Tom Wolfe's classic study of War on Poverty handouts to "community organizers" in inner city San Francisco pointed out that most of the demonstrations and confrontations were largely staged to get money out of the government:
Going downtown to mau-mau the bureaucrats got to be the routine practice in San Francisco. The poverty program encouraged you to go in for mau-mauing. They wouldn't have known what to do without it. ... That was one reason why Summer Jobs was such a big deal. ... Nevertheless, there was some fierce ma-mauing that went on over summer jobs, especially in 1969, when the O.E.O. started cutting back funds and the squeeze was on. Half of it was sheer status. There were supposed to be strict impartial guidelines determining who got the summer jobs—but the plain fact was that half the jobs were handed out organization by organization, according to how heavy your organization was. If you could get twenty summer jobs for your organization and somebody else got five, then you were four times the aces they were ...
Reading the Afghanistan War website of Michael Yon, an ex-Green Beret who has been an embedded reporter in Iraq and Afghanistan, for some reason got me thinking about Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. Especially the parts where people who are likely Taliban-affiliated show up at the British Army base where Yon is embedded and demand medical care for a wound no doubt suffered fighting the Brits or show up demanding compensation for their house that got blown up because guys were shooting at the Brits from it.
For a lot of the Pashtuns, no matter what side they nominally are on, the war seems to be not just about killing people and breaking things (which, being Pashtuns, they consider good clean fun), but, also, it's a living. If the war ever ends, will the rest of the world continue to funnel money and weapons into Afghanistan? Will they then have to get, like, jobs?
Moreover, consider the lessons the Afghans likely drew from the Iraq "Surge." Here in the U.S., the received lesson is that adding 15% more soldiers made all the difference, but what actually made the difference was what I'd been advocating all along: bribe the Sunni rebels to stop fighting us and start fighting the foreign fundamentalists.
If you are an Afghan, you probably figure that the same logic will play out in Afghanistan as in Iraq: the more problems you cause the Americans now, the more they will bribe you to switch sides, the same as the more you intimidated federal poverty bureaucrats in 1969, the biggerthe bribe they paid you.
Does Obama grasp that? This is one case where his pre-Presidential career experience ought to equip him to understand what's going on.
Yon's perspective is different. He implies that American soldiers didn't like the Iraqis, but at least they were civilized, in the sense that they mostly lived in houses that were designed with the expectation of some degree of law and order in Iraq. In contrast, while American and British troops tend to like the Afghans more on a personal level, they're basically uncivilized. Everybody in Afghanistan who can afford it builds his family a mud fort to call home, a mini-Alamo, because the expectation is that normal life in Afghanistan is Hobbesian.
For some reason, though, this doesn't discourage Yon:
We must face reality: Our reasons for continuing are not the reasons we came for. We are fighting a different war now than the one that began in 2001. Today's war is about social re-engineering. Given the horrible history of Afghanistan, and the fact that we already are here, the cause is worthy and worthwhile. ... Today, the war is still worth fighting, yet the goal to reengineer one of the most backward, violent places on Earth, will require a century before a reasonable person can call Afghanistan "a developing nation." The war will not take that long - but the effort will.
Well, as Sam Goldwyn would say, include me out.