Note: This article is the first of a three-part series; spanning the next three days. The second article will be published on August 20th, and the final article will published on August 21st.
“On one level, Americans are too distant from the Middle East, too naive to understand its complexities and history. On another, it’s the people who show up in Washington-Iranian and Arab exiles nursing a grudge, with time on their hands and money to pay for a hotel-who influence U.S. policy by default. They color Washington’s view of the world, drawing us into foreign adventures we have no business being in.”
The US State Department (DoS) is heavily populated by a. . . what I like to call. . . self-perceived, New American Royalty. Why are they called such? Because, despite an oblivious nature towards credible threats and with almost zero knowledge of the regions they visit, they expect to be treated as elites, and demand respect (unsuccessfully)—when none, of course, is actually due. Moreover, they are the furthest thing from cultural experts, yet fancy themselves to be exactly that. How do I know this? This was witnessed firsthand through years of working on PSD teams in both Iraq and Afghanistan with the most notorious private military contracting company in history. Out of all the geographic footprints, I must say, “diplomacy” in Kabul, Afghanistan left me the most amazed.
Now enjoying my well-earned ex-military/ex-contractor freedom, soaking in the luxuries of the good ol’ US of A, I am compelled to impart these fucking absurd stories of US diplomacy. I hope you enjoy this peek into the window of personal protective details, three-piece suits and Ivy leaguers convinced they were changing the world one sip of chai at a time, whilst avoiding having to look a single Taliban fighter in the eye, or even worse—a Blackwater “mercenary.”
And onto it:
State Department personnel seemed wide-eyed and oozing with a misplaced fondness for cultures that delighted in killing people in the cruelest of ways; often for unforgivable offenses like being a woman and learning to read. Yet, at the same time, these DoS personnel had a repulsion toward guns, which were ironically the tools of the one trade that prevented them from ending up in an orange jumpsuit on Al Jazeera. This repulsion often created stories of both disgust and hilarity. Tales from instructors back in the States told of mandatory firearms training that resulted in some colorful moments. Moments such as someone breaking down crying when they had to hold a pistol. . . or closing their eyes, then emptying their magazine toward the vague direction of the target. . . or rudely casting their weapon aside, into the dirt; shaken and in full disdain that their delicate hands had touched such a weapon of minimal destruction.
Meanwhile in Kabul, “Credible reports are coming in from the TOC that the Haqqani Network, operating in the Kabul area are specifically targeting Department of State motorcades tomorrow with the intent of using white KIA/Tuk Tuk/Motorcycle VBIED’s to engage with DoS motorcades in conjunction with follow on attacks of RPG and RPK small arms fire. There is also credible local source intelligence(sic) using suicide bombers in burkas as a cover to gain proximity to diplomatic personnel or place magnetic IED’s on diplomatic vehicles.”
Speaketh the new American royalty, “Yes, but it is crucial that we go to the Agricultural Fair to show our presence praising the progress this country has made at growing watermelons.”
Progress is such a cute word when describing such a place in which you are surrounded with examples of abysmal political and economic decay. This was especially confirmed when we would roll by Afghany Professor X anytime we left the Embassy in one particular direction. This little gem of the country’s incredible gene pool was a beggar who crawled around on a what appeared to be a mechanics cart with his legs folded up to his shoulders, and propelled himself with a flop in his hand, presumably trying to read people’s minds or place thoughts of donations into their heads. Everyone saw him on a daily basis, and out of pity from every gushing American, British, NATO alliance person around they had attempted to donate a wheel chair to him on several occasions, only to have him routinely sell it off to add to his mounting cash pile of money back in his troll cave.
Kabul was not the most dangerous place in Afghanistan, and to be clear every region had its highs and lows as far as threat level depending on how spastic the locals decided to be. But it had its moments. It had a caustic haze of smog that was so thick you would mistake it for fog. This usually stemmed from the 900K leaded fuel shitbox cars, the multitude of open sewers that actually had instituted the creation of a daily “fecal count” for embassy personnel operating out in town, or the simple fact that the ‘Ghans would burn anything in sight.
There was a feeling of being contaminated by it because the unctuous smell would permeate everything. No matter which seat you chose in the Land Cruiser you would see a constantly dusty—yet moist—dirty, garbage-strewn, post-apocalyptic scene of crusty people and sickly farm animals going about their lives in an insect fashion, ordered, but not ordered in the manner that we are accustomed to seeing in more developed countries. It’s if as the city was infected with humans, something that the organism tried to slough off and failed, succumbing to the infestation, died, and now, like illiterate maggots, these people existed in its carcass. And this, of course, was the more established part of Afghanistan.
There were times when I would glance back in the rear view mirror, out of curiosity, wanting to see how the New American Royalty was visually absorbing these scenes of human decay from a civilization barely out of the Middle Ages. Only to unsurprisingly find them, face down, obliviously captivated by their Blackberry or Embassy-issued phone of choice. They would usually be texting about some party they would later attend back at the Embassy, unaware of the man exiting the Kabul river bank, post bowel movement, in broad daylight, and “cleaning” his hand with his now fetid beard.
For whatever reason, despite willfully ignoring the nausea of Kabul stimuli, they so desperately exclaimed the nobilities of that deplorable society. This notion initially instilled by their professors, no doubt suffering from Theomania whist being insulated in their fragile little bubble of academia. Their incredible willingness to place themselves, and us, in the most absurdly dangerous situations for the dumbest of reasons, combined with their need to dismiss every credible intelligence with a sort of cavalier aplomb. . . well, it was jaw dropping.
It is ironic because we, the knuckle-dragging gunslingers most of them adamantly despised, relished the opportunity to engage, shoot and kill anything that threatened the safety of our team and the principal with an exhilarating pleasure that only justified violence can provide. Everyone on the team was an experienced veteran: ex SOF military unit member from assorted groups you may recognize as Army Rangers, Marine Recon, the SEAL’s, SF, PJ’s and other alphabet soup acronyms of badasserey, or maybe some hardened back-to-back-to-back deployed grunt with a propensity for belt-fed weapons.
It was just the wildly ridiculous manner in which those who possessed zero tactical experience or knowledge, would impose their farcical opinions on exactly how we should carry out the mission. This in turn would only make things exponentially more dangerous.
One glaring example always sticks out:
Intel had just said an attack would be highly probable, based on the cell phone chatter of radical militant groups. We. . . in an obvious American Embassy vehicle, overtly crawling along at a snail’s pace looking like something important and worthy of blowing up. . . advise the principal, and get ready to make way onto our secondary route.
“Just take Jalalabad road, ” from the backseat. J-bad was red, of course they would want to take it.
So, with smiles on the faces of every American in the SUV aware of the risk, and not afraid of a gunfight. . . My Lord Marquees of Political Science from Stanford, sure—we will take fucking Jalalabad road…