Our hard-thinking but myopic military
one-woman war against our “war” in Afghanistan, Diana West punctures
the absurdity of training U.S. soldiers to become buddies with Afghan village leaders:
Chilling with Mullahs
Your tax dollars at work:
“In a mock Afghan village on the Quantico Marine base,” the Washington Post reports, “Sloan Mann, a military contractor, guided several Marines into a sweltering concrete room. They came to meet a fake mullah, played by an Afghan American actor. Mann, a former Army infantry officer, watched as the Marines practiced the seemingly straightforward tactic of chatting up Afghan village leaders.”
The article goes on to describe Sgt. Walton Cabrera, 25, who “sat before the mullah but couldn’t ease into a groove. `So … how’s everything in the village so far?’ he asked. `Has the population changed?’
“Armed with a pen and report card, Mann, 36, handed up harsh feedback. `No rapport,” he wrote.’”
No rapport? But that’s a good thing. America will truly be in trouble when our best young people actually relate to the dominant members of Afghanistan’s violent, misogynistic, pederasty-prone, polygamous, tribal, Islamically supremacist and corrupt culture. But Mann, currently delivering on a tidy $1.5 million annual contract with the Pentagon, has a job to do. He pulled several Marines aside near the mock Afghan bazaar to give them expert instruction: “You guys don’t like building rapport? Chill. Have a conversation. Hang out with them.”
So it goes, up and down the military food chain, all eyes on The Relationship between Americans and Afghans, which, given the constant and remedial attention, would appear to be sparkless—again, civilizationally speaking, a good thing.
Last July, with the initial deployment of Marines to Helmand Province, it was Brig. Gen Lawrence D. Nicholson telling his men: “You’re going to drink lots of tea. You’re going to eat lots of goat. Get to know the people. That’s the reason why we’re here.”
Last month, it was Gen. David Petraeus’ new counterinsurgency guidelines, which open with “The decisive terrain is the human terrain” Later: “Take off your sunglasses … Earn the people’s trust, talk to them, ask them questions, and learn about their lives.”
Now, it’s come to this: A military contractor is hired to help Marines pull themselves out of the Lonely Hearts (and Minds) Club that is, in the words of the Post reporter, making their “encounters with the `mullah’ (feel) like bad first dates.”
But, honestly, what would count as ice-breakers with a Pashtun tribal elder? In all likelihood he has several wives, some of whom are no more than children (in homage to Muhammad’s child bride Aisha). He may well be a “bacha baz,” which is the term for an older man who has a sexual relationship with a boy. (As research recently highlighted by Joel Brinkley shows, this is common practice in Kandahar and other southern Afghan towns.)
How’s—the wives? What’s a night out in Kandahar like with—the boys? And by the way, wherever do you shop for all of those American flags to light up for Islam?
Clearly, it’s all too easy to get off on the wrong foot, and Sgt. Cabrera just never clicked with his “mullah.” By the newspaper’s account, he earned “zero out of five points for his `build rapport’ and five out of 10 for having `effectively weaved questions into a conversation.’” Cabrera explained he had been “worrying too much about avoiding insult to the mullah”—always a conversation-chiller.
By session’s end, Mann delivered his final assessment to Marine commanders. “Three things,” he told them. “One, lack of preparation. Two, it was a full-on interrogation. Three, lack of rapport.”
And yes, that contract was for $1.5 million.
But maybe it’s worth the price to know Marines aren’t simpatico with mullahs. You already knew that? Well, let’s hope it sticks. The Petraeus guidelines are also big on pushing Afghan empathy, specifically encouraging troops to “view our actions through the eyes of the Afghans.” That’s perfectly fine for the Afghans, but when an American commander exhorts his troops to “consult with elders before pursuing new initiatives and operations,” we can only hope he doesn’t mean consulting them before pursuing polygamy, pederasty or wife-beating.
The truth is, for our civilization’s sake, we can’t afford for our people to hit it off.
[end of West column]
And if they do hit it off, what then? Then our military personnel get all excited about how well they’re getting along with the locals, and they translate this success into “success” in their mission. But what is their mission? Their mission—if they have any meaningful mission at all—is to assure an al Qaeda- and Taliban-free Afghanistan. And developing non-judgmental cozy relationships with village leaders who are themselves co-religionists and co-clansmen with the Taliban and who share their culture and sharia beliefs will assure that desired outcome … how?
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This is ATM (American Technocratic Madness), which is most fully developed in the middle and upper officer ranks of the U.S. armed services. The military is given some mission to accomplish. So it applies its formidable brains to the task and comes up with an incredibly involved and expensive multi-step plan (e.g., training commissioned and non-commissioned officers how to socialize with and win the trust of Afghan village elders), all laid out in PowerPoint, in order to carry out that mission. The more complex and absorbing this intermediate plan toward the accomplishment of the mission becomes, the less the plan has to do with the actual mission. The Army becomes fascinated by the intermediate steps. When the intermediate steps seem to be going well, Army officers get all excited about the great progress they are making, and tell newspapers and their friends and family back home about the great faith they have in their mission and about how fulfilling they find their job, and the “conservative” U.S. media pick up on these encouraging reports and say, “See, things are going great!” Meanwhile the Army officers and their conservative cheerleaders have lost sight of the overall picture, in which no progress is being made at all.
Thus, during all those years in Iraq, almost every time you opened a newspaper, you saw a story profiling an intelligent, competent, and devoted U.S. Army captain or lieutenant colonel talking about his great faith in the ultimate success of our mission, based on his personal success in establishing rapport with a local Iraqi chieftan with whose aid he was building a school or a fixing a sewage plant. Meanwhile the overall situation in Iraq was steadily deteriorating, which the gung-ho captain or lieutenant colonel didn’t realize at all, because his gaze was fixed on his immediate assignment and his personal experiences. This delusionary process, with the conservative journalists participating in it and cheering it every inch of the way (at least well into 2006 when some of them started to voice anguished doubts and to back away from President Bush), went on from March 2003 to January 2007, when, facing the prospect of the imminent collapse of Iraq into sectarian mass murder, the U.S. finally adopted a radically different policy aimed at suppressing, not just managing, the insurgency. And now every mainstream conservative pundit blocks out that 1,408-day period of self-delusion, drift, and disaster, 62 days longer than America’s engagement in the greatest war in history, and calls our Iraq involvement a marvelous success, and urges us to repeat the experience in Afghanistan, where our forces have already been engaged for a period more than twice the length of our involvement in World War II.
James P. writes:
Brig. Gen Lawrence D. Nicholson tells his men: “You’re going to drink lots of tea. You’re going to eat lots of goat. Get to know the people. That’s the reason why we’re here.”
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 25, 2010 01:34 PM | Send
So we’re spending on the order of $200 million a day in order to drink tea, eat goat, and mingle with Afghan peasants. Great. America is undoubtedly much safer as a result! Anybody else think that the military should be sent places not to eat, drink and socialize, but to kill people and break things?
“The military is given some mission to accomplish. So it applies its formidable brains to the task and comes up with an incredibly involved and expensive multi-step plan (e.g., training commissioned and non-commissioned officers how to socialize with and win the trust of Afghan village elders), all laid out in PowerPoint, in order to carry out that mission. The more complex and absorbing this intermediate plan toward the accomplishment of the mission becomes, the less the plan has to do with the actual mission. The Army becomes fascinated by the intermediate steps.”
Let me rewrite that somewhat:
In Afghanistan and Iraq, as in Vietnam and Korea before them, the politicians assign the military a fundamentally impossible mission to accomplish. The military is told that they cannot defeat the enemy decisively, but must concede to the enemy an inviolable strategic sanctuary from which the enemy controls the tempo of combat. Moreover, the politicians place absurd restrictions on how the military must conduct operations even in the non-sanctuary areas where it is allowed to fight. Rather than resign or resist, the top brass accepts a strategy and operational restrictions that guarantee failure. This leaves the mid-level officers in the unenviable position of executing the impossible strategy under the ridiculous restrictions. Coming from a “can do” culture, the mid-level officers come up with incredibly involved and expensive multi-step plans to carry out the impossible mission. Mid-level officers who try to do the impossible are decorated and promoted; they know that if they salute, make no waves, and do their time overseas, their careers will stay on track. The few officers who realize they are executing a strategy that guarantees defeat either resign in disgust or are forced out. It is simply not in the Army’s institutional interest to lift its eyes above the level of the “intermediate steps” to the strategic level—among other things, this would bring about a profound crisis in civil-military relations, as the Army would have to refuse or resist political instructions that made no sense. As a result, the Army as an institution prospers even as it is defeated and even as the nation wastes vast amounts of money and lives trying to do the impossible.