The predictable collapse of the American-imposed Afghan government has served as a powerful illustration of the hubris of the West’s Very Serious policy elites. Within the chaos of the past week emerged a figure that perhaps best personifies the sheer inadequacy of the modern ruling class: former president Ashraf Ghani.
Looking at Ghani’s resume, it is easy to see why he was a perfect figure for Western governments. Born in Afghanistan but educated abroad, he holds a PhD from Columbia and supplemental education from the business schools at Harvard and Stanford. His resume included teaching stints at Berkeley and Johns Hopkins before holding positions at the World Bank and the UN prior to the war in Afghanistan. Ghani served as the chief advisor to President Hamid Karzai and as the state’s finance minister prior to assuming the presidency. (Both of his elections sparked allegations of election irregularities.)
He is also the author of the book Fixing Failed States, published by Oxford.
Ghani is perhaps best known now as a man who fled his presidential palace with $169 million. Even before an official denial from the former president, questions around the logistics of transporting that amount of cash cast doubt on the claims. Still, regardless of what actually happened when Ghani fled Kabul, there is a truthfulness to the image of the failed leader stealing from the Afghan people.
Ashraf Ghani embodies the degree to which modern neoliberal democracy is a façade for the ruling kleptocracy.
After all, no matter what happened in his final moments as president, Ghani was a failure at putting into practice what he had spent his entire life talking about: making Afghanistan a prosperous nation. While he was a darling of Western politicians and prestigious NGOs, he was a leader completely inept and out of touch with the realities of a country he spent most of his adult life avoiding.
As Bloomberg’s Eltaf Najafizada and Archana Chaudhary noted:
In many ways, Ghani’s swift downfall reflects the broader failures of the U.S. to impose a government on Afghanistan that had buy-in from a range of competing power brokers with a long history of fighting on the battlefield rather than at the ballot box. Although he was a Pashtun, the country’s dominant ethnic group, Ghani was seen as an outsider who lacked the political touch to unite disparate factions, and he became more isolated over time.
“Ghani was not accommodating of the realities of how Afghanistan works,” said Kabir Taneja, author of [the book] “The ISIS Peril: The World’s Most Feared Terror Group and its Shadow on South Asia” and a fellow at Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “He either didn’t understand or couldn’t understand the warlords, who are essentially people representing ethnic fault lines.”
Ghani’s main utility was his comfort with the American politicians his regime depended on for financial and military support. For the Afghan state, the support of Washington was always more important than the support of the nation. The collapse of such a political order is predictable, as was the rampant corruption. A generation of military contractors became very rich, thanks to Beltway investments in boondoggles such as an $88 billion army that vanished without US support—even as the people of Afghanistan suffered rising poverty.
The victims of the past two decades are the tens of thousands of lives lost, and the taxpayers plundered for this boondoggle. The benefactors are the war profiteers in all their forms and individuals like Ghani, who will be able to spin failure into a comfortable life of speaking gigs.
This sort of underserved enrichment is, of course, not as obscene as the image of a runaway president moving pallets of American dollars. But the real scandal is just how normal this sort of outcome is.
For generations now, the governing institutions of the West have been a means for highly credentialed academics to get rich off taxpayers, regardless of merit and performance. Leading academic institutions use their credentials as a way to empower a technocratic class with grandiose aims and dangerous ideologies. With the assistance of organizations like Ghani’s World Bank, these same institutions are able to infect other nations—as illustrated by how many central banks, including Afghanistan’s, are staffed with Ivy League alums.
Along the way, these same public officials continue to push a political agenda to further consolidate power in globalist institutions far removed and isolated—culturally, economically, and physically—from the public, all the while proclaiming themselves defenders of “liberal democracy.”
Regardless of whether or not Ashraf Ghani actually escaped his nation with bags full of cash, it is proper to see him as a thief who robbed the people of Afghanistan and the US. And his example is the norm, not the exception.
As Murray Rothbard famously noted, “[T]he State is a gang of thieves writ large.” The same label applies to the technocratic class that it empowers.