Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash Vol XIX: Massages with Michelle Obama, and shaking war booty out of Afghanistan

Matt Labash Columnist

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Does anyone close to you love Obama? How do you respond? — Kelly

Michelle Obama does. And we’re tight. We have the same personal trainer. So a lot of times, after doing suicide sets on our delts and traps, we’ll go wolf down some Five Guys, then it’s off to a girl’s day at the spa. Often, when we’re sprawled on rose-petal covered massage tables in nothing but towels, all spent and gleaming, waiting for our shiatsu masseuses, our closeness overcomes me and I ask her if she wouldn’t mind releasing my second chakra, Al Gore-style. (It’s not right, I know, but I’m a man, she’s a woman, and the heart wants what it wants). She pats me on the arm, telling me that she doesn’t want to jeopardize “our special friendship” by taking things further. Then, with moony eyes, she’ll start bleating on about Barack this and Barack that: “Barack is dreamy. Barack is McSteamy. Barack has a 16 golf handicap. Barack has the stamina of 100 stallions, but also has the comforting touch of your best gal pal after you’ve both just watched ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ while drinking two cups of soothing chamomile tea.”

I don’t hold her Barack-love against her, though. She’s married to the guy. Somebody has to love him. Or else he might do something crazy, like force grossly unpopular health-care legislation down our throats, or let the tax cuts lapse in the worst recession since the 1930s, or cavalierly watch as the Gulf Coast gets painted in oil as he hits the links. So here’s to the love of a good woman to protect us from such recklessness. Besides, all this conspiratorial Obama hatred is irrational and unattractive. My religion dictates that I love everyone, even Muslim extremists like our president.

I know you have spoken against eminent domain in the past, but I must ask this question. With the discovery of $1 trillion in minerals in war-torn Afghanistan, why can’t the United States fund the costs of the war with these assets? If we would have utilized the oil reserves in Iraq, in order to foot the war bill, we would be much better off at this time. I know it is a slippery slope, but in a global economy, the U.S. is no longer the super power it used to be, and obviously has limited resources. —Speedy E

Herein lies a tough one. We have arrived at the intersection where my high principle gets t-boned by both expedience and my desire for cosmic justice. On the one hand, nothing makes me grouchier than when some greedy, sticky-fingered township seizes some old codger’s property because they think a rest area or a Starbucks would make better use of his land. On the other hand, Afghanistan is a special situation that has sucked our blood and treasure for nearly a decade, with no discernible upside for us. Somewhere right now, at a dive bar in Novosibirsk, old Soviet officers are slugging back straight grain alcohol, telling Afghanistan war stories from the ’80s, and laughing very hard at us.

On the third hand, let me “flip the script,” as my friends in the hip hop community say, or as they used to say back in 1991, when I still could pretend to know what people in the hip hop community said. (Now, I can’t understand them.) So Afghanistan has loads of mineral wealth, which could clearly pay for our efforts, assuming someone can extract it in a reasonable amount of time without getting blown up by the Taliban (a large assumption). But what if Afghanistan had invaded us? I mean if pack mules could fly across the Atlantic and they had a real army and stuff. Then after staying for a decade, they said, “These people owe us for occupying their country. Let’s take all their coal mining profits to fund our efforts.” Would that be fair? Hell, no.

But on the fourth hand, what’s fair got to do with anything? It wasn’t fair that we felt compelled to go in the first place, after their utterly corrupt regime let their country get turned into a Kiwanis Club for terrorists, and after those terrorists were responsible for killing 3,000 of our citizens. It’s not fair that we can’t seemingly “win,” though if we “lose” by leaving (whatever these definitions mean anymore in a war without clear definition), the only thing their mineral wealth will fund when their fragile, corrupt government inevitably collapses, will be Taliban improvement projects, like getting better weight rooms at terrorist training camps, finally paving a road or two so they can get their heroin to market faster, and maybe putting sky boxes in at the local soccer pitch so the mullahs can eat trays of hot wings in air-conditioned comfort while watching women get stoned to death for thinking impure thoughts. So I guess what I’m trying to say diplomatically is: Screw ’em. If you steal from murderous thieves, is it really stealing?

Plus, when was war ever fair? Remember the good old days of to the victor, go the spoils? The Mongols understood this. Which is pretty much the way war has gone since the beginning of time, until modern U.S. warfare came to redefine war as a public works project. It’s a noble impulse, but one at cross purposes with the very idea of war, since it is much easier to destroy things than to build them. Nowadays, it’s to the victor goes the repair bill for things they never destroyed in the first place. Which totally deincentivizes necessary invasions of places like Afghanistan (as opposed to Iraq, which was an elective invasion), a country which has consistently proven its undying commitment to Stone Age economics and infrastructure, and which is seemingly un-repairable. (The very word “repair” suggests it was ever fixed. Maybe it was — around the time Alexander the Great rolled through it. But it’s been a while).

So to answer your question: Why not? Let’s dip into the mineral revenues if we stay. And since the Taliban will return as the government if we don’t — since the good people of Afghanistan, after a decade of this nonsense, have demonstrated neither the ability nor the will to root out their former oppressors with the full force of the U.S. military at their back — let’s take the revenues even if we leave. Just on principle. Theirs is a tribal culture. They get it. WWTMG – What Would the Mongols Do? They’d take the mineral money as war booty for the lives and years we’ll never get back for trying to right a country that wants to stay wrong. If Afghanistan insists on spending the rest of her days not turning on her lights so she can live in darkness, I’m happy to let her. That’s her choice. But I see no reason why we shouldn’t be reimbursed for the work we’ve already done wiring her house for electricity.

Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” is just published from Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.