Best Defense

How to win hearts and minds

How to win hearts and minds

David Wood (no, he is not paying me for these shoutouts) has a good column today about how well-intended handouts from American soldiers can alienate Afghans. 

I remembered accompanying a Marine officer through villages in Iraq’s Anbar Province. He’d pull out a handful of candy as kids crowded and jumped. Then he’d ask, “Who’d like a soccer ball?” and he’d summon an aide and hand out a few balls. In the distance, I noticed men who’d just brought their kids to school standing in the shadows, glowering at this scene. Their resentment seemed palpable, that their kids were crowding around an American handing out presents that they couldn’t afford for their own children.

Here in Afghanistan, a different war but the same American impulse of generosity. And to what end? I put this question to an American officer, a man who works closely and professionally with Afghans and whose opinion I respect. “The feedback we get from Afghans,” he said, “is that this kind of give-away makes them feel like dogs.”

That’s not a good effect.

There is an easy answer here: Empower local authorities-police, teachers, tribal leaders, and parents by giving them the soccer balls, books, pencils and pens, and letting them distribute them equitably. And by their own lights. It might not make the troops feel as good in the short term, but it sure makes a difference in the long run.   

Meanwhile, Jonathan Landy brings back good but disheartening coverage of the Taliban ambush in Kunar Province that killed four Marines.  

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images