USO is not what it once was. The days of Bob Hope’s wisecracking have receded into
the past, and ogled Playmates no longer sex their way across stages. The Pentagon has commissioned British theatrical talent to educate its troops about Afghanistan’s political culture and
history. Performed by the Kilburn Tricycle Theatre, The Great Game is a 7 hour show about
Afghanistan’s cycles of invasion, struggle and victory. Presumably if the grunts can withstand that, they can withstand anything.
As Ben Macintyre notes in the Times (£), there is neither greatness nor beauty in the games that
Western powers have played in Afghanistan. But, unencumbered by imperial guilt and hubristic in the aftermath of the Cold War, America at least hoped that its democratic ambitions would be immune
from that history. 10 years of brutal insurrection suggests that the Afghan heart was incompatible with the American mind.
After a decade of expensive listlessness, NATO now acknowledges that it is the latest player in Afghanistan’s unbroken history of defiance and has relaxed its ambitions accordingly. Nation
building has lapsed with the West’s sudden and (apparently) inexorable decline, whilst the Warlords have determined to remain ‘uncivilised’. From the Pentagon’s perspective,
The Great Game is designed to draw what remains of the Americans’ heart to the Afghan mind, in the hope of securing lasting peace and stability. As General Sir David Richards put
“This series of plays — if I had seen it before I had deployed myself in 2005 for the first time — would have made me a much better commander.”