There is a world of difference between people who travel and people who don’t. People who travel learn things along the way, almost by osmosis. After GeeksonaPlane left Dubai, I stayed an extra day, and my flight home was full of contractors on their way back to the States from Afghanistan. Because the flight from Dubai to Atlanta is over sixteen hours long, I spoke to quite a few of them, all of whom were en route home for R&R.
The ones on my plane were almost all former military and former police, retired from their first careers and out to secure their second pensions working for KBR, DynaCor, or the US government itself. They are outsourced resources–people who have traded poor job prospects at home for big money in the Middle East.
One woman works for the government and is part of the civilian force that runs the bases. Another man is training Afghan police in American methods.
Cynical to a man about the mission they are engaged in, they are all in agreement that the Afghan people won’t change, and that we have squandered our resources trying to help them. But of course our problems have created jobs for them as contractors. They are on the lookout for the next war, because it will be impossible to absorb most of them back into the US economy otherwise. They support families and send money back to the US, but they are under no illusions that they are doing anything worthwhile.The military may have faith in the mission, but the contractors are there to pick up a paycheck and escape with their lives.
One of them told me we are over there nation building not to create security for the Afghans or even for ourselves, but for the Chinese, who have contracts to extract nickel and copper from Afghan soil. In his opinion, it is our way of paying them back the money we owe them. I have no idea whether what he’s saying is true, but there’s a logic to it, since this man works with Americans, Canadians, and Mongolians.
Another woman told me she was worried about how the Afghans who work on the military bases will go back to their desert farms in 2014, where they will have no cell phones, no TV, no regular food supply. Another man told me the Afghans dress and live a life much like they did in medieval times and they don’t want to change, so maybe we are projecting a difficult transition back because that’s how WE would feel.
Although we have started to pull troops out, and some of the government contracts these men work under are also ending, the opinion of these men was that we will never be truly out of there, even after 2014. “Once the United States lands somewhere, we never leave,” one said, reminding me of Iraq, where he had also spent some time. He told me that the Iraqis, unlike the Afghans, were at least willing to modernize politically and were beginning to do so, while the Afghans are resolute and refuse to give up their ways.
I was also told that at a party held by the military to celebrate the US accomplishments recently the Taliban came in and killed the dancers. There is no doubt, they say, that the Taliban is in charge. And there was consensus among the ones I spoke to that war will break out between Israel and Iran, probably next spring.
That, some said, could be their next big job opportunity.