This article attempts to explore why deep-seeded emotions cause individuals/groups to disregard the rational actor model that many use to describe the premise of modern Counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy and thought. Specifically, understanding how the emotional aspect can help show why FM 3-24 and Galula's methodology are great in theory but flawed in execution. My hypothesis is, the U.S. government cannot buy lasting friendships, cannot pay individuals/groups enough money to stop committing acts of terrorism. Rather, it is time to focus less on "winning/controlling hearts and minds" and refocus our attention on understanding and attempting to coerce/influence the existing state, populace, and insurgent groups who seek violence as a means of expression. Rationale: We may be successful to a point in winning some hearts and minds, but still lose the war.
Statement of the Problem
Strategies and tactics are great. These are our ‘blueprints’ for specific courses of action. Supposedly, wars are guided by brilliant thinkers and lead by the brightest and best minds. Hours are spent in the classroom studying what works as well as what does not work. Theories are examined and ripped apart, put back together and a final product is built…PowerPoint’s are constructed with every detail explained. Font, color schemes, maps, and solutions are built into pre-mission briefings. Drills are repeatedly rehearsed so everyone on the mission knows and understands their role. Best case and worst case scenarios are also examined. Rules of engagement are iterated and reiterated. Behaviors and actions are choreographed for the purpose of ‘acting’ as opposed to simply ‘reacting’ during an attack.
The history of counterinsurgency (COIN) is studied and is well defined. The theory works on paper. The big question for this researcher is simply, “Why are we losing the war after we win the hearts and minds of the people?” General Peter J. Schoomaker (2004, FM 3-24) remarked, “This is a game of wits and will. You’ve got to be learning and adapting constantly to survive.” Specifically, training foci seeks to understand the emotional aspect showing why FM 3-24 and Galula's methodology are great in theory. However, as great as theories are, execution is often flawed. This researcher often heard the comment, “Let’s go for a 70% solution.” When conducting a counterinsurgency, 70% solutions leave us with 30% unconvinced. Question, “What percentage of a population does it take to gain the advantage of an insurgent group?”
Consider FM 3-24, 1-159. “COIN is an extremely complex form of warfare. At its core, COIN is a struggle for the population’s support. The protection, welfare, and support of the people are vital to success. Gaining and maintaining that support is a formidable challenge.”
The word tactic is defined as a device for accomplishing an end. The word strategy is defined as ‘the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war. As a social scientist, I witnessed one key leader engagement (KLE) after another during my time in Iraq. Pleasantries were exchanged and needs were openly discussed. On many occasions our Soldiers were attacked by insurgents in route to these meetings. I listened as offers of support were made by our commanders and funding was agreed upon. All appeared well and friendships were strengthened. Hearts and minds were won, one village elder at a time.
However, as projects were completed and ribbon cutting ceremonies concluded, the indirect fire would begin to spike again. So, more money for projects would be pumped into a province or community. More KLE’s followed. I surmised, local nationals had learned to allow insurgent activity to resume once again, ultimately benefiting from the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP). The cycle was predictable.
As a social scientist, embedded with numerous brigades and battalions, spanning two deployments in Iraq, I was front row and center which allowed me to observe local national response in direct relation to our efforts of ‘winning hearts and minds’. I sat in meetings as recent as 2010 and 2011 listening to field personnel discussing their “carrot stick” approach to operations within their operational environment. Frustration and often anger was expressed by Lieutenant Colonels, Majors and Captains. One LTC remarked, “I have promised continued support for training the Iraqi Police, funding a local school and have Civil Affairs teams making payments to local contractors for schools, medical clinics and agricultural projects, however IED and IDF attacks continue.”
As I sat in that meeting pondering what I was hearing, I thought, “This is transactional leadership theory gone wrong.” Basically, a transactional leader bargains for an outcome. Leaders offer something of value to the people; the people will accept the offer behaving in a rationale manner ultimately fulfilling the goals of the leader. It is a quid pro quo mindset. The problem with this type of thinking is, it doesn’t always result in a positive outcome. We think, if I do something for you—you will do something for me. In the case of counterinsurgency, we think, “If I build your school, you will no longer attack my convoys. You owe me.” This is predicated on rational thinking. An insurgent’s mindset functions from a different rationale. Their thinking can be described as, “I want what I want at all cost. You build, I will destroy.”
What does it mean to be rational?
Simply stated, a rational person is logical, dispassionate, and capable of satisfying one’s needs by maximizing benefits and minimizing costs. Further, it implies perfect information about the consequences of certain choices.
Often, our Western-thinking, worldview is driven by believing that rational thinking will prevail. The primary problem with our thought process is, our adversary has a different worldview and is focused less on human suffering, essential services and quality of life issues. To the point, the adversary has a completely different desired outcome. It is a clash between ideology and basic worldviews. We can build the schools, health clinics, agricultural programs and support democracy until the sheep come home, but the result will often fail.
Why is it so difficult?
- Different people have different priorities and goals
- Different people have different calculations of probabilities
Decisions are made in a bureaucratic environment where many actors tend to prefer the status quo. Consequences in foreign policy are difficult to predict. Time is short and events can overtake reality.
Western thought tends to be linier, while many Central Asian and Middle Eastern thinking tends to be cyclical. We start with “a” and go through to “z”. It is logical to our way of thinking and life, but illogical to an insurgent or terrorist. The end justifies the means and time is on the side of the insurgent. We set dates and withdrawal schedules, they have time. With 1000’s of years of history on their side, what are a few more years of waiting to ultimately get what is wanted?
In addition to time being a friend of the adversary, death is viewed differently. Death for a Muslim extremist is the final victory insuring one’s place in paradise. Not only does the adversary create a chaotic and violent event, death carries the perception of martyrdom for the perpetrator and in some instances, status and financial gain for the family of the extremist.
These are foreign to Western thinking, not so for Taliban, Haqqani and Al-Qaeda extremists. Remember, the end justifies the means.
Understanding Social Psychological Processes
Griswold (1994) asserts that the understanding of social psychological processes enhances relationships between visible social characteristics and performance outcomes. The relationship is indicated by the level of understanding and the explanation of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals as influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others.
There is little argument that both Iraq and Afghanistan represent a diverse population of languages and tribal affiliations. Diversity in relation to perception issues, real or imagined, affects the interactions and relationships among people with regard to race, ethnicity, sex, religion, age, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, work and family status, and weight and appearance. Many of these attributes are in fact visible social characteristics. Differences may be readily apparent resulting from a sense of personal identity and are often associated with historical disparities in treatment, opportunities, and outcomes (Bell & Perry, 2007). The localization and application of Bell and Perry‘s stated findings as related to Iraq are quite evident as this researcher often heard comments made in reference to Iraqis from Baghdad or southern Iraq‘s Maysan Province.
A Baghdadi Iraqi is assumed to have an education and better lifestyle, while a Maysani is assumed to be illiterate and have a lifestyle in keeping with that of a subservient peasant. The same may also be true in Afghanistan among Pashtuns who make up the largest ethnic group at 42% of the population, followed by Tajiks (27%), Hazaras (9%), Uzbek (9%), Aimaq, Turkmen, Baluch, and other small groups. Each group shares similar identities, but also major differences which set each group apart. These distinctions prevent nationwide unity, but also serve to bind a people within each group by blood and customs. A diverse people will become more fully engaged and therefore more productive when all people with their differences and similarities are acknowledged and included in decision making and problem identification and solving (Miller & Katz, 2002). The performance outcomes are largely determined by leadership in the country.
Based on the statement of Miller and Katz, I may infer a diverse nation such as Iraq or Afghanistan will become more fully engaged and therefore more productive when all people with their differences and similarities are acknowledged and included in decision making and problem identification and solving. Miller and Katz (2002) report the benefits and outcomes of diversity tolerance begin with education and understanding and claim change can start anywhere, but succeed only when led from the top.
U.S. and Coalition Forces think differently than do their local national military and law enforcement partners. The divide is too great to be bridged in a short period of time. Iraqis and Afghanis understand power. Their culture is built on survival. Armies come and go, locals stay.
This researcher thinks the time has come to focus on winning wars and less time on winning hearts and minds. However, by winning a war, one can win hearts and minds. It is perspective. If building infrastructure, schools, medical clinics and training were good enough, our success would have been realized before now. The transactional leadership model won’t work because someone with a bigger carrot will eventually show up promising even more. The carrots get bigger and the learned response is to wait for the next carrot.
The rational actor model works among the rational, but won’t work among the irrational thinker. Instead of looking for a less irrational actor, our focus should be on winning the war, not simply on hearts and minds. If more money were the answer, it would be simple. More money is obviously not getting the results we want. People must become war weary and want the same things their protectors’ want in order for lasting change to occur. So far, we don’t see complete and total buy in to what we espouse in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let the Soldiers fight…and win. Then, after victory and total surrender is achieved, rebuild.
 FM 3-24
 FM 3-24
 G. Matthew Bonham (2007). Lecture 1. The “Gold Standard”: Rational Actor Model
 Griswold, W. (1994). Cultures and Societies in a Changing World. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.
 Bell, M.P. & Berry, D.P. (2007). Viewing diversity through different lenses: Avoiding a few blind spots. Academy of Management Perspectives, 21(4) 21-25.
 Miller, F., & Katz, J.(2002). Inclusion breakthrough. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.