Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Sociological control"

This isn't a new concept or anything, but it's the first time I've seen it stated in exactly this way:

General McChrystal emphasized that the operation needed to show the local people quickly that they had more to gain from life without the Taliban than with them. The military “got a lot of fanfare” during the initial push last week, the general said, and now has to deliver on its promises.

“Militarily, you can think you can control areas, but sociologically if you don’t control them, you’re not going to be able to do what we need to do here,” he said. General Nicholson added that the operation had a “narrow window of opportunity.” In a month, he said, the people will say you “came in and chased the Taliban away.”

“But how is my life better? How is your presence benefiting me and my family?”

There's probably a better way to put this than "sociological control," but I think we all understand what he's trying to say here. (But to digress for a second, isn't this "controlling areas sociologically" concept just sort of an extension of "military control"? I mean, isn't control over territory sort of inclusive of control over the population and the enemy within that territory?)

Glad everyone's on the talking points and stuff, I guess. Let's see how it goes with 68K (or even just in province with this MEB).

2 comments:

  1. “Sociological” is a fancy word to say “human on a large scale”, but obviously “human control” sounds even more ominous than “sociological control”. However disturbing (am I the only one who thinks of George Orwell whenever I hear the word “control”?), this notion may be a more modest but much more realistic objective than the over-used “winning hearts and minds” theme. “Control” means that we may not win them, but at least we will not lose them to the enemy.

    I was speaking recently with a Marine friend of mine who is an Iraq veteran. He was adamant that no matter how many schools and hospitals we build, how much electricity we deliver, and how well we repair sewage systems, the people in Iraq and Afghanistan will never like us and never support us because, at the end of the day, we are on their land and are perceived as occupiers. True enough, and “winning hearts and minds” of people who wish you were not there to begin with may be too big a challenge. However, Oppel’s piece in the NYT rightly points that “the operation needed to show the local people quickly that they had more to gain from life without the Taliban than with them”. The US and other NATO countries do not have to be liked; they merely have to be hated less than the Talibans. Winning hearts and minds matters less than securing loyalties and making sure that the population becomes (and—what is more difficult—remains) convinced that it has more to gain from us than from our enemies. Only then can we be certain that it will not join the ranks of the insurgency or sabotage our effort to wipe out (the “military control” part) our opponents; maybe it will even support our effort by providing intel or denying material support to those same opponents. In the Iraq case, even narratives that credit the surge for turning the tide in Iraq acknowledge that this success was due for a large part to the mistakes of Al Qaeda in Iraq and its foreign fighters, who by their brutality managed to alienate the population and make themselves more hated than the Americans. Sociological control it certainly is, but sociological competition would be more accurate as the name of the game.

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  2. Alma -- this notion may be a more modest but much more realistic objective than the over-used “winning hearts and minds” theme. “Control” means that we may not win them, but at least we will not lose them to the enemy

    I absolutely agree with you here. You've sort of taken this off in a slightly different direction than what I was getting at, which was this: any concept of "control" that doesn't include what Nicholson here refers to as the "sociological" element isn't really control at all.

    But to your point...

    True enough, and “winning hearts and minds” of people who wish you were not there to begin with may be too big a challenge. However, Oppel’s piece in the NYT rightly points that “the operation needed to show the local people quickly that they had more to gain from life without the Taliban than with them”. The US and other NATO countries do not have to be liked; they merely have to be hated less than the Talibans. Winning hearts and minds matters less than securing loyalties and making sure that the population becomes (and—what is more difficult—remains) convinced that it has more to gain from us than from our enemies.

    This is 100% on point, and I think that both Gunslinger and SNLII would heartily agree with your effort to move the dialogue back to more honest terms: COIN isn't about making the locals like you, but rather making them understand that their interests are not served by opposing you (or even by remaining indifferent to the "governing competition").

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