I caught a news story on 774 ABC Melbourne’s website: “A Queensland man who is believed to be the first Australian to conquer Afghanistan’s highest mountain says parts of the war-torn country are ready for a tourism revival.” I read this and realized that the United States is going about this whole Afghanistan problem all ass-backwards. Afghanistan needs less explosive, lead-projectile-type power and more pretty-picture, flowery-language persuasion. You know, promotional brochures racked up in local visitors’ centers, where friendly, knowledgeable staff keeps the coffee fresh and the restrooms clean.
For 10 years, the Pentagon has managed to maintain a low-intensity conflict that seems to kill just enough soldiers so that the people back home feel obligated to continue supplying replacements but not so many soldiers that people become fed up with the whole shootin’ match and pull their support. It’s a tricky balance, and you have to hand it to our military leaders, forced into ending one conflict, yet still able to maintain their operational tempo by having an Afghanistan up their sleeve.
While the generals and those who sell them giant mine-resistant trucks with bullet-proof windows and curtains designed to emasculate the shaped-charge energy of a rocket propelled grenade embrace no-win military quagmires, one must accept the possibility that mine-resistant trucks with their jingling drapery and bullet-sprayers have proven ineffective at winning the heart and mind of the average Afghani. In fact, the United States Army just doesn’t have the people skills to lead illiterate subsistence farmers onto the path good, Christian military men expect them to tread.
Many young military men, and many old ones, hold Afghanis in contempt, calling them “hajji” with disdain and disrespect. Military men are xenophobic and possess undeserved superiority complexes. I can hear them singing “America! Fuck yeah!” They possess simple and narrow minds. I have no confidence that any soldier can win a heart or mind of any Afghani.
The Army kills people and destroys buildings. If it’s not killing people and exploding stuff, the Army becomes a big shoulder-shrugging, head-scratching lummox. Friendly persuasion is not its cup of black Afghan tea. The Army is all tactics and no tact. My unit has been in the Stan for a month, and other than displaying our strength in numbers, our main contribution has been to add a considerable amount of money to the national debt. The Army does not quite know what to do with us. We sit in a stack of converted shipping containers, staying out of the heat and killing time. I imagine myself an insider-trading convict serving a minimum-security prison sentence.
I’ll take my air-conditioned shipping container over supplying some ax-grinding Afghani with an American infidel to kill any day. The order “draw fire” is one I hope never to hear. But shouldn’t we have something to do? Are we going to get out here and do our part to win this bitch so we can get home? The sedentary nature of our deployment causes me to doubt the Army’s stated goals and to wonder whether there may be a more-effective corps for winning the war and promoting a warm, fuzzy feeling toward American citizens. This is, after all, what we want.
The United States Army, the most bad-ass killing organization on the face of the Earth, cannot win this war. The Army lacks the deft touch required to win hearts and minds. The United States needs to put the Army away and make Afghan service compulsory for every cheerful soul — be they volunteer or paid — behind the counter at every visitor bureau and chamber of commerce within 50 miles of the Continental Divide. United States policy should be aimed at undermining Afghani resistance by fomenting a tourism revival.
Afghanistan needs less armed, armored Americans and more rich, rugged Americans wearing stuff from REI and The North Face. Afghanistan needs to position its mountains as alternatives to the over-crowded and over-priced peaks in the Himalaya farther to the east, and it is going to need help. Who better than some eager booster with years of experience flogging some desolate, economically desperate county in Wyoming? On their tours of duty, these boosters will not only promote American tourism in Afghanistan, they will promote American tourists to Afghanis.
Ten years of shooting and killing and surging has failed to transform Afghanistan into an American-friendly democracy. What a surprise! What human would befriend another human carrying a loaded weapon and dressed in a crab suit of bullet-proof armor? But put a guy in a Patagonia pullover and a pair of Merrells with a wad of cash in a village at the base of some 7,500-meter peak, and the Afghanis just might change their tune.
Once a journalist, Sgt. Mike serves in the Army and has a hard time thinking of himself as a legitimate military target. Dateline: Afghanistan appears monthly in the MG.