Saturday, July 5, 2014

Winning Hearts and Minds; Losing Wars

Raphael Cohen, a recently minted Georgetown Ph. D. in government has developed an intriguing thesis.

Whereas we have all learned that an army fighting against an insurgency must win the hearts and minds of the people, Cohen demonstrated in his dissertation that it is more important to control the populace than to win over their minds. In fact, the latter follows from the former, and not vice versa.

Beating an insurgency involves providing law and order, along with food.

Here is Cohen’s dissertation abstract:

Ever since Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer proclaimed that ?the answer lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the people,? common wisdom suggests that the key to military victory in counterinsurgency is ?winning hearts and minds.? As interpreted in modern doctrine, Templer?s dictum requires that the counterinsurgent promote economic, social and political reforms (to give everyone a ?stake? in society) and minimize its use of force (to avoid popular backlash). My dissertation shows that 1) historically, most successful counterinsurgencies have not been fought this way; 2) when this approach has been tried, it rarely proves effective; and 3) instead, military victory comes from successful population control. Population control, in turn, employs some combination of three sets of tactics: physical measures (e.g. walls, resource controls and forced resettlement), cooption (of local elite and often the insurgents themselves) and ?divide and rule? strategies. I demonstrate these claims through detailed analyses of four influential modern counterinsurgencies?the Malayan Emergency, the Mau Mau Rebellion, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, along with a study of local opinion data from the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghan Wars. Ultimately, as far as military victory is concerned, whether the counterinsurgent wins ?hearts and minds? matters far less than whether it can control them.

In many ways, Cohen seems to be describing the way we fought the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. We built schools and hospitals; we introduced democratic reforms; we were relentless in punishing ourselves for the bad behavior of some soldiers.

But, if we spend six months building a school and the Taliban destroys in in a few minutes, who looks stronger?

If we cannot protect the indigenous population from terrorism, we will lose their hearts and minds. And the only way to stop terrorism seems to be to suppress it violently.

To take some hotly debated questions: Does waterboarding produce more terrorists and is Gitmo a recruiting tool for Islamist militants?

Lately, it appears that the successes of ISIS in Syria and Iraq have proved to be a very effective recruiting tool. The anticipation of victory, coupled with the absence of a powerful counterforce seems to serve the terrorists better than waterboarding.

Cohen suggests that we prefer to win over hearts and minds because we believe that the use of force will be seen as oppression and will naturally provoke a rebellion.

One recalls 1989, during the Tiananmen protests and massacre that many Western commentators insisted that government repression would naturally provoke a rebellion against the ruling Communist autocracy. Twenty-five years on, many of those same commentators have admitted that they were wrong.

Why did they believe as they did? Why do counterinsurgency strategists fear a rebellion against authoritarian rule?

Obviously, they are seeing the world through the lens of a philosopher’s fiction. Whether it is Hegel’s myth of the inevitable revolt of the slave against his master or Marx’s myth of the inevitable revolt of the working class against their capitalist oppressors or even Freud’s myth of the inevitable failure of repression... serious contemporary thinkers do not see the world as it is, they look at the world as certain narratives would like it to be.

Cohen seems to be closer to the truth when he suggests that the imposition of law and order, mixed with the perception of being on the stronger and the winning side works best to quell an insurgency.

One might ask oneself whether this reasoning is motivating the new government of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

How many of our most serious thinkers are bemoaning Sisi’s heavy-handed approach to taming the local insurgency posed by the Muslim Brotherhood? How many of them believe that his repressive policies must ultimately fail? How many believe that we did better to support the results of a democratic election that empowered Mohamed Morsi because we would then be able to win the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people.?


Dennis said...

One either wins the war or not. Where we have decisively won wars we were able to create stronger countries. Where we have looked more to negotiations and winning hearts and minds we have inevitably lost because we have left an entrenched enemy that will eventually grow stronger and more lethal.

One of the reasons the Arab/Israeli conflict has gone on for so long is that there is no clear winner. One either commits to winning a war, and all that comes with winning, or stays out of it.
Name one negotiated settlement of conflict that has endured the test of time?

Anonymous said...

Stockholm syndrome. If you make them your bitch, they will convince themselves that you are their rightful master and savior.

Anonymous said...

"One recalls 1989, during the Tiananmen protests and massacre that many Western commentators insisted that government repression would naturally provoke a rebellion against the ruling Communist autocracy. Twenty-five years on, many of those same commentators have admitted that they were wrong."

But that was still Chinese ruling Chinese.

It's always more problematic when foreigners rule over the natives.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

True enough, but I do recall that it was soldiers from the provinces that brutalized the protesters in Tienanmen Sq... because the local soldiers were considered unreliable or unwilling.

JKB said...

It's not an either/or situation. It is both. But it is also important to not mix your indigenous counter-insurgencies with your external power (which the US always is) counter-insurgency where legitimacy is a higher hurdle.

It is interesting that the student chose counter-insurgencies run by English-speaking people vice including some conducted by other nations that take a dimmer view of human rights. Such as the French in Algeria where the paratroopers tortured far beyond waterboarding anyone they could pick up and haul back to their factories. The French made a good effort to controlling the population and still lost after alienating all the hearts and minds of the non-European population.

The English-speaking democracies have further handicaps. One is the hearts and minds of the citizens back home. Another is the overwhelming alliance of the Western media with the insurgents, eager to inflame errors by their home country while meticulously avoiding reporting on atrocities of the enemy.

And as the Surge revealed, trying to do it without enough boots on the ground is the beginning gambit unfortunately. The rule of thumb is one counterinsurgent to 357 civilians in a relatively peaceful area and 1:40 in a hot zone ('Invisible Armies' by Max Boot)

But democracies conducting counterinsurgency operations have a clear PR problem and good public relations have been important in insurgencies since the American Revolution.

MidKnight said...

A good - if vastly oversimplified model of the "protect the citizens you want to win the hearts and minds of, crush the insurgents" is a common phrase among marines. "No better friend, no worse enemy".

Watch our friends backs. Avenge them. Make the streets safe. Get them food.

Make nice to the Marines, we protect you. Cross them, you die. And your buddies that helped you out too.

Ares Olympus said...

We can look back to our own civil war, and see President Lincoln's hard headed tactics, including "scorched earth" policy by General Sherman's "March to the Sea", where a small army can do great damage "behind enemy lines" very quickly, and try to demoralize the enemy into submission, and it might work, as long as those you are fighting care about what you have the power to destroy.

And perhaps that's the nature of most modern warfare that is best fought from the air, from bombs and missiles and unmanned drones, where you have the power to destroy anything you like, as long as there's something your enemy still has worth bombing.

And we ended the war in Japan with big and little boy by the same tactic, although we also invested time and money after the war for rebuilding, so maybe sticks first, carrots second can work?

But Afghanistan was a tough target, since there wasn't much to bomb, so I guess we were "tricked" to build things that our enemies want to destroy, like schools???

I do think about the moral question, of how easily we can destroy things like bridges that are used by people who are not our enemies.

Someday the same predicaments will come home to us, and we'll have Boston Bombers playing havoc to our infrastructure, and if you're a conspiracy nut, you'll say the bombers are just government agents, intended to create fear, and encourage us to cower under martial law to protect us.

What we know is "fear works", and perhaps 75% of history is full of clear examples, where you can control populations by a combination of punishment and reward. And people who grow up in such environments can't be "freed" from this conditioning just because kinder rulers come a long and try to win favor by kindness alone. So it is apparently a generational healing that's needed, and so if we want to start wars and win with kindness, it has better be that we plan to stay a long long time.

And if we have so such plans, no one should trust our good intentions.

Anonymous said...

We used to prosecute wars with a singular focus: our enemy's unconditional surrender. It was a clear, clean and complete desired outcome.

Since we no longer declare war, we don't go in to win. We just make things tolerable. Our enemies are not conquered, we just push them back to acceptable borders. Or we vaporize them with drones.

We're no longer conquering our enemies to ensure our national security and survival. Instead, we seek "global stability," whatever that means. It's a sanitized way to prosecute military operations. No one ends up victorious or defeated. Instead, we're somehow satisfied with being "back to square," some imaginary standard of what peace is supposed to look like. It's the reason our Israeli-Palestinian policy of being a referee or peace broker will never work, because we seem to ignore the existential threat and think a therapeutic conversation will solve all problems between people's and nations. It's poppycock.

Peace is not the absence of war. Speak clearly and carry a big stick.


Ares Olympus said...

Today I learned that July 2 was the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Right act of 1964.

Ron Paul was apparently the only member of congress in 2004 to not "hail" it as a triumph of equality, seeing the loss of privacy, of the weakening of property rights.

And he was 100% right, that forcing equality against people who were not ready to see blacks as their equals is wrong, and it fails to take proper respect to the "hearts and minds" of bigot to have freedom of their own beliefs and choice to act on those beliefs.

Rand Paul was also in the news recently, with a statement of support for the Civil Rights act, and in apparent contrast to other opinions more similar to his father's.

This shows a clear case, between a tyrannical state versus individual liberty.

So if a modern ideal of a "light touch", could desegregation occur from carrots alone, or at least for private businesses. Could open businesses get a lower tax rate for supporting the public good of equality under the law? Or did we really need to make it criminally punishable activity for having an unpopular opinion and being willing to stand for that opinion against those who don't like it?

I don't know the answer, but I like that it shows the dilemma. When your mom says "Eat your vegetable" before you can leave the table, you might secretly object to her authority over you, but someday you might thank her for forcing you to try something you thought you didn't like, until you changed your mind.

So authoritarianism is something libertarians are against out of principle, but maybe there are other principles that have at least as much value as freedom, like submission to duty for instance, a very backwards ideal, but also a place where you can learn new things without needing to take responsibility for the consequences.

So in the bigger issues of war, it makes me think authoritarian controls are good when there is chaos and violence that can't be controlled within that chaos, so "overwhelming force" however much harms self-determination, does give people instant access to the "rules" that will keep them safe, and able to act with more confidence in the world.

But you have to have a leader who is willing to be blamed and not care that Junior thinks his green beans or spinach are overcooked, or that his messy bedroom is okay.

Dennis said...

For your edification: