Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dealing With Idiots

When I was going through training, quite a few of the instructors said that working with the Afghans was easy and fun, but working with Americans was a pain the royal keister.  This past week, I've really come to appreciate those remarks.  It has continually amazed me how people who should know better do things that just make no sense.

For example, early this week some Americans in Kabul decided that they needed to come down to our area with some senior Afghans to visit a particular location.  To keep my own butt out of the wringer, I'll call the Americans "Bob" and "Alice", and the Afghans will be "Mohammad" and "Mohammad".  Not their real names, of course, but real names give away organizations, which causes embarrassment, which would come down on Your Trusty Correspondent.  And embarrassing organizations is not my goal in this post; rather, I just want to highlight the kind of things we tend to do to ourselves.

Anyway, the real issue is that Mohammad and Mohammad needed to come down to resolve an issue that is essentially an Afghan problem.  Bob and Alice are there to "facilitate".  In practice, "facilitate" too often means "do it all" and that's what was happening here.  Instead of Afghans solving their own problems, we have Americans arranging schedules, transportation, setting up meetings, yadda yadda yadda.  I have seen that, when Afghans decide to resolve a problem, they're pretty good at it; but if they think we'll do it all for them, they'll let us.  Bob and Alice haven't seen that yet.

So Bob and Alice are now doing Mohammad and Mohammad's grunt work for them.  That's bad enough, but they're not doing it the right way.  For example, if you're going to take a couple of senior Afghans and their entourage somewhere, particularly into a hot zone like southern Afghanistan, you need to coordinate with the local military forces.  Did they do that?  Well, if they did, would I be writing about it?  Instead, Bob contacted a mid-level staffer at my shop (not military) and asked him to make a few arrangements, like getting somebody to drive them from one spot on the base to another.  Simple stuff, really, so the staffer started taking care of it, until we realized what was happening.  Whoops!  Time to slam on the brakes and start asking questions.  When we did, we realized that Mohammad and Mohammad needed to talk to Abdullah (another pseudonym) while they were down here.  Abdullah has some say over what's going on in the area, but has been ignored, and is not happy about it.  So we tell Bob and Alice that we want these three Afghans to meet, and by the way, here's the ISAF guy ("Fred"; yes, another pseudonym) that you need to talk to in order to grease the skids for the visit.

It's now four days later and time is getting short.  Bob and Alice have now been told four times what they have to do.  They have yet to do any of it.  And it's not hard.  They just need to tell Fred what their travel arrangements are and what kind of assistance they need.  That way Fred can coordinate with the guys in the field and let the appropriate people know about the visit.  Simple.  But apparently it's too hard for them.  All we know right now is the intended date and the intended place of the visit.  And Abdullah isn't included.  Abdullah's sitting back in his office going "WTF?"  Abdullah can be a real pain in the ass to Mohammad and Mohammad if he wants to.  He might want to after this is all over.

So I sent out another note to Bob and Alice tonight saying that they need to delay the trip a few days to allow time for the proper coordination (translation: "if you idiots had called Fred four days ago, we'd have it done by now") and you need to schedule a meeting with Abdullah.  We'll see what happens.  Or doesn't.

I have to say, this is the worst-coordinated event that I've seen so far in my time here in Kandahar.  Well, maybe not ... there was that time ... no, better not go there.  Anyway, sometimes dealing with Americans is the hardest part of my job.  Working in Afghanistan is walking a fine line.  You want to get the mission done, and you want to build Afghan capability, and sometimes those two goals collide.  And when they do, people sometimes go for the expedient solution rather than the right one.

And the funny thing is, if Mohammad and Mohammad just picked up a phone and called Abdullah, a lot of the issues would be solved.

You can't make this stuff up.

1 comment:

Kanani said...

This is reminiscent of what Tim used to say over at Free Range International, but with a lot more side rants and swearing!