One definition of mental illness is doing the same thing over and over, but somehow expecting different results. Such as it is in our never-ending gobsmacker reconstruction work in
Vietnam Iraq Afghanistan.
From another well-meaning but naive contractor in Afghanistan comes yet another well-meaning but naive tale of how US reconstruction money is being spent to buy chickens for widows. The US buys the chickens, the widows raise the chickens as a source of food and income, and hearts and minds are won. Photos of kids with our brave troops are included.
We’ve seen this before of course, in Iraq, where our failed reconstruction efforts featured at various times cows for widows, goats for widows, bees for widows and in my book, sheep for widows. Noah himself couldn’t have brought more animals to more widows.
Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of antimalaria sprays. One can’t fight an ideology; one can’t fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says, “land reform,” and the other side says, “better culverts.” One side says, “We are going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords.” The other side says, “Yes, but look, we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain.” These arguments just do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.
The question in my mind is this: Can we in Viet-Nam, or anywhere else, save (or improve) the administrative or governmental structure? The answer is obvious, and there is no other effort really worth doing. There are no easy shortcuts to solving the problems of revolutionary war. In fact, I would like to close with one last thought, which applies, of course, to everything that is done in the armed forces, but particularly to revolutionary war: If it works, it is obsolete. In Viet-Nam and in many other similar situations we have worked too often with well-working but routine procedures and ideas. It is about time that new approaches and–above all–ideas be tried; obviously, the other ones have been unequal to the task.
Take the stock photos from Afghanistan and recolor the ground the gray tan of Iraq’s sand, or the red brown of Vietnam’s clay and it is the same picture.
Counterinsurgency wars are not fought successfully by handing out livestock, or winning merit badges. One fights an idea with a better idea, and by protecting the people (and not obliterating their wedding parties) and by creating and protecting a local government.
One SEAL living real counterinsurgency in virtual Quang Tri province, Afghanistan, gets it:
Let’s rewrite our metrics of success to reflect our effect on the population, with measures such as: economic activity at bazaars, unsolicited enemy reporting from villagers, and longevity of local officials; as opposed to the input metrics of enemy killed, dollars spent, and Afghan troops trained.
Another COIN warrior wrote in the comments below:
All our coin efforts fail because we never do a soil compaction test (i.e., check for a stable, supported local government) before we attempt to build a structure (nation).
But oh, say the $200k a year contractors as they round up more goats or dig better privies, what we are doing must help a little. Yes, yes, it must, in the same way that jumping up brings you closer to the sun. True, but it does not matter. After eleven years of animal giveaways in Afghanistan, you’d think someone would be coming to that same conclusion.
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