Dirty Governments: Three most corrupt countries products of U.S. intervention

Glenn Beck famously accused the Obama administration of being “the most corrupt of all time.” Unfortunately for Mr. Beck (but fine by the rest of us), the United States government has a long way to go before it can compete with the world’s most corrupt.

On Oct. 25, Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, which gauges levels of “abuse of entrusted power for private gain” in 178 countries. Each country received a score ranging from zero (filthy) to ten (squeaky clean). Here are a few highlights (mostly low-lights) of the report.

For the fifth year in a row, New Zealand took home the prize of least corrupt country, this time sharing the honor with Denmark and Singapore. Canada came in sixth place, and at least one country from every continent except Antarctica made its way into the top 40.

Large developing countries, on the other hand, tended toward corruption. While economists predict that Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC) will become the next economic superpowers by 2050, the corruption index indicates that they will not be leading the world in good governance; all scored under 4.0.

Pomona Politics Professor David Arase offers a simple explanation: “Developing countries are developing. They may not have a full set of laws and regulations, and their justice system may not be working.” Corrupt governance, while never a good thing, may also be a symptom of growth. Arase says, “China doesn’t score very well at all, but who has lifted more people out of poverty?”

Three of the world’s four most corrupt governments (Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq) are the products of American military intervention. “The [U.S.] Army’s very good on the battlefield, but has no apparent means of building governments from the ground up,” Pomona Politics Professor Heather Williams says. “We’re left to watch the mayhem that follows.”

With a dismal score of 1.1, Somalia is the world’s most corrupt country. To be fair, during the 2006 invasion America did help topple the violent, militant, Islamist courts in power. But we replaced them with… no government at all. The country is now ruled by corrupt warlords who seize half the international food aid intended for desperately hungry Somalis.
Afghanistan, 1.4 on the index, shares the honor of the world’s second-most-corrupt nation with Burma. Just recently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted to taking “bags of money” from Iran. This, of course, comes in addition to his fraudulent 2009 presidential “victory.” As more American troops become entangled in the country, the situation in Afghanistan bodes poorly for U.S. foreign policy.

So does Iraq’s. Seven years after the U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein, Iraq still suffers from an ineffective (albeit somewhat less bloodthirsty) government. Between Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki obstructing corruption investigations and local security forces torturing civilian prisoners, the country’s score of 1.5 is more than justified.

If the governments America creates abroad are the most corrupt, then what about our own? Most countries would be thrilled to be the 22nd least corrupt country in the world. For the United States, however, this year’s score marks an historic low.

Much of perceived corruption stems from the financial crisis. The lack of oversight that facilitated Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and the BP oil spill also factored.

Still, the U.S. has never been the least corrupt country. “It’s because of the federal system,” Williams says. “We leave a fair amount of authority to the state and local levels, so there will always be a patchwork of clean and dirty.”

The next corruption index will be released in roughly ten months, hopefully showing improvements. But given the difficulty of seeing these studies actually spur real change, they may be little more than lists of numbers intended to make us feel dismayed with our world.

Derek Ha is a freshman at Pomona College and is undeclared in terms of major, religion, and politics. His favorite activities include drinking coffee, dousing his food in Tabasco, reading the news, making jokes only he finds funny, and singing at inappropriate times.

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