Hearts N Minds

by digby

From tonight's speech:
“The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 – the fastest pace possible – so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.”

“Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility – what’s at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world.”

“Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s Security Forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government – and, more importantly, to the Afghan people – that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.”
At this point they don't even believe that it is a country, so we have a long, long way to go. Whenever I hear this stuff I think "Forget it Jake. It's Chinatown." (If you've seen the movie, you'll know what I mean.)

I don't know whether Obama will use the words "Hearts and Minds" in his speech tonight, but I'm pretty sure that's the spirit he means to convey. Here's a little historical chronology on the use of that phrase:

FEBRUARY 13, 1818 Writing to a Baltimore newspaper editor, U.S. founding father John Adams describes the American Revolution as being "in the minds and hearts of the people, a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations."

1934 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt uses the term frequently in his speeches to soothe a body politic battered by economic turmoil: "In these days it means to me a union not only of the states, but a union of the hearts and minds of the people in all the states and their many interests and purposes, devoted with unity to the human welfare of our country."

JUNE 1952 The phrase gets used for the first time in its modern sense -- to refer to counterinsurgency objectives -- during the Malayan Emergency, an uprising by local rebel forces to oust British colonial rule. "The answer [to defeating the insurgents] … rests in the hearts and minds of the Malayan people," says Gen. Sir Gerald Templer.

APRIL 2, 1963 In the thick of the Cold War, "hearts and minds" creeps into U.S. counterrevolutionary rhetoric. "Perhaps most significant of all is a change in the hearts and minds of the people -- a growing will to develop their countries," President John F. Kennedy tells Congress. "We can only help Latin Americans to save themselves."

MAY 4, 1965 U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson says that "ultimate victory [in Vietnam] will depend upon the hearts and the minds" of the Vietnamese. But the policy doesn't match the rhetoric, and a brutal, escalating campaign of pacification ensues, further alienating the South Vietnamese population.

1974 The Academy Award-winning Vietnam documentary, Hearts and Minds, helps cement the phrase's negative connotations.

SEPTEMBER 14, 2005 U.S. President George W. Bush justifies the invasion of Iraq by hailing the possibility of a political transformation of the Middle East. "Across the world, hearts and minds are opening to the message of human liberty as never before," he tells the U.N. General Assembly.

2006 Scholars begin to describe China's foreign policy, particularly in Africa, as designed to win the "hearts and minds" of global elites.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2006 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad deploys the term in a defiant speech to the U.N.: "Would it not be easier for global powers to … win hearts and minds through … real promotion of justice, compassion, and peace, than through" continuing to assemble nuclear weapons?

DECEMBER 15, 2006 The U.S. Army and Marine Corps release a revised "Counterinsurgency Field Manual," drawing on historical counterinsurgency lessons as well as recent experience in Iraq. The manual calls for a minimal use of force. "Protracted popular war is best countered by winning the 'hearts and minds' of the populace," it reads.

2009 U.S. President Barack Obama uses the phrase in his campaign to reset relations with both the Muslim world and Russia. "[Abiding by the Geneva Conventions] … will make us safer and will help in changing hearts and minds in our struggle against extremists," he says on January 9. And in Moscow six months later: "[By] mobilizing and organizing and changing people's hearts and minds, you then change the political landscape."

Obviously, it's used in a variety of ways. But to someone of my age, this concept goes back to an earlier quagmire in which the country was sucked into spending a vast amount of its own and others' blood and treasure in a quest to "stop the spread" of something (communism, terrorism, religious fanaticism) that this kind of operation, run by foreigners, simply can't accomplish in any positive way. Aside from the embarrassing arrogance of asserting that this country has the moral authority to "help" people against their will, it's a lie.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the standoff with Iran and all the other obsessions with the mideast are at least informed, if not entirely motivated, by larger geopolitical efforts to maintain stability at a time of impending competition over resources and access to them --- oil. Sure that's simplistic, but it's at the "heart" of what's going on in the leadership's "minds."

We don't talk about any of that because it might lead us to get serious about changing our way of life and evidently nobody important thinks that's the right way to deal with the problem. And frankly, among many of our elites, maintaining a military presence everywhere is necessary to preserve American global dominance. Period.

That map is part of a great series by Mother Jones called "Mission Creep." Click here to see the animated version.

That's the debate we never have.