Perhaps the saddest part of the tale of deceit by Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Deceit, is not that he stole money from his charity, lied about his charming story of being nursed back to health and didn't buid the schools he claimed to have built.
The saddest part of the story is that he made us believe we could win the cultural war in Afghanistan if only we would do good works like build schools. He played on our sentiments, in particular, by insisting we could change the nation's culture by educating its young girls.
Every U.S. soldier in Afghanistan was expected to read the book, and our mission changed from getting the bad guys to liberalizing Afghanistan.
It was a fool's errand that has cost us many lives and has contributed to many deaths and instability in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has also cost us a lot of money and mired us in a war that can't be won.
That is the danger of idealism. On person spins a pretty story about how we can change the world. A whole nation buys it. Now we are in trouble.
Nobody in America would disagree that it would be better if Afghanistan were to have a more tolerant culture. But you don't teach tolerance by occupying a country. You don't change a culture through force of arms. We should know that by now. Our pacification efforts in Vietnam only served to alienate more and more of the population while hardening our enemy. Once we left Vietnam, the government no longer had a reason to support such a militarist approach and the government today continues to move toward being a more open society.
Perhaps it will take much longer for societies like Afghanistan's to become more open, to protect women's rights than we would like. But that is not something we can accelerate through use of force. That change must come from within the culture.
Meanwhile, spending so much on defense weakens our ability to spend on important needs here at home.
We simply have to admit that we cannot be the policeman of the world. We don't have the resources or the authority, and we don't have much of a track record of success.