The world seems to be on fire—the spread of the Islamic State in Iraq; the endurance of Boko Haram in Nigeria; the East-West standoff in Ukraine. Is there a common thread tying these events together? In Thieves of State, Sarah Chayes weaves history with fast-moving reportage and insider accounts from the Afghanistan war, to identify an unexpected link: corruption.

Chayes demonstrates how governments that resemble criminal organizations drive their indignant constituents to extremes. Drawing on her personal experience in some of the most venal environments on earth, Chayes presents examples of what emerges where kleptocracy prevails: Afghans returning to the Taliban, Egyptians overthrowing the Mubarak government (but also rebuilding Al-Qaeda), and Nigerians embracing both radical evangelical Christianity and the Islamist terror group Boko Haram. 

This was an interactive event, featuring Jane Harman, head of the Woodrow Wilson Center and former U.S. Representative, who remarked on the significant implications of this thesis for policy makers and business leaders. Chayes then presented on the book, and opened the conversation up to input from the audience. Carnegie’s Tom Carothers moderated. 

Sarah Chayes

Sarah Chayes is a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law and South Asia programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She came to Carnegie after a decade living and working in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and service as special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Jane Harman

Jane Harman is the director, president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She is the former U.S. representative for California's 36th congressional district.

Thomas Carothers

Thomas Carothers is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the founder and director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Program and oversees Carnegie Europe in Brussels.