During his 2010 congressional campaign, Allen West has talked tough not just about terrorism but about the Muslim world. In a speech that gained national attention last month, he charged that Islam wasn't a religion so much as an ideology, like Nazism, which needed to be contained at all costs.
But before West became a critic of America's war on terrorism, he participated in that campaign, accepting a job with a private military firm that had a U.S. contract to train Afghan citizens for fighting terrorists. In that capacity, West was supposed to be collaborating with Muslims.
So if West the candidate says that Muslims have an ideology that can't be trusted, why was West the soldier schooling Muslims in the nuances of combat?
This is one of the many perplexing questions that West appears unwilling to answer. He has refused Juice requests for an interview. So we'll have to fly solo on this mission. Much more after the jump.
First, some housekeeping. Last week, West invited me on Joyce Kaufman's radio show -- not for an interview; rather, his campaign manager said West wanted to "discuss your [my] articles." The invitation came after this post in which I questioned whether West was the Iraq "war hero" his supporters claim him to be, considering that he left the U.S. Army after being accused of mistreating an Iraqi detainee.
I'll be glad to take him up on that invitation, but a discussion about my articles seems premature until I've finished writing them. This way, we'll have plenty to talk about.
So let's pick up the Allen West story where we left off in that previous post. In 2004, West told the New York Times that he had rejected an offer to work for a private military contractor so he could teach high school students. In an interview with Army Times, West talked about the opportunity to affect the lives of young African-American students.
That job lasted just a year. In 2005, West left his history-teaching post in Deerfield Beach to take a job with MPRI, a private military contractor. (Representatives of Deerfield Beach High refused to discuss the terms of West's departure.)
MPRI, which formerly stood for Military Professional Resources Inc., had been awarded a contract by the Bush administration for training Afghan citizens to fight terrorism.
It's hard to tell exactly what West did for MPRI, a period he tends to gloss over. For instance, in the issues section of his campaign website, West cites "my 22 years active duty service" in the U.S. Army as informing his positions on fighting terrorism, but not the two years he spent in Afghanistan as a private contractor. His bio makes brief mention that West "trained Afghan officers to take on the responsibility of securing their own country."
MPRI keeps a headquarters in Kabul. But the company didn't return calls or emails requesting information about West or about the company's contract in Afghanistan. [UPDATE: I just heard back from a company spokesman, who said he'd have to research my questions about West. I'll update when he gets back to me.]
Lacking other sources, online job postings like this one offer clues about MPRI's task in Kabul. It appears the company's role was to enhance the investigative techniques of Afghan police, familiarizing them with the technology and methods that U.S. soldiers use to beat insurgents.
A journalist who last year visited the training camps in Kabul was alarmed by the apparent ease with which an Afghan loyal to the Taliban could infiltrate and learn from the strategies U.S. soldiers were using against insurgents:
If you were a Talib, wouldn't you scout the training being offered to Afghans on the other side? And wouldn't you do it more than once if you could get well paid every time?
It's natural to wonder whether this has a role in recent trends toward more sophisticated combat on the part of Taliban forces, who some officers say fight like graduates from the U.S. Army Ranger training program.
Of course, these are the questions that dog this kind of military occupation, and the U.S. seems to have little choice but to hope that its lessons will be used to squelch rather than to advance regimes like the Taliban.
But those subtleties make it hard to imagine how someone like West, who makes it clear he doesn't trust Muslim military forces, could have trusted those Muslim soldiers he worked with for more than two years before running for Congress.
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To this point, West has enjoyed the advantages of a long-shot candidate -- that is, the freedom to attack his opponent without danger of counterattack. Yet he's not really a long shot candidate any longer.
West won 45 percent of the vote in 2008 -- a shocking figure given how his campaign had a fraction of the money that Congressman Ron Klein's did. Since then, West's famous YouTube speech has more than 2 million hits. He has top-gun status in the Republican Party, plus more than a million dollars in campaign contributions. And he's become a regular guest on Fox News. Add those factors to the anti-incumbent fervor that's found in national polls and West is a serious threat to Klein.
The question is whether West can keep that momentum through the summer months, as voters learn more about his background, his extreme views on Muslims, his openness to drilling for oil off the Florida coast, and other potentially controversial aspects of his campaign.
Stay tuned next week when I hope to post an article about West's campaign donors, a group that includes his former employer, MPRI.