Our last embed was for a short 48 hours at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. For whatever reason, our hosts here seemed less than hospitable when it came to providing us with information. Maybe they had been alerted by the folks at Anaconda, but every question that Prothap asked them was met with a reply of: “That’s above my pay grade,” or “That’s not our department.” When we were granted an interview with the head of the Third Army and led into his ultra-secure command center, which actually had a sign on the door calling it the “War Room”, he responded to each query with a calculated answer that seemed to me to be designed to avoid saying anything. Prothap was unfazed, and simply asked the same questions in twenty different ways until he got what he said was an answer. For my part I ignored the man and just looked at the row of heavy green plastic telephones marked “SECRET” behind him and wondered what would happen if I lifted a receiver and asked the person on the other end if their refrigerator was running.
When the interview was over they led us through another super-secret room filled with people at computer screens, and then two P.A.O.’s picked us up in a truck and drove us out of the base and dropped us off in Kuwait City, our embed being over.
I never thought a desert monarchy would be a relief to arrive in, but after the world of paranoid soldiers and obtuse bureaucracy, with Fox News on every television and thumping gunships in every sky, the streets of Kuwait City were a breath of fresh, if dusty air. It seemed like we’d been on another planet, a maddening egotistical bubble where officers shouted the strengths and virtues of their dying empire into our skeptical ears. We were back in the real world, where men sipped tea and talked in the evening cool, tired workers boarded buses to their homes, and parents led children to buy hot corn from sidewalk vendors. Prothap and I were laughing and making jokes about the characters we’d met while embedded as we walked through the main souk towards his favorite Nepalese restaurant, and the Indian vendors called us into their shops to buy gifts for our friends back home, and we obliged.