ways. They hang the body to a sacred tree, like some gruesome offering. They pin a note to the dead man’s tunic: “If you do what he did, this will happen to you.” They disfigure a young woman’s face with acid.

Or they put a half dozen guys up in an unfinished building in downtown Kabul with a couple of rusty mortar-launchers. This is 2011. The guys shoot at the U.S. embassy and ISAF headquarters across the street.They shut down the whole strategic complex for more than nineteen hours.

If those fighters had wanted to kill people, they would have. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to demonstrate to the whole of Afghanistan that they could. It was to demonstrate U.S. vulnerability — to Afghans and to Americans.


About | sarahchayes Internationally recognized for her innovative thinking on corruption and its implications, she has uncovered the unrecognized reality that severe and structured corruption can prompt international crises, such as revolutions and other uprisings, violent insurgency, and environmental devastation. Corruption of this sort is the operating system of sophisticated networks, which weave together government officials, business magnates and private charities, and out and out criminals, and represents, in Sarah’s view, the primary threat to democracy in our lifetimes. Author of the prize-winning Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, she has just finished On Corruption In America — And What Is at Stake.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dirk August 30, 2021, 10:13 PM

    What if you are Wrong?

    The only true sovereign nation anymore, is, that sovereign nation lives in our heads. Freedom is a myth, or is it?


  • Kevin in PA August 31, 2021, 4:31 AM

    My most recent email to Senator Pat Toomey, a useless Neo-Con and anti-Trumper.
    The header is:

    Yes sir, you own some of this tragedy that now befalls our nation.

    You allowed the fraud, Joe Biden to advance to the White House, because of your dislike for Trump and your cowardice.

    Biden did not win. That truth is being revealed as each day passes. You allowed this fraud to go forward. Own it.
    America is being shamed on the world stage by the actions of this fraud, this clown, this joke of a man.
    We have a disaster at the border caused by Biden.
    We have an economy imploding due to Biden’s reckless spending.
    We have China rising by taking advantage of every blunder and every stupid policy this Biden administration is putting in place.
    And now we have multiple dead military personnel and countless others at risk.
    20 years.
    $9 Trillion wasted.
    10,000 dead.
    60,000 wounded and maimed.
    And now this.
    Biden is bought and paid for by the Communist Party of China.
    Joseph Robinette Biden should be brought up on charges of treason.

    I am not being hyperbolic. He is a criminal and the people that control him are hell bent on destroying America.
    He needs to be held accountable. He needs to be removed. He needs to be charged criminally.
    You need to hang your head in shame for your part in allowing this fraud to continue.

    Disgusted in all levels of leadership in my country,
    Kevin …..

  • Kevin in PA August 31, 2021, 4:42 AM

    I’m not a military person, but does one really need to be to understand the damage done to our country?
    Elections have consequences and stolen elections have really serious consequences.

    Almost 90 Retired Flag Officers Demand Mark Milley, Lloyd Austin Resign After Afghanistan Debacle.

    Resignation is not good enough. Criminal charges, public trial and court martial followed by long jail sentences is what they deserve…..and take their fat pensions and the investment portfolios….and go after that faggot Mattis too. They are all heavily invested in Chinese companies.

  • Dirk August 31, 2021, 7:20 AM

    As the last C-17 and two maybe three USAF tankers depart Kabul last night at 1500 PST, is thought to have been call sign “Moose 94”.

    It’s interesting zero identifiers we’re squawked pre rotation or post Afgan airspace departure. The tankers were already airborne indication being stationed other then Afghanistan. Not unusual to leave Kabul, low fuel and hit a tanker out of rocket range.

    Bittersweet day yesterday, we were in Afghanistan for all the wrong reasons. I did not support our presence, recognized early on this very outcome was always going to be exactly or very close to how this huge theft of tax payer dollars would end.

    I know this nation didn’t learn a dam thing. Our govt, and big business already have their presence in other nations. To exploit not their resources, but us the tax payers of these United States.

    Fuck You Govt, and your flea bag MIC. You alone have been responsible for killing a grand old nation.

    What hounds me daily is how not a dam thing has changed here,,,,,,,yet our entire DC driven shit show continues to pile drive this nation into a “self licking lollipop”.

    Is there any doubt govt will repeat it’s failures, until it’s second nature?

    Isn’t it like watching a tennis match, the players Dem and Rep, always trying to one up the other. Not a care in the world regarding impacts on We The People. This can’t go on. Yet all us couch potato’s will wither on the vine,,,,,,wondering why someone, somewhere did nothing.

    Comfortably numb. Just don’t know how much longer i/we can sit on our hands.


  • Dirk August 31, 2021, 9:45 AM

    Pentagon, Ten year Military advisor IN Afghanistan, a prestigious think tank or two. Wow,,,,,,,pretty impressive creds.

    Then it struck me, why am I reading a review by someone who’s been integral in multiple major failures.

    A person sitting next to criminals, at meetings or symposiums in pics on her site,,,,,based on frank honesty, fairness. Whom lives in Europe and Virginia, the almost center of corruption based logic.

    Na Ms. Chayes self identifies of being in ALL the wrong places/jobs,,,,,,at the right times. How does one separate failure after failure into honesty and truth. This time it’s a blog momma doing the self licking lollipop dance.

    When I look at the praise received, it’s impressive, again until I recognize it’s all INNER circle shit. Those writing the praise are just more of the corruption supporting establishment.

    End of the day,WE recognize the shit show, when are we going to collectively seek solutions agree on solutions.

    Don’t tell me this ship can’t be put back on course, it can. Biden’s here until Deep State tells us he isn’t. Will be when he “ the useful idiots” no longer doing their bidding.

    We aren’t a time in space wherein our United States is locked in by unaddressed issue, we now face. Our founding documents does not clearly give us guidance on how to proceed. We are either stuck with Biden, Harris, or god forbid Pelosi.

    The left have masterfully played their hand. Strategically forced a reshuffle, all the while holding all the cards, key positions.


  • ghostsniper August 31, 2021, 1:20 PM

    This is as far as I got in that rambling prose:
    “Given the consequences, are terrorists really the greater threat to our homeland?”

    What terrorists? The only terror in my enclave is me. And my wife keeps me under control most of the time, at least I have trained her to think so.

    You know what terrorizes me? My absolute worst nightmare, and one that I experience at least multiple times every dam day is, that some stupid assed gov’t employee all puffed up with false bravado and believing they have some sort of assumed authority over me, will go out of their way to come onto my property and force me to kill them on the spot. It will most likely be because of some sort of rule or law or regulation that I knowingly or unknowingly violated at some time in the recent or distant past, or perhaps I didn’t violate anything – but mixed up gov’t paperwork has mistakenly pulled me into it’s fray, and as far as the gov’t thug(s) are concerned the only remedy right now is for them to cage me for an undetermined amount of time until they get it all worked out, or just flat out turn me into a legal criminal.

    Is it possible for a Sunni to hijack a US plane and crash it into my house or neighborhood injuring or killing me? Sure. But not probable.

    Is it possible for a white KKK supremacist to go on an anti-negro kill-a-thon with a blazing Uzi in each hand and kill my ass while I stand over there pumping Ethel? Sure. But not probable.

    And on and on. If I was a scared little chicken I guess I could summons up all sorts of things that might be scary or downright terrifying but none of it is part of the history of my life. This is what terror looks like here in ghost hollow woodworks: 4 months ago I opened a black plastic trash bag that, a year before, I had placed a 16″ maple log into after coating it with water, and expecting it to spalt, only to find out it had turned to punk. I paid $90 for that log and now it was, to my terror, destroyed. I almost cried. Though the consequences may be terrifying, this week I am bagging up some more wood.

    Here’s another terrifying moment here in ghost hollow. Couple weeks ago I was ripping plywood on the tablesaw and the blade developed a different ring to it. The pitch changed while in mid-cut of an 8′ length of plywood and I noticed it immediately. Nothing terrifies me more than that 10″ blade spinning at 600 mph, and when something changes while it is already terrifying me my terror level goes through the moon. That is what the sound change did. It caught my attention big time. I shut it down and backed that plywood out of there. That is a $150 40 tooth Forrest blade on there and the idea that it was ruined was almost more than I could bear. I took the blade off and examined it and saw nothing wrong. I got the paint pan out and filled it with CMT 2050 blade cleaner and let it soak for a day. Put it back on, fired it up, sang like a lark. All is well. I guess pitch had clogged up the expansion slots and made the blade angry.

    So, based upon my own experiences, and being aware of daily goings on globally, the scare factor for me is inside the wire and gets worse each day. Afagistan? As far as I know, there is no known weapon that can be fired or launch from there that can cause me harm 9000 miles away. So, that place doesn’t exist. But, I do not have to wander far off the compound, maybe 5 miles or less, depending, when I may encounter a real terrorist dressed in criminal gov’t garb. When such a danger trips my radar all internal bells start ringing and the entire machine goes into full blown white hot red alert. Swivel neck, 360 degree eyeballs, ears focused, nutz draw up tight, ready to kill or be killed, balanced right on the very edge of the razor.

    I don’t like to live that way, and don’t unless I can’t get out of it. I have purposely created a haven here and rarely have to leave because I have been aware of the described threat for several decades now. But there is a chink in the 10 feet thick armor that I cannot repair. It is that chink that keeps me up at night sometimes. Then, even if 3am, I put on my boots, strap on the pistol, grab a qt of blackjack and go to the far side of our woods and sit in the dark facing the field beyond. There, the coyotes play sometimes, or the deer congregate. I sip and stare, and let it all go.

  • Rascal Jasper August 31, 2021, 5:28 PM

    If Afghanistan sub-titled “failed state” I see that the cia left them with full pockets.
    Funny how they kept shipping goods there till the end. Some other future outpost for gladio works? Or how about a gift for their eastern neighbors to aggravate India. Since the HMS QE was just recently there. No great reset for her. Back to the sand box. With all that free gear they are very well set to really muck things up. Todays toys are tomorrows wars. Stand by.