We loved what Greg Mortenson had to say in his book, Three Cups of Tea. His message had many saying to Islamic extremists, “Schools? Well why didn’t you just say so?”
Eugene Burdick had it wrong. In his classic political novel, The Ugly American, Burdick portrays Americans fighting in a fictional nation against Communism as refusing to acknowledge the beliefs and needs of the local population. In fact, Americans will now believe almost anything the local population of Afghanistan tells them and they search for literature to reinforce what they hear.
We are as gullible as the girl on prom night whose date tells her he’ll love her forever. Honest.
For decades we’ve been sucking up whatever tripe Pakistan hands us. Meanwhile thousands of Haqqani terrorists rest comfortably in the Tribal Areas, awaiting the call to Paradise. The Pakistani intelligence services take our money with one hand and slip a knife between our shoulder blades with the other.
Americans are so gullible we actually believe we’re Ugly Americans. And our enemies love it. While the Taliban, Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda conduct campaigns of assassination and terror, we worry that we’re not culturally sensitive enough. We trip over ourselves learning which hand to shake with and carefully study culturally acceptable verbiage and customs in Afghanistan.
Some want to portray Americans as thuggish jerks, and that the real message of Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea is that we should be the opposite of The Ugly American. In reality we are like children in the hands of local Afghan warlords and insurgent masterminds who’ve played Realpolitik for decades and who laugh at the narratives presented by Mortenson.
Common decency is a must in counter-insurgency, but so isn’t wisdom and the willingness to pull a trigger when necessary. Schools can go a long way in bringing Afghanistan from the dark ages, but it’s an uncomfortable truth that dealing with zealots who have no stake in peace takes the cynicism and cunning of a gothic king.