Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Kleptocracy

Kleptocracy - a government or state in which those in power exploit national resources and steal; rule by a thief or thieves; a government characterized by rampant greed and corruption.

President Bush recently launched an initiative to combat international kleptocracy, the sort of high-level corruption by foreign officials that he called "a grave and corrosive abuse of power" that "threatens our national interest and violates our values." The plan, he said, would be "a critical component of our freedom agenda." Yet Bush has met with and will me with many of these kleptocracy leaders.

Kleptocracies exist all over the world. Azerbaijan is under the control of President Ilham Aliyev, who has been accused of rigging elections. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the president of Equatorial Guinea, has been found to have millions of dollars stashed in overseas bank accounts.

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev will be visiting the White House and the Bush's Maine retreat shortly. He is an autocrat who runs a nation that is anything but free: he has banned opposition parties, intimidated the press and profited from his post (accused by U.S. prosecutors of pocketing the bulk of $78 million in bribes from an American businessman. But he also sits atop massive oil reserves -- they just completed a pipeline to China. (I have been to Kazakhstan. We adopted an you girl from there 5 years ago. I hate to think what her life would be like there if she had not been able to come to America.)

Presidents are in tough places. On one hand, one group says we must negotiate, war is not the answer. Other demand sanctions (which never impact the leaders, only the average citizens) and teeter on the brink of war. Presidents, thankfully, are usually somewhere in between.

A president from a country that can help us economically is treated differently than a president from a country that we have little economic interest in: Kazakhstan v Equatorial Guinea, you choose.

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