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The Hearts-and-Minds Myth

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The Hearts-and-Minds Myth

How America Gets Counterinsurgency Wrong

Foreign Affairs,

5 min read
3 take-aways
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America has failed in its attempts at nation building.

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America’s efforts to promote democracy through nation building have, for the most part, failed, writes professor Jacqueline L. Hazelton. Her timely essay relates how, in managing to quell insurgencies and achieve relative stability, Western powers have often had to strike Faustian bargains that furthered local elites’ interests at the expense of civil rights and the rule of law. Outcomes in Vietnam and Afghanistan bear out that, in future responses to “small wars in distant lands,” the United States would do well to adopt a less aggressive, more cautious approach.


Nation building sounds good in theory.

The idea that democracy would quash insurrections within small countries underpinned the US military’s campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Helping locals establish proper governance and the rule of law would – so the thinking went – foster representative government and human rights, lessening the appeal of any insurgency. A more democratic environment would improve a country’s economic prospects and security for the long term.

But nation building often fails in practice.


About the Author

Jacqueline L. Hazelton is an assistant professor at the US Naval War College.

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