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Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 100 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393239461
ISBN-10: 0393239462
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Editorial Reviews


"The target of her zeal is government corruption around the world -- an old challenge but one she recasts in urgent and novel terms." (Carlos Lozada - Washington Post)

“Makes a strong case that acute corruption causes not only social breakdown but also violent extremism…An important book that should be required reading for officials in foreign service, and for those working in commerce or the military. The story will interest the nonspecialist reader too.” (Giles Foden - New York Times Book Review)

“Chayes tells [a] fascinating story…[T]he central revelation in Thieves of the State: at a certain point, systemic corruption became not just a lamentable by-product of the war but an accelerant of conflict…Chayes argues, convincingly, [that state-sanctioned larceny is] a threat not just to Afghanistan’s national security but to that of the United States.” (Patrick Radden Keefe - New Yorker)

“[Chayes] tells the story of what happened in Afghanistan brilliantly, and compares her experience there with the current corruption in Egypt, Russia and the dismal rest…[a] page-turner.” (Deirdre N. McCloskey - Wall Street Journal)

“Essential.” (G. John Ikenberry - Foreign Affairs)

“Informative, thought-provoking, very interesting and concisely written…Through personal experience and her own research, Chayes makes a simple yet profound argument.” (Taylor Dibbert - Huffington Post)

Thieves of State is a revolutionary book. It upends our understanding of the sources of violent extremism on its head, arguing that the governments we have been relying on to fight terrorism are themselves one of its most potent and insidious sources. Sarah Chayes weaves together history, adventure, political analysis, personal experience, culture, and religion in a shimmering and compelling tapestry.” (Anne-Marie Slaughter)

“Sarah Chayes provides a vivid, ground-level view on how pervasive corruption undermines U.S. foreign policy and breeds insurgency. Thieves of State provides critical lessons that all policymakers should heed.” (Francis Fukuyama)

“Sarah Chayes brilliantly illuminates a topic no one wants talk about―but we must. Corruption is an insidious force that is causing some of the most dangerous challenges our world is facing. It has to be at the core of America’s strategies, engagements and relationships for the twenty-first century.” (Admiral (ret.) Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)

From the Author

Dear readers:
Thanks very much for visiting this page, and for your interest in Thieves of State.  I wrote this book to address a dumbfounding impasse: the inability of senior U.S. officials to make the connection between acute and abusive corruption and dramatic global upheavals, from the rise of violent extremism to the revolutions of the Arab Spring or Ukraine.  What Thieves of State does is take you with me, so you can experience for yourself not just the abuse and humiliation of everyday corruption in many countries, but also the inner workings of the U.S. government as it reached a decision not to address the problem.

We'll also take a fascinating historical detour, for history has much to teach us about how people have grappled with these issues - and about how similar their responses have been across time and culture.  We'll detail hard-nosed options for different approaches, and we'll take a glance in the mirror.
It is an unusual book: no dry, expository policy-wonk analysis, rather a riveting story that will keep you engaged.  But you'll also find plenty of thought-provoking, even sometimes provocative, analysis.  I hope that you like it, and that you will let me know your thoughts either way.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (January 19, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393239462
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393239461
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I believe Thieves of State is a must-read for anyone concerned about promoting peace and civility in communities, nations, and the world. Sarah Chayes compellingly discusses how the corrupt practices of governments and authorities spawn violent reactionary movements that undermine the security and stability of societies. Chayes’s voice is strong and confident, her prose is taut, fact-rich, and colorful, sometimes passionate but never indulgent. The book is intelligent and well-researched and refreshingly accessible, with a strong narrative current to draw the reader along. More than that, this is an important book, one with the potential to alter the discussion and--one may hope--the U. S. government’s approach to diplomacy and national security issues. Chayes, a former NPR correspondent, lived in Afghanistan for a decade; a trained historian, she is not only a thoughtful, penetrating observer, but a talented story teller, and many of her stories are disturbing. Imagine, for example, living in a country where the conduct of simple business--obtaining a license, paying a utility bill--requires you to first bribe a bureaucrat or series of functionaries simply to accomplish your objective. Injustices unremedied, with no channel for redress, sow the frustration and desperation that may ultimately erupt in violence. Although Chayes cites examples of national corruption (Egypt, Uzbekistan, Tunisia, Nigeria) and the responses it provokes, a reader may also consider what happens at the individual or local level when a person’s or community’s sense of fairness is continually, unapologetically offended. Reading this book has changed the way I see the world and my role in it as an unwitting contributor to its miseries, or more hopefully, to its peace.
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Format: Hardcover
Fourteen years after the 9-11 attacks and two costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, those countries are still not secure, and regional jihadist groups, aligned and unaligned with al-Qaeda, have emerged. This situation certainly demands a critical analysis of the effectiveness of all U.S. policies and responses to terrorism. In Thieves of State, Sarah Chayes hopes to ignite discourse about the role corrupt regimes play in spawning both jihadist insurgencies, as well as Arab Spring protests, and that alliances with these regimes may not be in our long term strategic interests. Consequently, this book is a must read for policy makers who have yet to conduct a critical evaluation of the impact of strategic alliances with corrupt governments, and whether they have increased not lessoned our risk.

The book catalogues the author’s journey through events in Southwest Asia and the Middle East, which have led her to conclude that these alliances are ill-advised and weaken our national security. She walks us through her life as a reporter, founder of a non-profit in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, and an advisor to three commanders of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan, culminating with an advisory position to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen.

While in Afghanistan, Sarah Chayes learned that the corrupt government had been mischaracterized as a simple patronage system. In reality, it operated as a vertically integrated criminal syndicate where financial rewards were not distributed downward from patron to client, but instead moved “up the chain of command…in the form of gifts, kickbacks, levies paid to superiors, and the purchase of positions.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is very easy to get depressed while reading Ms. Chayes book. Well intentioned donors and individuals need to be very careful when operating in predatory states like Afghanistan, Angola, Nigeria, etc. in that they can certainly exacerbate things. She does outline a series of extensive recommendations at the end of her book on how to Do No Harm. What she doesn't talk too much about is how resilient people are in such societies and how they are able to cope and survive. Some migrate, but most sit tight and cope with the predatory nature of institutions surrounding them. One highly theoretical solution not mentioned is Economist Paul Romer's concept of Charter Cities run by a consortium of nations. These Charter Cities would be established in predatory countries and facilitate getting government out of the way of private enterprise and letting them create needed economic activity and create jobs. Charter Cities are underway in Honduras and India and worth tracking.
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Format: Hardcover
I highly recommend Thieves of State to anyone looking to expand their understanding of the corruption that cripples global security. Sarah Chayes spent 10 years living in Afghanistan among corruption; this first-hand experience granted her the ability to bestow a deeper understanding of “on the ground” corruption as it occurs not only in Afghanistan but in corrupt societies around the globe. Furthermore, her ability to link what may seem like localized regional corruption to global insecurity is truly illuminating. From the first page, I was hooked—this is a book that succeeds in both entertaining and informing its readers. Thank you, Ms. Chayes, for speaking up on a topic that is all-too-often overlooked.
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