The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

How to win friends and influence people


December 26, 2008

It seems the CIA has a new wrinkle to its counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan–bribing warlords for support with little blue pills. Viagra has become the latest weapon in the war on terror. (I’m struggling mightily to avoid the obvious low-brow humor here, but I’ll probably succumb somewhere below the fold… Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up.)

From today’s Washington Post:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills….

In their efforts to win over notoriously fickle warlords and chieftains, the officials say, the agency’s operatives have used a variety of personal services. These include pocketknives and tools, medicine or surgeries for ailing family members, toys and school equipment, tooth extractions, travel visas, and, occasionally, pharmaceutical enhancements for aging patriarchs with slumping libidos, the officials said.

“Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people — whether it’s building a school or handing out Viagra,” said one longtime agency operative and veteran of several Afghanistan tours.

Just one more way the CIA has discovered to put the rise back in American Hegemony.

Not everyone in Afghanistan’s hinterlands had heard of the drug, leading to some awkward encounters when Americans delicately attempted to explain its effects, taking care not to offend their hosts’ religious sensitivities.

Such was the case with the 60-year-old chieftain who received the four pills from a U.S. operative. According to the retired operative who was there, the man was a clan leader in southern Afghanistan who had been wary of Americans — neither supportive nor actively opposed. The man had extensive knowledge of the region and his village controlled key passages through the area. U.S. forces needed his cooperation and worked hard to win it, the retired operative said.

After a long conversation through an interpreter, the retired operator began to probe for ways to win the man’s loyalty. A discussion of the man’s family and many wives provided inspiration. Once it was established that the man was in good health, the pills were offered and accepted.

Four days later, when the Americans returned, the gift had worked its magic, the operative recalled.

“He came up to us beaming,” the official said. “He said, ‘You are a great man.’ “

“And after that we could do whatever we wanted in his area.”

When you think of it, its a rather innovative plan. Traditional bribes of this sort are weapons or money, but that stuff spends easily, is a quick give-away that your source has a new supplier, and can easily find its way into the wrong hands. Viagra, on the other hand, doesn’t kill anyone while building strong loyalty from its user. Appealing to masculinity is one of the oldest tricks in the book–“aging village patriarchs were easily sold on the utility of a pill that could “put them back in an authoritative position,” the official said.”

For an interesting Feminist take on this, see Spencer and Megan here. Just read it, I can’t do it justice with a short summary.

Seriously, though, this material writes itself. Readers are encouraged to chime in in the comments.
I considered titling this post….

American Hegemony rises again!
Erecting a new spirit of cooperation in Afghanistan
Stiffening resistance to the Taliban
Boning up our counterinsurgency doctrine
The full Monty in Afghanistan
How to raise an army
Clear, Hold and Erect
Bob Dole replaces Kilcullen as top strategist
US finally gets a rise out of Afghan tribal leaders
If your counter-insurgency operation lasts for more than four hours, contact a case-officer immediately!
Bush Administration finds new way to F*@!-up Afghanistan

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Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.