Before he stole $169 million and fled his failed state in disgrace, Afghanistan’s puppet President Ashraf Ghani was formed in elite American universities, given US citizenship, trained in neoliberal economics by the World Bank, glorified in the media as an “incorruptible” technocrat, and coached by powerful DC think tanks like the Atlantic Council.
By Ben Norton
Published on The Grayzone, Sept 2, 2021
No individual is more emblematic of the corruption, criminality, and moral rot at the heart of the 20-year US occupation of Afghanistan than President Ashraf Ghani.
As the Taliban took over his country this August, advancing with the momentum of a bowling ball rolling down a steep hill, seizing many major cities without firing a single bullet, Ghani fled in disgrace.
The US-backed puppet leader allegedly made his escape with $169 million that he stole from the public coffers. Ghani reportedly crammed the cash into four cars and a helicopter, before flying to the United Arab Emirates, which granted him asylum on supposed “humanitarian” grounds.
The president’s corruption had been exposed before. It was known, for instance, that Ghani had brokered shady deals with his brother and US military-linked private companies, letting them tap into Afghanistan’s estimated $1 trillion in mineral reserves. But his last-minute exit represented an entirely new level of treachery.
Ghani’s senior aides and officials promptly turned on him. His defense minister, General Bismillah Mohammadi, wrote on Twitter in disgust, “They tied our hands behind our backs and sold the homeland. Damn the rich man and his gang.”
While Ghani’s dramatic desertion stands out as a stark metaphor for the depravity of the US-NATO war in Afghanistan – and how it made a handful of people very, very rich – the rot goes much deeper. His rise to power was carefully managed by some of the most esteemed and well-heeled think tanks and academic institutions in the United States.
Indeed, Western governments and their stenographers in the corporate media enjoyed a veritable love affair with Ashraf Ghani. He was a poster boy for the exportation of neoliberalism to what had been Taliban territory, their very own Afghan Milton Friedman, a faithful disciple of Francis Fukuyama – who proudly blurbed Ghani’s book.
Washington was thrilled with Ghani’s reign in Afghanistan, because it had finally found a new way to implement Augusto Pinochet’s economic program, but without the PR cost of torturing and massacring droves of dissenters in stadiums. Of course, it was the foreign military occupation that replaced Pinochet’s death squads, concentration camps, and helicopter assassinations. But the distance between Ghani and his neocolonial protectors helped NATO market Afghanistan as a new model for capitalist democracy, one that could be exported to other parts of the Global South.
As South Asia’s version of the Chicago Boys, the US-educated Ghani believed deeply in the power of the free market. To advance his vision, he founded a Washington, DC-based think tank, the “Institute for State Effectiveness,” whose slogan was “Citizen-Centered Approaches to State and Market,” and which was expressly dedicated to proselytizing the wonders of capitalism.
Ghani clearly spelled out his dogmatic neoliberal worldview in an award-winning book rather comically titled “Fixing Failed States.” (The 265-page tome uses the word “market” 219 a staggering times.) It would be impossible to overstate the irony, then, of the state he personally presided over immediately failing mere days after a US military withdrawal.
The instantaneous and disastrous disintegration of the US puppet regime in Kabul sent Western governments and mainstream reporters into a frenzy. As they frantically looked for people to blame, Ghani stood out as a convenient scapegoat.
What went unsaid was that these same NATO member states and media outlets had for two decades lavished praise on Ghani, depicting him as a noble technocrat who was bravely fighting corruption. They had long been the Afghan president’s eager patrons, but threw him under the bus when he outlived his usefulness, finally acknowledging that Ghani was the treacherous crook he had always been.
The case is instructive, for Ashraf Ghani is a textbook example of the neoliberal elites whom the US empire hand picks, cultivates, and installs in power to serve its interests.
Ashraf Ghani, Made in USA
There is no point at which Ashraf Ghani ends and the United States begins; they are impossible to separate. Ghani was a political product proudly Made in USA.
Ghani was born into a wealthy and influential family in Afghanistan. His father had worked for the country’s monarchy and was well connected politically. But Ghani left his homeland for the West as a young man.
By the time of the US invasion in October 2001, Ghani had lived half of his life in the United States, where he established his career as an academic and imperial bureaucrat.
A US citizen until 2009, Ghani only decided to renounce his citizenship so that he could run for president of US-occupied Afghanistan.
A look at Ghani’s biography shows how he was gestated in a petri dish of elite US institutions.
The US cultivation of Ghani began when he was high school in Oregon, where he graduated in 1967. From there, he went on to study at the American University in Beirut, where, as The New York Times put it, Ghani “enjoyed the Mediterranean beaches, went to dances and met” his Lebanese-American wife, Rula.
In 1977, Ghani moved back to the United States, where he would spend the next 24 years of his life. He completed a Masters degree and PhD at New York City’s elite Columbia University. His field? Anthropology – a discipline thoroughly infiltrated by US spy agencies and the Pentagon.
In the 1980s, Ghani immediately found jobs at top schools: the University of California, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins. He also became a regular fixture on British state media, establishing himself as a leading commentator on the BBC’s intelligence agency-linked Dari and Pashto services. And in 1985, the US government gave Ghani its prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, to study Islamic schools in Pakistan.
By 1991, Ghani decided to leave academia to enter the world of international politics. He joined the main institution enforcing neoliberal orthodoxy around the globe: the World Bank. As political economist Michael Hudson has illustrated, this institution has served as a virtual arm of the US military.
Ghani worked at the World Bank for a decade, overseeing the implementation of devastating structural adjustment programs, austerity measures, and mass privatizations, primarily in the Global South, but also in the former Soviet Union.
After Ghani returned to Afghanistan in December 2001, he was quickly appointed finance minister of the US-created puppet government in Kabul. As finance minister until 2004, and eventually president from 2014 to 2021, he employed the machinations he had developed at the World Bank to impose the Washington Consensus on his homeland.
The regime Ghani helped the United States construct was so cartoonishly neoliberal that it established a position for a top official called the “CEO of Afghanistan.”
In the 2000s, with Washington’s support, Ghani gradually worked his way up the political totem pole. In 2005, he made a technocratic rite of passage and delivered a viral TED talk, promising to teach his audience “How to rebuild a broken state.”
The lecture provided a transparent glimpse into the mind of a World Bank-trained imperial bureaucrat. Ghani echoed the “end of history” argument of his mentor Fukuyama, insisting that capitalism had become the world’s unchallengeable form of social organization. The question was no longer what system a country wanted, he argued, but rather “which form of capitalism and which type of democratic participation.”
In a barely intelligible dialect of neoliberalese, Ghani declared, “we have to rethink the notion of capital,” and invited viewers to discuss “how to mobilize different forms of capital for the project of state building.”
That same year, Ghani delivered a speech at the European Ideas Network Conference, in his capacity as the new president of Kabul University, in which he further explained his vision for the world.
Praising the “center-right,” Ghani declared that imperialist institutions like NATO and the World Bank must be strengthened in order to defend “democracy and capitalism.” He insisted that the US military occupation of Afghanistan was a model that could be exported around the world, as “part of a global effort.”
In the talk, Ghani also reflected fondly on his time carrying out Washington’s neoliberal “shock therapy” in the former Soviet Union: “In the 1990s … Russia was ready to become democratic and capitalist and I think the rest of the world failed it. I had the privilege of working in Russia for five years during that time.”
Ghani was so proud of his work with the World Bank in Moscow that, in his official bio on the Afghan government’s website, he boasted of “working directly on the adjustment program of the Russian coal industry” – in other words, privatizing the Eurasian giant’s massive hydrocarbon reserves.
While Ghani flaunted his accomplishments in post-Soviet Russia, UNICEF published a report in 2001 that found that the decade of mass privatizations imposed on newly capitalist Russia caused a staggering 3.2 million excess deaths, reduced life expectancy by five years, and dragged 18 million children into abject poverty, with “high levels of child malnutrition.” The leading medical journal Lancet likewise found that the US-created economic program increased Russian adult male mortality rates by 12.8%, largely due to the staggering 56.3% male unemployment it unleashed.
Given this odious record, perhaps it is no surprise that Ghani left Afghanistan with skyrocketing rates of poverty and misery.
Scholar Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University and UNESCO chair on international water cooperation, noted that, during the 20 years of US-NATO military occupation, “The number of Afghans living in poverty has doubled, and the areas under poppy cultivation have tripled. More than one-third of Afghans have no food, half no drinking water, two-third no electricity.”
What the US did with its $2.3Trillion in Afghanistan in 20yrs? The number of Afghans living in poverty has doubled, and the areas under poppy cultivation have tripled. More than one-third of Afghans have no food, half no drinking water, two-third no electricity.
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) August 21, 2021
The free market medicine that President Ghani had shoved down Afghanistan’s throat was just as successful as the neoliberal shock therapy he and his World Bank colleagues had imposed on post-Soviet Russia.
But Ghani’s economic snake oil found an eager audience in the so-called international community. And by 2006, his global profile had reached such heights that he was considered a possible replacement for Secretary General Kofi Annan at the United Nations.
Meanwhile, Ghani was being given large sums of money by NATO states and billionaire-backed foundations to set up a think tank whose name will forever be tinged with irony.
The ultimate failed state administrator advises elites on “fixing failed states”
In 2006, Ghani levereaged his experience implementing “pro-business” policies from post-Soviet Russia to his own homeland to co-found a think tank called the Institute for State Effectiveness (ISE).
ISE markets itself in language that could have been lifted from an IMF brochure: “The roots of ISE’s work are in a World Bank program in the late 1990s which aimed to improve country strategies and program implementation. It focused on building coalitions for reform, implementing large-scale policies, and training the next generation of development professionals.”
The think tank’s slogan reads today as a parody of technocratic boilerplate: “Citizen-Centered Approaches to State and Market.”
In addition to its role in pushing neoliberal reforms on Afghanistan, the ISE has run similar programs in 21 countries, including East Timor, Haiti, Kenya, Kosovo, Nepal, Sudan, and Uganda. In these states, the think tank said it created a “framework for understanding state functions and the balance between governments, markets, and people.”
Legally based in Washington, the Institute for State Effectiveness is funded by a Who’s Who of think tank financiers: Western governments (Britain, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, and Denmark); elite international financial institutions (the World Bank and OECD); and Western intelligence-linked, billionaire-backed corporate foundations (the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Open Society Foundations, Paul Singer Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation of New York).
Ghani’s co-founder was free market enthusiast Clare Lockhart, a former investment banker and fellow World Bank veteran who went on to serve as a UN advisor for the NATO-created Afghan government and a member of the board of trustees of the CIA-backed Asia Foundation.
Ghani and Lockhart’s market-obsessed outlook was encapsulated in a partnership they formed in 2008 between their ISE and the fellow neoliberal think tank the Aspen Institute. Under the agreement, Ghani and Lockhart led Aspen’s “Market Building Initiative,” which they said “creates dialogue, frameworks, and active engagement to support countries in building legitimate market economies,” and “aims to put in place the value chains and underpinning credible institutions and infrastructure to allow citizens to participate in the benefits of a globalizing world.”
Anyone seeking to satirize a DC think tank might have been criticized for being too on the nose if they followed Ghani and Lockhart’s precise steps with ISE.
Ghani and Lockhart detailed their technocratic worldview in a 2008 book entitled “Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World.”
The first text that appears inside is a blurb from Ghani’s ideological guide, Francis Fukuyama, the pundit who infamously declared that, with the overthrow of the Soviet Union and the Socialist Bloc, the world had reached the “End of History,” and human society was perfected under the Washington-led capitalist liberal democratic order.
Following Fukuyama’s praise is a glowing endorsement from right-wing Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, author of the tract “The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else” (spoiler: de Soto insists it is not imperialism). This Chicago Boy crafted the neoliberal shock therapy policies of Peru’s dictatorial Alberto Fujimori regime.
The third blurb in Ghani’s book was composed by the vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, Robert Hormats, who insisted that the tome “provides a brilliantly crafted and extraordinarily valuable analysis.”
“Fixing Failed States” makes for maddeningly boring reading, and essentially amounts to a 265-page-long reiteration of Ghani’s thesis: the solution to practically all of the world’s problems is capitalist markets, and the state exists to manage and protect those markets.
In a typically long-winded bromide, Ghani and Lockhart wrote, “The establishment of functioning markets has led to the victory of capitalism over its competitors as a model of economic organization by harnessing the creative and entrepreneurial energies of large numbers of people as stakeholders in the market economy.”
Readers of the neoliberal snoozer would have learned just as much by flipping through any World Bank pamphlet.
Besides employing some variation on the word “market” 219 times, the book features 159 uses of the words “invest,” “investment,” or “investor.” It is also stuffed with clumsy, robotically repeated passages like the following:
Embarking on these paths of transition has required efforts to overcome the perception that capitalism is necessarily exploitative and that the relationship between government and corporations is inherently confrontational. Successful governments have forged partnerships between the state and the market to create value for their citizens; these partnerships are both profitable financially and sustainable politically and socially.
Highlighting their ideological zealotry, Ghani and Lockhart even went so far as to assert an “incompatibility between capitalism and corruption.” Of course, Ghani would go on to prove just how absurd this statement was by selling off his country to US companies in which his family members had invested, furnishing them with exclusive access to Afghanistan’s mineral reserves, and then bolting to a Gulf monarchy with $169 million in stolen state funds.
But among the Beltway’s class over hovercraft elites, the risible book was celebrated as a masterpiece. In 2010, “Fixing Failed States” earned Ghani and Lockhart a coveted 50th place in Foreign Policy’s list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers. The elite magazine described their Institute for State Effectiveness as “the world’s most influential state-building think tank.”
Silicon Valley was smitten as well. Google invited the two to its New York office to outline the book’s conclusions.
NATO’s Atlantic Council cultivates Ghani
Typing away in their hermetic offices on DC’s K Street, bookish lanyard-wearing pundits helped to provide the political and intellectual justification for pressing ahead with a two-decade foreign military occupation of Afghanistan. The think tanks that employ them seemed to view the war as a neocolonial civilizing mission aimed at promoting democracy and enlightenment to a “backward” people.
It was inside this insulated environment of politically connected US think tanks and universities, in his 24 years living in the United States from 1977 to 2001, where Ghani the politician was born.
The powerful Brookings Institution was enamored with Ghani. Writing in the Washington Post in 2012, the liberal-interventionist director of the think tank’s foreign policy research, Michael E. O’Hanlon, lauded Ghani as an “economic wizard.”
But chief among the organizations that fueled Ghani’s rise was the Atlantic Council, NATO’s de facto think tank in DC.
Ghani’s influences and sponsors were clearly evidenced by his official Twitter account, where the Afghan president followed just 16 profiles. Among them were NATO, its Munich Security Conference, and the Atlantic Council.
Ghani’s work with the think tank goes back nearly 20 years. In April 2009, Ghani did a fawning interview with Frederick Kempe, the president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. Kempe revealed that the two had been close friends and colleagues since 2003.
“When I came to the Atlantic Council,” Kempe recalled, “we built an International Advisory Board, of sitting chairmen and CEOs of globally significant companies, and Cabinet members – former Cabinet members of some renown from key countries. At that point it wasn’t so much I was determined to have Afghanistan represented on the International Advisory Board, because not all countries in South Asia are. But I was determined to have Ashraf Ghani.”
Kempe disclosed that Ghani was not only a member of the International Advisory Board, but also part of an influential Atlantic Council working group called the Strategic Advisors Group. Joining Ghani on the committee were former senior Western government and military officials, as well as leaders of major US and European corporations.
As part of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors Group, Kempe claimed he and Ghani helped create the Barack Obama’s administration’s strategy for Afghanistan.
“It was in that guise that I first talked to Ashraf, and we talked about how the long-term goals weren’t really known. For all the resources we were putting into Afghanistan, the long-term goals weren’t obvious,” Kempe explained.
“At that point, we came up with the idea that there had to be a 10-year framework for Afghanistan. Little did we know that we were developing and implementing strategy – because it was always thought to be an implementing strategy. But, suddenly, we had an Obama plan, behind which to put this implementing strategy.”
Ghani published this strategy at the Atlantic Council in 2009, under the title “A Ten-Year Framework for Afghanistan: Executing the Obama Plan… and Beyond.”
In 2009, Ghani was also a candidate in Afghanistan’s presidential election. To help manage his campaign, Ghani hired the American political consultant James Carville, who was known for his role as a strategist in the Democratic presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton.
At the time, the Financial Times described Ghani favorably as “the most westernised and technocratic of all the candidates standing in the Afghan elections.”
The Afghan people were not so enthusiastic. Ghani was ultimately crushed in the race, coming in a dismal fourth place, with less than 3% of the vote.
When Ghani’s friend Kempe invited him back for an interview that October, after the election, the Atlantic Council president insisted, “Some people would say you ran an unsuccessful campaign; I would say it was a successful campaign but you didn’t win.”
Kempe heaped praise on Ghani, calling him “one of the most capable public servants anywhere on the planet,” and “conceptually brilliant.”
Kampe also noted that Ghani’s talk “should be thought provoking for the Obama administration,” which was relying on the Atlantic Council to help craft its policies.
“You would have come here before the election as a dual passport-holding American and Afghan but one of the sacrifices you made to run for office was to give up your U.S. citizenship, so I’m horrified to hear that you’re here on a single entry U.S.-Afghan visa,” Kempe added. “So the Atlantic Council will go to work on that, but we certainly have to rectify that.”
Stay tuned for Dr. Ghani's conversation on Afghanistan's current & future affairs with @AtlanticCouncil later today: pic.twitter.com/xfQr5eR7BY
— Ashraf Ghani (@ashrafghani) May 30, 2014
Ghani continued working closely with the Atlantic Council in the years that followed, constantly doing interviews and events with Kempe, in which the think tank’s president stated, “In the interest of full disclosure, I must declare that Ashraf is a friend, a dear friend.”
Up until 2014, Ghani remained an active member of the Atlantic Council’s International Advisory Board,alongside numerous former heads of state, US imperial planner Zbigniew Brzezinski, neoliberal economic apostle Lawrence Summers, Lebanese-Saudi billionaire oligarch Bahaa Hariri, right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and the CEOs of Coca-Cola, Thomson Reuters, the Blackstone Group, and Lockheed Martin.
But that year, opportunity knocked and Ghani saw his ultimate ambition within reach. He was on the verge of becoming president of Afghanistan, fulfilling the role elite US institutions had cultivated him for over decades.
Washington’s love affair with the “technocratic reformer”
Afghanistan’s first post-Taliban leader, Hamid Karzai, had initially showed himself to be a loyal Western puppet. By the end of his reign in 2014, however, Karzai had become a “harsh critic” of the US government, as the Washington Post put it, “an ally who became an adversary during the 12 years of his presidency.”
Karzai began to openly criticize US-NATO troops for killing tens of thousands of civilians. He was angry about how controlled he was, and sought to exert more independence, lamenting, “Afghans died in a war that’s not ours.”
Washington and Brussels had a problem. They had invested billions of dollars over a decade in creating a new government in their image in Afghanistan, but their chosen marionette was beginning to bridle at his strings.
From the perspective of NATO governments, Ashraf Ghani provided the perfect replacement for Karzai. He was the portrait of a loyal technocrat, and had only one small downside: Afghans hated him.
When he got less than 3% of the vote in the 2009 election, Ghani had run openly as the candidate of the Washington Consensus. He only had the support of a few elites in Kabul.
So when the 2014 presidential race rolled around, Ghani and his Western handlers took a different tack, dressing Ghani in traditional clothes and filling his speeches with nationalist rhetoric.
The New York Times insisted that he had finally found the sweet spot: “Technocrat to Afghan Populist, Ashraf Ghani Is Transformed.” The paper recounted how Ghani went from a “pro-Western intellectual” who conducted “small talk in a vernacular best described as technocratese (think phrases like ‘consultative processes’ and ‘cooperative frameworks’)” to a bad copy of “populists who cut deals with their enemies, win support from their rivals and appeal to Afghan national pride.”
The rebranding strategy did help get Ghani into second place, but he was still handily defeated in the first round of the 2014 election. His rival, Abdullah Abdullah, garnered 45% to Ghani’s 32%, with nearly 1 million more votes.
In the June run-off, however, the tables suddenly turned. The results were delayed, and when they were finalized three weeks later, they had Ghani up with a stunning 56.4% to Abdullah’s 43.6%.
Abdullah claimed that Ghani had stolen the election through widespread fraud. His accusations were far from baseless, as there was substantial evidence of systematic irregularities.
To settle the dispute, the Obama administration dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to Kabul to broker negotiations between Ghani and Abdullah.
Kerry’s mediation led to the creation of a national unity government in which President Ghani at least initially agreed to share power with Abdullah, who would occupy a newly created role, the name of which transparently reflected Washington’s neoliberal agenda: Chief Executive Officer, or CEO of Afghanistan.
A report published that December by European Union electoral observers concluded that there had indeed been rampant fraud in the June election. More than 2 million votes, representing over one-quarter of the total cast, had come from polling stations with overt irregularities.
Whether or not Ghani actually won the run-off was nebulous. But he had managed to get over the finish line, and that was all that mattered. He was president now. And his imperial patrons in Washington were more than happy to sweep the scandal under the rug.
Official Washington lionizes Ghani in the face of fraud and failure
The apparent rigging of the 2014 election did little to tarnish Ashraf Ghani’s image in the Western media. The BBC characterized him with three terms – “reformer,” “technocrat,” and “incorruptible” – that would become the press corps’ favorite descriptions for a president who ultimately abandoned his country with $169 million and his proverbial tail between his legs.
The New Yorker, for instance, portrayed Ghani as “incorruptible,” hailing him as a “visionary technocrat who thinks twenty years ahead.”
In March 2015, Ghani flew to Washington for his moment of ultimate glory. After he delivered a speech to a joint session of the US Congress, the new Afghan president was celebrated as a hero who would unlock the magic of the free market to save Afghanistan once and for all.
Think tankers and their friends in the press could not get enough of Ghani. That August, the senior director of programs at the US government-funded regime-change organization Democracy International, Jed Ober, published an article in Foreign Policy that reflected the Beltway’s love affair with its man in Kabul.
When Ashraf Ghani was elected president of Afghanistan, many in the international community rejoiced. Surely a former World Bank official with a reputation as a reformer was the right man to fix Afghanistan’s most egregious problems and repair the country’s standing internationally. There was no better candidate to bring Afghanistan into a new age of good governance and begin to expand the rights and freedoms that have too often been denied many of the country’s citizens.
Unperturbed by the documented allegations of electoral fraud, the Atlantic Council honored Ghani in 2015 with its “distinguished international leadership award,” celebrating his putative “selfless and courageous commitment to democracy and human dignity.”
In March @Madeleine Albright presented @ashrafghani with his award. Full video: http://t.co/U1y3Q1xO44 #ACAwards pic.twitter.com/OHesh4S2jb
— Atlantic Council (@AtlanticCouncil) May 1, 2015
The Atlantic Council excitedly noted that Ghani “personally accepted the award, presented to him by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on March 25 in Washington before an audience of NATO leaders, ambassadors and generals.”
Albright, who once publicly defended the killing of more than half a million Iraqi children by US-led sanctions, glorified Ghani as a “brilliant economist” and claimed “he has offered hope to the Afghan people, and to the world.”
The official Atlantic Council ceremony was later held in April, but Ghani was unable to attend, so his daughter Mariam received the award on his behalf.
Born and raised in the United States, Mariam Ghani is a New York City-based artist who perfectly embodies all the characteristics of a radlib hipster ensconced in a luxury Brooklyn loft apartment. Mariam’s personal Instagram account features a combination of minimalist art and pseudo-radical political expressions.
With elite status within the milieu of left-identified regime-change activists, Mariam Ghani participated in a 2017 panel discussion at New York University titled “Art & Refugees: Confronting Conflict with Visual Elements,” alongside the illustrator and dirty-war supporter Molly Crabapple. Crabapple is a fellow at the US State Department-funded New America Foundation, where she is sponsored by billionaire and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. She and Mariam Ghani also appeared together in a 2019 artist compilation.
At the 2015 Atlantic Council ceremony in Washington, as Mariam Ghani proudly accepted the militaristic NATO think tank’s top award for her father, she stood smiling alongside three fellow honorees: a top US general, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, and right-wing country singer Toby Keith, who made his name screeching out jingoist musical threats against Arabs and Muslims, pledging to “put a boot in your ass,” because “it’s the American way.”
Take a look back at DLA 2015 ft @TobyKeithMusic @PMBreedlove @ashrafghani & more. #ACawards https://t.co/0DzficUUlw pic.twitter.com/wQEOiJhVlU
— Atlantic Council (@AtlanticCouncil) May 3, 2016
The Atlantic Council’s marketing on behalf of President Ghani kicked into hyperdrive after the ceremony. In June 2015, the think tank published an article under its “New Atlanticist” blog titled, “IMF: Ghani has Shown Afghanistan is ‘Open for Business.’”
The International Monetary Fund’s top official in Afghanistan, Mission Chief Paul Ross, effused to the Atlantic Council that Ghani had “signaled to the world that Afghanistan is open for business and the new administration is determined to proceed with reforms.”
The bureaucrat declared that the IMF was “optimistic about the long term,” under Ghani’s leadership.
Ghani and his US puppet regime had a kind of revolving door with the Atlantic Council, in fact. His ambassador to the UAE, Javid Ahmad, simultaneously served as a senior fellow at the think tank. Ahmad exploited his sinecure there to place op-eds in major media outlets depicting his boss as a moderate reformer who aimed “to restore civil debate in Afghan politics.”
[OP-ED] The US should use its remaining influence in Afghanistan to voice support for noncriminal candidates in the coming elections, and back President Ghani’s efforts to restore civil debate in Afghan politics, writes @ahmadjavid.https://t.co/ra89Kdb5Vt
— Atlantic Council (@AtlanticCouncil) September 21, 2018
Foreign Policy had lent Ahmad space in its magazine to publish a barely disguised campaign ad for Ghani in June 2014. The article sang his praise as “a highly educated, pro-Western, intellectual alternative to Afghanistan’s age-old system of corruption and warlordism.”
At the time, Ahmad was a program coordinator for Asia at the Western government-funded cold war lobby group the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Foreign Policy’s editors apparently did not notice that Ahmad’s puff piece has passages that are almost a word-for-word copy of Ghani’s official bio.
At the 2018 NATO Summit, the Atlantic Council hosted yet another fawning interview with Ghani. Flaunting his supposed “reform efforts,” the Afghan president insisted, “the security sector is being transformed completely, in the efforts against corruption.” He added: “There is a generational change that is taking place in our security forces, and across the board, that I think is really transformational.”
These boastful claims have not exactly aged well.
The journalist hosting the softball interview was Kevin Baron, the executive editor of the weapons industry-backed website Defense One. Though the systemic corruption and ineffectual and abusive nature of the Afghan army was well-known, Baron offered no pushback.
At the event, Ghani paid homage to the think tank had served as his personal propaganda mill for so long. Celebrating the Atlantic Council’s CEO, Fred Kempe, Ghani gushed, “You’ve been a great friend. I have great admiration for both your scholarship and your management.”
From the audience, @FredKempe asks about his relations with his neighbors. Before answering, @ashrafghani first thanks him for his own contributions. “You’ve been a great friend. I have great admiration for both your scholarship and your management.” #NATOEngages 12/ pic.twitter.com/PgOG5o6qTO
— Atlantic Council (@AtlanticCouncil) July 12, 2018
The Atlantic Council’s love affair with Ghani continued right up until the ignominious end of his presidency.
Ghani was an honored guest at the Atlantic Council-backed, German government-sponsored Munich Security Conference (MSC) in 2019. There, the aristocratic Afghan president gave a speech that would make even the most cynical pseudo-populist blush, declaring, “Peace needs to be citizen-centered, not elite-centered.”
#MSC2019 news: @DamonMacWilson talked to @ashrafghani today to ask him about actors who should be involved to ensure a concrete solution to the conflict. https://t.co/9HHs5esBFN
— Atlantic Council (@AtlanticCouncil) February 15, 2019
The Atlantic Council hosted Ghani a final time in June 2020, at an event co-sponsored by the CIA-linked United States Institute of Peace and Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Following praise from Kempe as a “leading voice for democracy, freedom, and inclusion” former CIA Director David Petraeus lauded Ghani by emphasizing “what a privilege it was to work with [him] as the commander in Afghanistan.”
Hear from President @ashrafghani TODAY at 10am EST as he discusses Afghanistan’s vision for peace hosted by @ACSouthAsia and moderated by @USIP’s Stephen Hadley. #ACFrontPage #AfghanPeaceProcess
— Atlantic Council (@AtlanticCouncil) June 11, 2020
It was not until Ghani openly robbed and fled his country in disgrace in August 2021 that the Atlantic Council finally turned on him. After nearly two decades of promoting, cultivating, and lionizing him, the think tank ultimately acknowledged that he was a “villain in hiding.”
It was a dramatic turnabout by a think tank that knew Ghani better than perhaps any other institution in Washington. But it also echoed the desperate attempts at face-saving by many of the same elite US institutions that had shaped Ghani into the neoliberal economic hit man he was.
In Ghani’s infamous final days, Washington remained confident
The illusion that Ashraf Ghani was a technocratic genius continued right up until the end of his disastrous term.
This June 25, just weeks before his government collapsed, Ghani met with Joe Biden in the White House, where the US president reassured his Afghan counterpart of Washington’s steadfast support.
“We’re going to stick with you,” Biden reassured Ghani. “And we’re going to do our best to see to it you have the tools you need.”
A month later, on July 23, Biden reiterated to Ghani on a phone call that Washington would continue propping him up. But without thousands of NATO troops protecting his hollow regime, the Taliban was rapidly advancing – and it all came down in a matter of days, like a sand castle hit by a wave.
By August 15, Ghani had fled the country with sacks of stolen money. It was a surreal rebuttal to the narrative, repeated ad nauseam by the press, that Ghani was, as Reuters put it in 2019, “incorruptible and erudite.”
Elites in Washington couldn’t believe what was happening, denying what they were seeing right before their eyes.
Even the legendary progressive anti-corruption activist Ralph Nader was in denial, referring to Ghani in fond terms as an “incorruptible former U.S. citizen.”
President Ashraf Ghani, the incorruptible former U.S. citizen, was never given a chance by U.S. officials who never sought to understand Afghanistan’s realities.
— Ralph Nader (@RalphNader) August 20, 2021
Few figures encapsulated the moral and political rot of the 20-year US war on Afghanistan better than Ashraf Ghani. But his record should not be taken as an isolated example.
It was official Washington, its apparatus of think tanks, and its army of sycophantic reporters that made Ghani who he was. This was a fact he himself acknowledged in a June 2020 interview with the Atlantic Council, when he declared, “Let me first pay tribute to the American people, to the American administrations, and Congress of the United States, and particularly, the American taxpayer for the sacrifices in blood and treasure.”
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