Austin Bay

Corruption -- which reaches to the highest levels -- stains the mullahs' dictatorship in Iran. The Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his cohort came to power in 1979 promising to end the Shah's authoritarian rule and family tradition of nepotism and theft. Khomeini died, and his heirs "two upped" the Shah by creating both a more despotic and more venally corrupt junta. Disgust with the mullahs' theft fuels opposition to the "Islamic Revolutionary" regime and empowers Iran's Green Revolution.

Developmental aid advocates don't like to say it in public because government officials in developing countries will withhold visas or harass their local staffers, but corruption by local, state and tribal elites undermines relief efforts and economic development programs.

Government officials and corporate presidents in wealthy nations can also be bribed. Saddam Hussein's corruption of the U.N. Oil For Food program is an example of an international bribery scam. From the mid-1990s until the 2003 invasion, Saddam bought political support by slipping millions to dozens of organizations and individuals.

The U.S. has made counter-corruption programs a key element in the War on Terror. Corruption feeds crime and discontent, and terrorists leverage both to buy weapons, gain safe haven, make money and attract recruits. Egyptian corruption is one of the Muslim Brotherhood's chief recruiting tools. Afghanistan's Taliban is in the narcotics business, but so are rogues in the Afghan government. Pakistan acknowledges it has a corruption problem, one that undermines its credibility with the economically productive middle classes.

But Pakistanis chided for local corruption glare at U.S. State Department do-gooders. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is accused of selling Barack Obama's former Senate seat -- and that's Chicago, Obama's political training ground. Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., both repeatedly failed to pay taxes, in big numbers, and those two big shots create and enforce tax law. Pakistani, Zimbabwean, Ugandan, Russian, Iraqi, Guatemalan and Libyan officials confronting American anti-corruption programs just snicker.

China's Outlaws of the Marsh opposed the Song Dynasty, but historians describe the tale as "a call to oppose all corrupt governments." The fight continues.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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