Believe it or not, the State Department has a division dedicated solely to converting dictatorships to democracy.

Harvey Cable is a member of the team and has just been sent to Afghanistan to show the new leaders how our system works.

I take you to Kabul:

Harvey is speaking to Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president. "You must have honest elections so the people will have faith in your country."

Karzai nods and replies, "We've never had an honest election."

"First you have to have foolproof voting hardware. I have been instructed by President Bush to supply Afghanistan with thousands of voting machines."

Karzai says, "I read that they don't work."

"They still have a few bugs in them, but I'm sure you people will work them out. Now the most important thing in a free election is money. You can't have an election without it."

"How much?"

"Millions and millions of dollars. There is no such thing as enough money in a political campaign."

Karzai says, "How do I raise it?"

"You're the president. You go around the country and tell your countrymen that if they don't give you money the other party will win."

"Wait a minute," Karzai says. "My people are poor and can hardly afford it."

"That isn't where the big money will come from. It will come from lobbyists."

"What's a lobbyist?"

"It's someone who tells the elected officials how they should vote. For example, the lobbyist representing the opium industry will inform you how he wants you to vote on poppy subsidies. Lobbyists are what make the election process in America so fair."

Karzai says, "I read in the Kabul Times that the American legislators voted not to allow anyone to give them money."

Harvey says, "That was just a joke. Hamid, if you are going to have an honest election you have to know the difference between hard money and soft money. Soft money is the best because it's given for favors. Congress passed a law against soft money, but it has more holes in it than there are caves in the Tora Bora Mountains."

"The trouble is we don't have states. We have provinces and tribes ruled by warlords. I don't think they would go for a free election or even give money to the candidates. How can we win an election against the warlords?"

"You can play hardball like we do in the States. If we don't agree with someone in an American election, we put a dirty commercial on the air."

"Like what?"

"You say Ismail Khan, your opponent from Herat, uses torture, rapes women and beats people who won't vote for him. You're only telling the truth."

"I don't mind making a dirty commercial, but there is only one trouble with that. We have very few sets to show them on."

"I'm sure President Bush will give you all the television sets you need."

"Thank you, Mr. Cable. You have shown us the way."

(c) 2002, Tribune Media Services