This isn't like the past two war stories that I've written (1 & 2), mainly because there was no shooting war involved. None the less, here it goes... much as Mr. Scarborough recently commented on the Daily Show, we're all culture warriors in one way or another.
Years ago (it feels odd to say that, but this was 9 years ago) I applied and was selected to be the US Air Force Academy's representative to a three week program on "Austrian Economics" held in Prague, Czech, and hosted by the Fund For American Studies' "American Institute for Political and Economic Systems." It was a kind of "cultural outreach" for "young leaders." 200 top students from Eastern Europe (with a male:female ratio that made the Lexington Queen in Ropongi look normalized...), 10 Americans (including, in *truly* representative fashion, one Zoomie and three West Pointers). Three weeks in Prague with three hours of lectures a day. Good times. We were feted by the American Ambassador at her residence (I had never really be "feted" before--sorry, can't find the circumflex), had cocktails with the President of Slovenia, enjoyed a banquet reception in a rented castle, and generally spent the night hours roaming the back alleys and clubs of Prague, including all the locations features in such movies as "Mission Impossible" and "Triple X." There was even a road-trip to a forest outside Vienna to watch 'The Cure' perform brilliantly in a muddy clearing--a night which ended (memorably enough) with me trying to explain to a Czech police officer in our mutually poor German why our car was backwards on the freeway with every body panel thrashed (of course, it was still drivable, leading to a very Seinfeld-esque "we did pay extra for the full collision damage coverage, right? Good, here are the keys. Bye.") Dollars still went a pretty long way in rural Czech in '98. But I'll cut short my train-of-thought narrative before I get to the absinthe. There is a point.
I was a culture warrior. Yes, Joe Scarborough would have been proud. It was like an ongoing set of clips from the cheesy movie "Skull & Bones," and in similar fashion the money financing these escapades was certainly not mine. You can lecture all day about the merits of free-market capitalism, but there is no better way to convince a few hundred of the future leaders of Eastern Europe than to send them to Prague, give them what was essentially an unlimited budget, and throw in a few Boy Scout leaders sent over from America just for good measure. I can't say I was entirely oblivious to these motives at the time, but it was certainly far too much fun to pass up on philosophical grounds. I'm still not sure if the Air Force's clerical error was really a mistake--did I forget to mention? The program only lasted three weeks, but somehow the Air Force cleared my schedule for three months. I only claimed the per diem for the time I was actually in Prague, but I certainly didn't waste the free time and round trip ticket to Europe.
At the time I was inclined to say "file under fraud, waste, and abuse," but in truth it was no such thing. This was an operation of philosophical influence par excellence. It was a splendid way to waste the government's money--it just wasn't a waste from the perspective of the elite.
Next time: the story of how my targeting flight brilliantly targeted the roads surrounding a meeting house where Usama bin Laden was meeting, preventing his escape and facilitating his capture by special operations forces... except for one thing: the operation was denied Presidential approval--and, while you won't here it at the state of the union, it was an intelligent choice to deny permission.