The Presumption of Good Intentions

Josh Foust discusses one of the most severe problems with our recent national security policies, one that’s difficult to discuss frankly in the current political climate:

The assumption of good intentions remains of the most critical failures of American imagination in both wars. I am at a loss for why this is the case — just about everyone who understands these things continues to beg the military to stop assuming Afghans know we have good intentions for the area, but it just hasn’t sunk in yet. Actions speak louder than words, etc. It’s not a hard concept to understand, but AMERICA GOOD is just not a given amongst locals. It’s years past time people stop assuming this is the case. If you no longer think people just intuitively get the inherent goodness of America, then it becomes easier to see why they’re pissed off at the destruction of their homes — not just “mud huts” but homes and a lifetime of memories and possessions (her continued inability to get that poor people care about their “mud huts” is worse than cringe-inducing). And, just as importantly, why it’s not necessarily a good thing when they cooperate with you afterward.


To me, I think this is a critical way in which widespread “pro-military” attitudes in American media and political culture act, in practice, to undermine practical military effectiveness. There’s a historical narrative about the United States being a force for good in the world whose military prowess is critical to the preservation of freedom that simply has nothing to do with the historical experience of large portions of the world. Nobody ever liberated Yemenis, or Pakistanis, or Venezuelans from Hitler or anything.