Welcome Nathan Hodge, and Host Joshua Foust.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders

Joshua Foust, Host:

“As any student of aid and development should know,” Nathan Hodge writes in the prologue to his book Armed Humanitarians, “efforts to aid the developing world have often done more harm than good.” This is inarguably true, and Hodge goes on to explain at great length how the U.S. military, as it follows in the footsteps of the aid community, seems determined to make the same mistakes.

The basis of this push within the military, Hodge explains, is the assumption that aid and development reduces violence. In fact, the opposite is often true—many societies tolerate shockingly low levels of development in exchange for stability from a predatory government that enforces civil order; similarly, there is a growing body of evidence that the provision of aid can prolong and deepen the human cost of conflict.

The challenges presented by Armed Humanitarians are not especially new. In his 2004 book of the same title, Robert DiPrizio argues that “soft security, humanitarianism, and domestic political concerns” drive the American impulse to intervene in other countries. He used that framework to examine the post-Cold War practice of interventionism, from Northern Iraq and Somalia to Haiti and Kosovo. The idea of using a military to accomplish humanitarian goals have been a major focus of post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy—the lack of a singular global rival practically required it to justify the ever-growing DOD budget. What is new, however, is the extent to which this has become routine.

Hodge traces the development of “armed social work,” as David Kilcullen famously called it, from the start of the war in Afghanistan through the present day. He follows the vaguely fraudulent gurus, flush with catch phrases and colorful powerpoint presentations, who harangued the military into becoming concerned with business development, governance, and relative poverty levels. He follows the embarrassing missteps in the early days of the Iraq War, where a catastrophic military victory left an institutional vacuum the military tried desperately to fill. The civilian agencies of the U.S. government – USAID, the Department of State, and others – did not have the means or policies in place to help the civilians displaced and disrupted by conflict. By default, the military stepped in.

One of the most interesting stories Hodge tells is arguably the most important developing in the militarization of humanitarian work: the Provincial Reconstruction Team. The PRTs represent a dramatic departure from normal military operations: they are joint civilian-military units whose primary responsibility is the long-term political and economic development of a small area. PRTs are, literally, armed humanitarians, not obsessed with killing the enemy but using the instruments of development to undermine him.

PRTs inspired a wave of opposition from traditional relief groups. As the military took on more and more humanitarian missions in the 1990s, tension built up between the relief agencies—CARE, Oxfam, Save the Children, and so on—and the military. One of the key problems was a mismatch of resources: the U.S. military in particular has vastly more resources and capabilities than even the Red Cross, so when they began to participate in relief work the aid agencies felt crowded out by the “competition.”

Soon after the creation of the PRTs in Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency began a wave of killings against aid workers. In 2004, the relief group Doctors Without Borders dramatically halted all its operations after five of its workers were slaughtered. In a statement, the group blamed not only intransigence on the part of the government in Kabul, but also the deliberate blurring of lines between military and relief work. They’re not alone: Oxfam have become outspoken critics of the militarization of aid, as have scholars who focus on the topic. Even today, when they have re-established their presence in Afghanistan, Doctors Without Borders goes to elaborate lengths to highlight their refusal to participate in any military-funded activity.

The shift in military policy that fomented this militarization is remarkable. Hodge frames the problem as a sort of crisis of personality: the military passionately wants to do what it was designed to do (that is, fight wars), while being told to perform a mission it is not especially good at (that is, develop communities in conflict zones). The result is typically military: large-scale, liberally coated in money, and unsure about its ultimate purpose or methods.

There are other stories Hodge tells – how the inadequacy of the government in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan spurred the creation of a massive corps of armed contractors, the rise and inevitable misuse of the CERP program, and the way personnel security worked against American strategic objectives—each of which probably deserves its own book. Hodge’s mixture of reporting and research makes for an easy, breezy overview of all of these issues, and presents them (appropriately) as a growing knot of unsolved problems we must eventually face.

Nathan Hodge has assembled a straightforward, well-reported accounting of the most recent evolution of America’s expeditionary fighting—and development—spirit. It serves as an excellent introduction to many of the concepts and pitfalls the foreign policy establishment now faces as it struggles to come to grips with the future of 21st century conflict.

94 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Nathan Hodge, Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders”

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Welcome to the Book Salon! Nathan, I wanted to penetrate right to the heart of the matter. The thrust of your book is the story of the military’s rather turgid response to the need for nation-building. Can you give us a quick one-liner of how they’re handling it in the once-again forgotten war, Afghanistan?

BevW March 26th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Nathan, Welcome to the Lake.

Joshua, Thank you for returning and for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 1:58 pm
In response to BevW @ 2

I’m glad to be here, and really looking forward to it.

dakine01 March 26th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon Nathan and Joshua and welcome to FDL this afternoon.

Nathan, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but do have a question.

After WWII, there was the Marshall Plan for Europe and the occupation of Japan. Are there any lessons from those years that could be applied to the current “nation building” activities of the military or were those such unique situations after all the years of war that there’s really no comparisons to current days?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:02 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 3

Glad to be here. And thanks, Josh, for hosting. I may not be wearing an ascot today, but it’s an honor.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Here’s a different track: in a lot of ways, your book is the continuation of Dana Priest’s “The Mission,” which chronicled the expansion of the military’s nation-building activities throughout the 1990s. Do you see any end in sight for the DOD’s statecraft?

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:03 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 5

This is unacceptable. Should we reschedule?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:05 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 1

First, let me start with an observation: We have a really short national attention span. Afghanistan’s still a huge commitment, but it’s been pushed from the headlines by the latest crises.
And that’s part of the problem: Nearly a decade into this conflict, we — as a government, as a nation — really still seem to have only the most rudimentary understanding of the society we are operating in. And if that’s the case, how can we expect to do well at the task?

PeasantParty March 26th, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Welcome, Nathan.

I’d like to say that the aid most of us hear about is military. I would so like to see more on the humanitarian aid on the news.

Also, I’ve read many books from ex-CIA types and would like your take on our US intervention in countries we aid for the benefit of corporations setting up shop and running half of the country.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:08 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Short answer: The Marshall Plan was not a case of nation-building while being shot at. It was about kick-starting the economies of highly developed countries post-war. That being said, policymakers trotted out the Marshall Plan in the early days of the Iraq war as a justification for the kind of spending they were proposing for reconstruction. But it was a rather poor historical comparison.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:08 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 8

I think that’s a good point. So, to open an old can of worms between us, how would then gauge the creation of organizations like the Human Terrain System? Almost every Combattant Command now has a human terrain analysis shop, and each service is standing up cultural analysis centers and adding cultural understanding career tracks. How does that help or hurt our ability to do well at the task of nation-building?

Scarecrow March 26th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Welcome, Nathan, Joshua. Couldn’t be more timely with the “humanitarian principle” reportedly justifying another military intervention in Libya.

Is the principle valid? And if so, is it being applied correctly there, or misapplied?

bmaz March 26th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Hi Joshua and Nathan, welcome to our corner of the world here at FDL, and a fantastic topic for the moment. To get right to it, we just started our third war (2.5 anyway); what role will contractors play in the US effort in Libya? If le affaire de Raymond Davis taught us anything, it is that we use contractors for precisely this type of targeting when we do not want to claim “boots on the ground”. What do you see now, and in the coming days in this regard for Libya?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 7

You type almost as fast as you tweet. Careful there.

Peterr March 26th, 2011 at 2:11 pm

The civilian agencies of the U.S. government – USAID, the Department of State, and others – did not have the means or policies in place to help the civilians displaced and disrupted by conflict. By default, the military stepped in.

The Bush administration gave priority to the DOD over just about anyone with regard to just about anything. I don’t think there was anything “default” about the military stepping in to the aid vacuum — that was the way it was designed.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:11 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 14

I’ve been practicing. #Usethefierce

Scarecrow March 26th, 2011 at 2:11 pm

I suppose a threshhold question is how we should judge the development urge in the context of the people who implemented it. It it generally accepted that the free market ideologues make a mess of Iraq’s reconstruction? And it so, is that the right example to use to evaluate the broader principles involved?

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Each empire has built itself in somewhat different ways. But they all involved military & “private contractors.”

British & Dutch was led by private corps, with their own militaries, at some points in their process. Early spectacular spread of Islamic empire occurred only partly thru use of force, but also bc they tended to treat conquered people better than their prior rulers, truly nation builders in the sense of setting up whole new govt structures, transforming the peoples they conquered.

Can you discuss the U.S. empire/nation building effort in the context of history? Better, worse? Similarities, differences?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 6

Good point. Dana Priest’s The Mission came out in 2003, and she noticed a lot of the tendencies that were at work here. But she’s talking primarily about a military involved in the Balkans, and the early days of Afghanistan. Pretty puny compared to the massive nation-building effort that followed in Iraq after 2003.
The best observation of her book is about the power of what were then called the CinCs, now called COCOMS – the powerful regional commanders who had overshadowed the diplomatic apparatus. But she was primarily shadowing four-stars. I was less interested in generals. I wanted to write about the mid-level practitioners.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 17

Scarecrow, I think there’s a bit of distance between “the free market ideologues,” as you put it, and the actual behavior of a normal free economic market. The ideologues, ironically, really didn’t believe in free markets when you think about it — at least, given their reliance on no-bid contracts and a sort of anti-market mercantilism driven by nationalism.

A lot of the intentional business development work in Iraq has been in the form of U.S. companies investing in and in some cases assuming control of national state-run corporation. That’s not really free market, but it has been successful at keeping a lot of people employed.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 9

I tend not to see conspiracy. Incompetence is usually the best explanation.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 18

If we’re an empire, then we’re an empire in denial. I’d argue that we are too introspective and incurious about the world to be good colonialists. And that’s probably a good thing.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 16

Note to self: start drinking earlier. Aids the typing.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to bmaz @ 13

Right now Libya doesn’t follow that template, we’re talking about a pretty fluid situation right now. And last I checked, contractors weren’t flying refueling planes over the Mediterranean or flying strike sorties.
A better question might be: What’s the role for the international community? NGOs? How are they planning to respond to a looming humanitarian crisis? And will they need the military — and its phenomenal logistics and planning capability — to do the job?

Scarecrow March 26th, 2011 at 2:20 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 20

Whether the Provisional Authority guys were honest ideologues or misnamed isn’t my point. The question is whether the early days of Iraq redevelopment provide us lessons about the military’s role in that or just lessons about the people the Bush Admin chose to do the job. How should we characterize the Iraq experience? and what does it teach us?

CTuttle March 26th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Aloha, Nathan and Joshua…! Mahalo for being here at the Lake…!

Joshua, I’ve been following your work since your Ghost of Alexander days to Registan…!

Do you suppose the same useless US/Nato ‘Govt-in-a-box’ will be rolled out for Libya in April…?

Peterr March 26th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Hodge frames the problem as a sort of crisis of personality: the military passionately wants to do what it was designed to do (that is, fight wars), while being told to perform a mission it is not especially good at (that is, develop communities in conflict zones). The result is typically military: large-scale, liberally coated in money, and unsure about its ultimate purpose or methods.

The crisis described here sounds like the conflict between old-school warfighting and the counter-insurgency school. Is some of this crisis, therefore, between those in the military that want to fight one way (drop the bombs and roll out the tanks) and those who want to fight in a new way (counterinsurgency)?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 11

On HTS — one of my favorite subjects — I see a fantastic idea in principle, but terribly flawed in practice. And part of the problem seemed to be managerial, more than anything else.
What was your take on the “all of our eggs in a broken basket” critique by the FAO?

Knox March 26th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 22

If we’re an empire, then we’re an empire in denial. I’d argue that we are too introspective and incurious about the world to be good colonialists.

We’re too introspective and incurious about the world to be good colonialists?

That may be true of most Americans, but it’s not true of the people who have been in control of US policy for the last half century.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 25

I’ll let Nathan answer this how he sees fit. For my part, I’d place much more of the blame on the people the Bush Admin chose to do the job. Think of the passages in “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran where he catalogues the ideological tests used for college students to run Iraqi ministries. There was no concern for competence, so I don’t think we can judge the merit of the idea based on an administration choosing not to even try it.

That doesn’t mean the concept is valid, mind you, just that it wasn’t really tried in the early days of Iraq.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 26

I agree with Nathan’s logic, that right now Libya is fluid and there’s no indication yet that there are grand international designs for a massive nation-building effort. Frankly, I hope not, because as Nathan catalogues in his book, we are REALLY bad at this stuff.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:26 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 26

Government in a box! One of my favorite marketing slogans. I think the people who touted that might want to pay some royalties to Thomas P.M. Barnett, and his “development-in-a-box” ® ™ …

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:27 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 32

Oooh, that reminds me. You have a whole section devoted to Barnett’s theories of, for lack of a better term, imperial humanitarianism. What’s your take on his influence on military thinking? Is he why we’re now intervening in Libya, because we’re connecting the “gap” back to the global system, or whatever?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 25

The most interesting lesson from Iraq was how it may have been misapplied to Afghanistan. The counterinsurgents believed in their successes in Iraq, to the point that it seemed reasonable to apply the same template: surge troops, turn on a firehose of development money, replicate “Sons of Iraq” and so on.
But as we quickly found out, Afghanistan has a completely different set of problems, particularly in terms of the levels of development, literacy, etc. And Iraq has a greater likelihood — with oil income — of sustaining the institutions we helped to build. Afghanistan, last time I checked, has annual government revenue of about $1 billion a year. So can spending $12-plus billion on Afghan security forces be a sustainable model?

March 26th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

@ Nathan Hodge: The Bushes aren’t in charge any more, so how about a take on the current Irak nation building efforts.

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I understand that one of the changes in training soldiers in recent years has been to desensitize them to pointing a gun at someone & pulling a trigger. (Apparently, that was a ‘problem’ with U.S. soldiers in earlier wars.) They also show up in conquered towns dressed to the 9s in military gear, looking threatening as hell.

How does that fit in with nation building?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 33

I liked writing about Barnett, and I think his theories are worth taking seriously — though I remember watching the famous PowerPoint brief (which became “The Pentagon’s New Map”) and thinking, whoa, is this guy on crack? I mean his style of delivery — the PowerPoint brief with the sound effects, the wireless mic, the mock turtleneck — was a curious hybrid of Silicon Valley tech guru and televangelist. But he was essentially explaining the new reality to a military audience in a compelling way. It was the Globalization-for-Dummies approach.

kspopulist March 26th, 2011 at 2:36 pm

In 2004 Feb4, Margaret D Tutwiler gave her first public speech as the official in charge of public diplomacy at State. She remarked then she would try to operate within it’s $600 million budget for worldwide US public diplomacy. This came at a time when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were in high gear. This same public appearance in fact was before the Congressional subcomitte that was also hearing the bipartisan report led by Edard Djerejian, fmr ambassador to Israel and Syria. He said then, “The bottom has indeed fallen out of support for the United Sates”. The report also, acc to the newyorktimes that this info is gleaned from 20040205, noted that the number of public diplomacy officers had declined from 2500 in 1991 to 1200 in 2003. This report also urged a greater role for private sector, especially in the media to reach out to Arab youths. Article written by Christopher Marquis.

My question is has anything improved? I’m aware much in this area has indeed gotten worse.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:37 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 35

This is gonna be reeeally interesting. I mean, we’re talking about withdrawing troops at the end of this year, leaving behind a super-sized embassy and a diplomatic mission that’s going to need a small army just to get around the country and do its job. I think a some people in Congress, and in oversight bodies like the Commission on Wartime Contracting, are asking if this has at all been thought through.
At this point, they are looking to hand a lot of fundamentally military jobs — flying helicopters, operating a QRF (quick reaction force), driving MRAPs — over to contractors. It would be military outsourcing on an unprecedented scale.

Cynthia Kouril March 26th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Forgive me, I have not read the book. Is the purpose of the book to define and delinate the problem, that the last entity you want to charge with beating swords into plowshares is the military?

Or is there an answer to the problem as well? Does that answer lie with an exit strategy or in not interveneing in the first place?

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

What’s your vision for how the civilian side of the government can get better at the humanitarian missions demanded of it? Can they ever replace the military at doing this kind of work?

March 26th, 2011 at 2:40 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 39

Thanks – but my question is more about “is it in working order?” And I’ll tell you I don’t think it is.

The people are demonstrating over rationing of essential staples; rice, cooking oil, etc. That’s aside from the corruption.

And isn’t there a fairly large role that corruption plays in so-called nation-building?

kspopulist March 26th, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 32

he was great wasn’t he, at least got some neo-cons to think now and then, not saying I would advocate half his ideas… and he tried to make it seem rational if not always succeeding with the realities left ‘on the grounds’…

Knox March 26th, 2011 at 2:44 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 36

Maybe the problem is that the new paradigm calls for the same people – soldiers armed to the teeth – to both win the war and win the peace at the same time.

How can we expect the people of the countries we invade to side with us against their fellow countrymen who’re shooting at our soldiers? Labeling those who are shooting at our soldiers “insurgents” while throwing fistfuls of money at people who aren’t shooting at our soldiers doesn’t seem to work.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to Peterr @ 27

Peter, on the conflict between old-school warfighting and the counterinsurgency folks, I wish I’d had a bit more room to delve into the story of the TTs, the soldiers who were involved in the new advisory mission. They were pretty frank and outspoken about the fact that they felt their mission, this new advisory mission, which is arguably so important, but has given short shrift, professionally speaking.

One of the guys who was working as an instructor at Fort Riley told me, “The first year, nobody felt that it was an enduring mission.” The hardest part, he said, was convincing the rest of the Army that this mission will continue. Now if practice follow theory, the guys who work on MiTTs or police teams would be rewarded for it.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Question to queue up for later: Paul Brinkley, the chief of the DOD’s Task Force for Business & Stability Operations, recently announced that he will resign effective June 30 as his office’s functions get transferred to State and USAID. He said humanitarian organizations cannot effectively encourage business development. But did the TFBSO do that, anyway? Was Brinkley an effective agent for entrepreneurship, and even if he was, shouldn’t that be the job of the civilians and not the military?

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 2:46 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 39

diplomatic mission that’s going to need a small army just to get around the country and do its job

What is its job?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 42

I think Josh might agree with this — one of the reasons you had something like the Human Terrain System was to deal with the inevitable problems of corruption. You needed intel — let’s call it “white intel” — to understand who to direct your CERP funds to, and to figure out if it would be spent well. In fact, the head of the Human Terrain Team I shadowed in Iraq kept saying that they were the “intel arm” of the embedded PRT — but he quickly corrected himself to say, “information arm.”

Knox March 26th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 47

The small army will probably be Xe or some other private army.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 47

I don’t know if it’s been well articulated.
And I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a clear answer on who decided that we needed a Vatican-sized embassy in Baghdad. But as my wife called it, the mission there became the “ultimate self-licking ice cream cone.”

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 48

That’s funny! When I was in HTS, it was at the height of its dispute with the American Anthropological Association. As a result, they were adamant that we not “do intel.” In fact, calling it “white intel” (really, “green intel,” since we were supposed to focus on the “green” population, which is the civilian non-combattants) kind of distorts what we did, even if what we did amounted to gathering intelligence in the sense of gathering and analyzing information for the government.

The purpose of HTS, originally, was to figure out what the local population wants, and in a secondary or tertiary sense “unravel” the networks that supported IED facilitators. It was not originally designed to follow up on CERP projects, though in the field HTTs often reported on incidents of corruption that they witnessed or encountered.

Scarecrow March 26th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

It seems strange to have the US military involved in community/business development, complete with focused investment, with follow up, feedback, an information arm, etc all to be more effective — and to have that done by the military of a nation whose political ideology of the moment would find that level of government interference in private enterprise to be not just harmful but unAmerican. So isn’t there a real conflict here? And if so why hasn’t this become an issue in US politics. Why aren’t the conservatives up in arms about this?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 17

Actually, leave aside for a minute the argument about “free market ideologues” wrecking reconstruction in Iraq. If you looked a bit more closely, a lot of what we saw in Iraq with the reconstruction effort was support for some of the institutions of the centralized, autocratic state: For instance, lots of Iraqis depended on public-sector jobs, and one of the early efforts to tamp down insurgency was to make sure that payroll was met.
Same went with these micro-power generation schemes in places like Sadr City. They (the military) were talking about building a system of power generation for urban neighborhoods that *depended* on the old Saddam-era fuel rationing system for it to work.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:56 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 51

I think you’ve gotten to the main point, often lost: this was all grounded an effort to get “left of boom” (stop IED attacks) by understanding the local community network that IED cells operated in. Good point.
But back at you: Would you like to see more people in uniform trained to do this job of cultural analysis, and basically cut the knot? Or is it appropriate to bring in civilian outsiders?

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

In his recent testimony, General Petraeus repeated a concern SecDef Gates and Adm. Mullen have all noted before: the need for more funds at the State Department and USAID. Is throwing money at the problem really the right answer?

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 2:56 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 53

Same went with these micro-power generation schemes in places like Sadr City. They (the military) were talking about building a system of power generation for urban neighborhoods that *depended* on the old Saddam-era fuel rationing system for it to work.

Does Sadr City have more electricity or less than it had during Saddam?

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 54

An honest accounting of the tasks HTTs do tells me you can probably train a small corps of uniformed servicemen to do the tasks. I can also say, however, that in many places having obvious civilians not in a uniform do this work was very helpful for us getting candid answers when speaking to Afghans.

On the analytic side… well, that’s a separate issue and probably grounds for a more detailed chat elsewhere.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to Knox @ 44

It’s a thin line between liberation and occupation.
And sometimes, throwing money at people to stop shooting at you can have unintended effects. Someone in community X sees that you are paying community Y for trash pickup to stop IEDs: Perhaps if we lay a few IEDs of our own, we might get some cash too?
I saw this in the area around Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where local leaders complained that they didn’t get any of the largesse, like Helmand, because they weren’t deemed to be troubled enough.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Nathan, I want to thank you profusely for the chat today. I hope we all can walk away having learned something new and refined our thinking!

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 40

First, the title of the book is intended to bring out that contradiction, that paradox. The old saying is that “Peacekeeping isn’t a soldier’s job, but only a soldier can do it.” In other words, civilian organizations aren’t often equipped for getting shot at while doing development work. But the military isn’t a development organization.

Scarecrow March 26th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 59

Are we done? I think we’re just getting warmed up. Hope you and Nathan can stay for a while.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 61

No no, I was just making sure to thank him!

Scarecrow March 26th, 2011 at 3:06 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 62

Great. So about the subtitle, The Rise of the NationBuilders, that suggests this is a set of institutions and relationships that are likely to last, to be repeated into the future, rather than an experience of the intervention wars of the last decade. So how do Nathan and you see that question? And does the experience so far make our interventions more or less likely? More or less likely to “succeed”?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:06 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 56

I don’t know if it had more or less, but I can tell you that during the time I was reporting there, more than five years after the 2003 invasion, electricity interruptions were a regular feature of life.
If you really want to read a great article about the frustrations of ordinary Iraqis with the power grid — and with the promises made — read this great piece by Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times. First rate stuff, focused on the lives of ordinary people caught in an often impossible situation.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Another question for the queue: how do you think the non-military NGOs can regain some of their “lost ground?” What are your ideas for repairing the balance between them?

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 3:08 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 60

I have heard development NGO reps argue strenuously against having soldiers do their jobs bc if there is not a hard & fast line bet development & fighting, then every NGO becomes a target. Seems like the U.S. military has had complete success in that effort bc everywhere they’ve gone, they’ve made it too unsafe for NGOs.

Joshua Foust March 26th, 2011 at 3:08 pm

And here’s one really big question: can aid ever really be “neutral,” as Medicins Sans Frontieres claims? If it can, that obviously lends itself to a conclusion one should draw about the military’s involvement in humanitarianism. But if it cannot, then doesn’t that beg the question of why we should care that the military is doing this?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:09 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 55

It’s a really interesting turn of events when people like Adm. Mullen, Gen. Petraeus and Secretary Gates have become some of the biggest advocates for the foreign aid account! I think that underscores how much “development” and “defense” goals, writ large, have become intertwined.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:13 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 36

On the issue of showing up in military gear, well, there’s a legal issue. We don’t want US military folks shedding their uniforms, do we?
You are getting to a larger issue, though, which is what the military calls the “force protection” mindset. And that’s where the COIN manual was innovative, in emphasizing that sometimes minimal use of force was the best protection. Difficult in practice, but an important point.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:16 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 52

I do think conservatives are up in arms about one thing: the extraordinary cost. I don’t think it’s been articulated in a comprehensive fashion, but we are starting to see a fair amount of tension between deficit hawks and national-defense conservatives.

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 3:16 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 69

We don’t want US military folks shedding their uniforms, do we?

Why not? Bc it would violate the rules of war? (end snark)

On edit: Brits showed up around Basra at beg of war with minimal uniforms. Didn’t look like overmuscled overprotected goons like U.S. military. Seemed to get a better reception.

PeasantParty March 26th, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 68

Maybe Mullen, Gates, and Petraeus have finally figured out that the people are hungry and angry. If after 10 years of occupation the people still haven’t been back to a somewhat normal life, then the push back is warranted. I know if another country invaded here, I would fight them until there was no more of either them or me.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 66

The argument that armed development work compromises the neutrality of NGOs is a serious one, and I address it in the book. The complaints about the shrinking “humanitarian space” actually precede today’s wars, but they became more acute in places like Afghanistan. I do think — and underscore — some of the problematic aspects of things like the PRTs, and it’s worth pointing out that international aid organizations were able to deliver aid to Afghanistan in the 1990s, when it was in the throes of civil war. That point is often forgotten.
That said, I think insurgents have deliberately targeted international organizations to sow fear and chaos. So it’s a devilishly complex situation.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:22 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 71

Gen. McChrystal, the previous commander in Afghanistan, was rarely seen with body armor on. I think — and I can’t speak for him — that he was sending a visual example. We don’t need to be in wraparound shades, bulked up in body armor, etc. But the Brits in Basra early on tried the “softly softly” approach, patrolling in soft caps and so on, but when the threat level rises, you have to go to a more protective posture. Symbolism only goes so far.

PeasantParty March 26th, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 73

“I think insurgents have deliberately targeted international organizations to sow fear and chaos.”

I have thought that is what is going on for a long time. Could you be precise on which international organizations they have targeted?

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:27 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 42

If I could, I’d like to get back to Kelly Canfield’s very pointed question about corruption. If we assume that even just a small fraction — say, five percent — of aid and reconstruction in a place like Afghanistan is poorly spent/siphoned off, is that enough to help sustain insurgents? In some cases, I’d argue, it does. It’s worth noting that, by year’s end, we will have spent more than $70 billion (if memory serves) on Afghanistan reconstruction, well eclipsing the amount spent in Iraq.

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 3:28 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 73

You made a comment earlier that the U.S. is not an empire bc it is too uncurious about other parts of the world. (I would disagree about the empire part but that’s for another time.)

I agree on the uncurious & unknowledgeable part.

Sooo, how can you take an 18 year old American, educated by reality shows and team sports on U.S. TV. who’s been trained to “kill, kill, kill” and send him into the boonies of a strange country to supervise development. It seems ridiculous on the surface.

In 3 Cups of Tea, Mortenson knew more about the culture in general before he started and spent a long time at each location getting to know real people on the ground before they could work together to build the schools. U.S. soldier could never so that. (And it’s the reason why Mortenson’s work is not scalable.)

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 75

In the book, I touch on the death of Ricardo Munguia, a Red Cross water engineer, in 2003. Back in 2008, when I was on a separate trip to Afghanistan, three western aid workers from the IRC, and their local driver, were killed just south of Kabul.

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 3:34 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 75

de Mello’s death comes immediately to mind.

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 3:35 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 78

If you google un deaths in iraq or un deaths in afghanistan, you get pages of them.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:36 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 77

To your point on the proverbial “18 year old” in uniform. In the case of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, at least in Afghanistan, a lot of them were reservists – and therefore older, a bit wiser, and with a lot more experience in the civilian world. That doesn’t mean the younger guys pulling security weren’t impatient sometimes with this hearts-and-minds stuff. And you point out that Mortenson’s model isn’t “scalable.” But as I note in the book, his book has a *big* following within the military.

PeasantParty March 26th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Nathan, thank you for the answer in #78.

I gotta ask this question because it is on the top of our minds here at FDL.

The supposed leaks from Bradly Manning on our military ops in Afghanistan has outraged the largest part of Americans. I understand the military can make mistakes, but not in broad daylight on children and the reporters.
How do you feel about this and do you think it helps to have the truth given to us? I’m really puzzled that our government has yet to tell us the real reasons we are still in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 79

The death of Sergio Vieira de Mello was a major setback, it forced the UN to pull out nearly all its staff. And that led some within the military to conclude that the UN “wasn’t there.”

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:46 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 82

All I can really say on this point is that it is not the job of an informed citizenry to passively wait on the government to “give us the truth” about Afghanistan, or any other subject. I think it the responsibility of all of us, regardless of our political views, to educate ourselves on these issues. And that’s why I hope the book is a small contribution to the debate about the direction of our foreign policy.

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:49 pm
In response to Joshua Foust @ 62

Just to add a little levity to the discussion, I’ll add that Joshua Foust’s martini recipe sounds wonderful: “gently swirled sapphire martini with three olives and a splash of brine and a glance of dry vermouth.”
Thanks for hosting a great discussion (and, no, we’re not finished yet).

BevW March 26th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the end of this interesting Book Salon,

Nathan, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending your afternoon with is discussing your new book and the US Humanitarian efforts.

Joshua, Thank you again for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Nathan’s website and book

Joshua’s website

Thanks all,
Have a great evening!

Nathan Hodge March 26th, 2011 at 3:54 pm
In response to BevW @ 86

Thanks, Bev, for hosting. And thanks as well to Joshua Foust. In parting, I’d just like to say thank you to everyone for taking part in a great discussion. I hope was able to answer all of your questions, and look forward to hearing more comments and critiques. Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

PeasantParty March 26th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Thank you, Nathan. No, I will never sit passively and wait on my government to tell me the truth. The people in DC now have no concept of truth.

Thanks for being here and sharing.

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 3:58 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 85

My recipe, but without the brine, 2 giant olives, one pinmento stuffed, the other jalapeno stuffed.

March 26th, 2011 at 4:01 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 89

Hey, slide one of those bad boys over this way! *g*

eCAHNomics March 26th, 2011 at 4:04 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 90

Comin’ down the bar.

“Bad boys” referring favorably toward food/drink is an expression used all the time by Guy Fieri.

CTuttle March 26th, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Wow, a great discussion…! Tis a shame I had to run out during it…!

Mahalo, Nathan and Joshua…!

March 26th, 2011 at 7:25 pm
In response to Nathan Hodge @ 10

I know I missed the whole thing but I have one observation about the Marshall Plan. While it was meant to rebuild the economies of western Europe, as the late Andrew Glynn pointed out in Capitalism Since 1945, a lot of the main infrastructure needed for economic growth had been spared the destruction visited on Dresden, for example.

What was really important to the US was to derail the growth of communist influence in the labor movements in Italy, Germany, and other countries. Even then, we weren’t so much about helping others as keeping Marxism from spreading.

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