Sarah Chayes

Senior Associate
Democracy and Rule of Law Program
South Asia Program
Chayes, formerly special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is an expert in South Asia policy, kleptocracy and anticorruption, and civil-military relations.


MA, Islamic History, Harvard University


Arabic; English; French


Sarah Chayes is a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment. Formerly special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she is an expert in South Asia policy, kleptocracy and anticorruption, and civil-military relations. She is working on correlations between acute public corruption and the rise of militant extremism.

A former reporter, she covered the fall of the Taliban for National Public Radio, then left journalism to remain in Kandahar in order to contribute to the reconstruction of the country, living there almost continuously since December 2001. After running a nongovernmental organization founded by President Karzai’s brother Qayum, Chayes launched a manufacturing cooperative that produces skin-care products for export from licit local agriculture. The goals were to help revive the region’s historic role in exporting fruit and its derivatives, promote sustainable development, and expand alternatives to the opium economy. Deeply embedded in the life of the city and fluent in Pashtu, Chayes gained a unique perspective on the unfolding war.

In 2009, she was tapped to serve as special adviser to Generals David McKiernan and Stanley McChrystal, commanders of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). She contributed her unique understanding of the Afghan south to the decisionmaking process, built ISAF’s anticorruption policy, and assisted the U.S. embassy in developing an integrated approach to Afghan kleptocracy. In 2010, Chayes became special adviser to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, contributing to strategic policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Arab Spring.

Chayes is author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (Penguin Press HC, 2006). She is a contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times opinion section, and her articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Atlantic, among other publications.

  • Op-Ed Defense One April 6, 2014
    The Military Must Hunt Corruption, Not Just Terrorists

    Acute and systemic corruption has taken hold in a number of countries and it is driving indignant populations, who are networked and communicating as never before, to extremes.

  • Article April 1, 2014
    Does the Afghan Presidential Election Matter?

    The upcoming election in Afghanistan marks neither the end of a long post-Taliban transition nor a crucial turning point for the troubled country.

  • Op-Ed Los Angeles Times March 27, 2014
    Where Corruption and Insurrection Go Hand in Hand

    Nearly every country facing an extremist insurgency is run by a kleptocratic clique. Corruption, in other words, has security implications.

  • Article March 27, 2014
    How a Leftist Labor Union Helped Force Tunisia’s Political Settlement

    Without the muscular involvement of a powerful labor union, it is unlikely that Tunisia’s remarkable political settlement would have come about.

  • Op-Ed Wall Street Journal March 7, 2014
    Book Review: ‘The Tyranny of Experts’ by William Easterly

    Why does poverty persist across so much of the world, despite billions of dollars in international aid and the efforts of armies of development professionals?

  • Op-Ed POLITICO Magazine February 27, 2014
    The Money Pit

    Over the past decade, corruption in Afghanistan has crystallized into a business of structured networks, with subordinates paying up the line for protection from repercussions.

  • Op-Ed Los Angeles Times February 9, 2014
    Hamid Karzai’s Cozy History with the Taliban

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s every word and deed of late seems designed to appeal to the Taliban leadership and its backers in Pakistan, and to fracture the partnership between Afghanistan and the American people.

  • Op-Ed Los Angeles Times January 12, 2014
    Robert Gates’ Failure of Duty

    Robert Gates’ new book will go down as one of the most ill-tempered memoirs ever written by a former Cabinet secretary.

  • Op-Ed Los Angeles Times December 3, 2013
    Enabling Hamid Karzai

    After an arduous diplomatic process to define the terms of a future international presence in Afghanistan, President Karzai balked at the last second.

  • Op-Ed Bloomberg October 20, 2013
    Afghanistan Isn't Ready to Vote

    Afghanistan’s presidential campaign season is officially open and, thus far, the lead-up to next year’s election has offered no sign that lessons from 2009 have been learned.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.