A journalist specializing in military matters reports on the war on terror’s transformation into “a campaign of armed social work.”
Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, no agency responded more quickly, effectively and comprehensively than the U.S. military. Hodge (co-author: A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry, 2008) attributes this sterling performance to practice and to lessons gleaned from a decade of fighting in and administering Afghanistan and Iraq, where the military has incorporated “soft power” principles to counterinsurgencies. The combined military, political, diplomatic, developmental and humanitarian push to win the good will of the local populations constitutes the heart of the surge strategy most closely identified with Gen. David Petraeus and has, for now, staved off disaster. But the new focus on “stability operations,” the euphemism for what had, before 9/11, been discredited as the wholly unsuitable mission of nation building, brings its own set of problems. Hodge discusses many of them: the opportunities for fraud and waste when cash is used as a weapon, the command and control issues arising when so many tasks are outsourced to private enterprise, the private aid groups’ fears of co-option, the skittish and unprepared Foreign Service and the dangers of a host government’s dependency on projects and programs intended only as bridges to self-rule. The author examines the historical antecedents for today’s new generation of nation builders—the goal of winning hearts and minds is hardly new—and charts their rise to power within the government bureaucracies. In his fast-moving, well-argued assessment, he warns about a military stretched too thin, distracted from its primary mission of fighting and winning wars; about a U.S. treasury strained to the breaking point; and about the huge and clumsy footprint often left by the new class of soldier/diplomats.
For a civilian readership increasingly alienated from the culture of its military, Hodge provides an important guide to what the reformers have wrought.