Good Hosts

Via Spencer Ackerman, Vegetius at Small Wars Journal makes the case against “hearts and minds” and inadvertently, I think, lets slip everything that’s wrong with the current COIN boom:

Hearts and Minds is a wonderful name for a teen romance novel, but I’ve always thought it to be a poor name for a counterinsurgency concept. The idea of winning the hearts and minds of the population carries the connotation that there is somehow a magic formula that will turn the population from willing puppets of the insurgency into enthusiastic supporters of the national government. The reality is that the key to defeating an insurgency is in shaping the human terrain so that the host nation can conduct governance and economic development in conditions approaching normalcy.

The bolded part strikes me as a bizarre was to think about insurgency and counterinsurgency. In an insurgency situation you’ve got a government, and you’ve got an anti-government insurgency. Those are the primary actors. If someone is going to wage a counterinsurgency that should be the government against which the insurgency is directed. Could that government get assistance from a third party? Of course. Lots of governments receive lots of kinds of assistance from other, wealthier or more powerful governments. Could the wealthier or more powerful government be the United States of America? Sure. Could the assistance include the direct deployment of military forces? I suppose it might.

But no matter what level of assistance is provided, you’ve still got a government on the one hand and a waxing or waning anti-government insurgency on the other. Not an insurgency and the U.S. Army and then some “host government” lurking in the corner.


This isn’t just a matter of semantics. There’s something kind of nuts about the amount of time and energy being spilled over the question of how or whether the U.S. government can get Hamid Karzai to do what we want. It’s as if Afghanistan is of central, overwhelming importance to the people and government of the United States but a kind of peripheral area of secondary concern to the people and government of Afghanistan. But that’s absurd — Afghanistan is on the other side of the world. There are reasonably strong moral and practical arguments for helping the Afghan government fight off the Taliban, but this is something they should be asking us to do, not something we should be asking them to do.