This week's syndicated column:
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.