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Do As We Say, Not As We Do: How financial corruption will cripple Middle East fledgling democracies.

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By now, many know the story of how the US lost track of around $9 billion in Iraqi assets and how corruption by US contractors and the Iraqi government has prevented much of the meaningful rebuilding of the Iraqi infrastructure. Now, according to a story in the New York Times, Pakistan has misused funds and inflated bills on the $10 billion that we have given them to assist in the war on terror. The Times article claims that the US supplies an amazing one quarter of the Pakistani military budget.

From the Times:

In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.

One's first reaction may be ho-hum because the government of Sadam and the current government of Pakistan have a history of corruption. I have had military people tell me that corruption is just the way that "those" societies work. But our country is the hypocrite on two levels: one, we lecture to them that a working democracy needs financial transparency to effectively win the confidence of the people and two, we have allowed our own DOD and State department private contractors to unmercifully rip off our government due to corruption and a woeful lack of oversight.

If we expect these governments in the Middle East to have a true working democracy, they have to overcome their old systems. We are pressuring them to reform but can we expect them to take anything we say seriously when they watch the fraud we allow in our own military system? Iraq and Pakistan must see the irony and dismiss our hollow lecturing about democracy.

Transparency International, a non-profit group that measures corruption around the world, ranked 180 countries around the world. Denmark ranked number one as the least corrupt. As would be expected, Iraq is near the bottom with a low ranking of 178 and Pakistan is ranked at 128. But the United States, which holds itself to being one of the most successful democracies in history, only makes a ranking of 20, behind Singapore and Hong Kong.

Senator Clinton and others say that they want to look into this and find out where the money went. It is a start but aren't we just trying to close the barn door after the horse has escaped? By investigating the claims now, the US will enrage and embarrass Pakistan and will further rock a very delicate diplomatic situation.

When will our government be serious about corruption in our military and our military aid and put in the safe guards that we need? The Congress has tried to pass some reforms (more on that in my next post) but until the US government has no tolerance of fraud and corruption in our system, we can't expect the world, especially countries experimenting with democracy, to take us seriously when it comes to transparency and accountability. We need to raise our Transparency International ranking in the world through serious reform, especially since even Senator Ted Stevens claims we are spending $15 billion a month on the war on terror. Which candidate will embrace this challenge?