Small Wars Journal

Humanizing "The Man"

Share this Post

Humanizing "The Man:"

Strengthening Psychological and Information Operations in Afghanistan

by A. Lawrence Chickering

Download the Full Article: Humanizing the "Man"

In a recent issue of Small Wars Journal, Oleg Svet revisits the issue of the battle of perceptions, which he calls "crucial" to COIN's long-run success in Afghanistan. Svet argues that information and psychological operations (IO and PSYOP) have largely failed either to promote support for the U.S.-led coalition or for the Afghan Government; and he explores new "narratives" to strengthen the effects of these operations.

In this paper, I will argue there are three great challenges the coalition forces need to overcome in their search for narratives that resonate with Afghans and that ultimately will promote support for the coalition and for the government. First is the traditional and tribal Afghan antagonism to outsiders. Second is the lack of a stake that ordinary Afghans have in the larger system. And the third involves a conflict in impact of major activities in the country, a conflict between programs that empower Afghans and programs that disempower them.

Download the Full Article: Humanizing the "Man"

A. Lawrence Chickering is a social entrepreneur who designs and implements civil society strategies in public policy. He is founder and President of Educate Girls Globally (EGG), which has developed a powerful program for promoting girls' education and empowering traditional communities by reforming government schools, partnering with the government of the very tribal state of Rajasthan in India. He is coauthor of Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (2006). This is his first article on counterinsurgency strategy.

About the Author(s)

A. Lawrence Chickering is a social entrepreneur and writer who designs and implements civil society strategies in public policy.  He is founder and President of Educate Girls Globally (EGG), which has developed a powerful program for promoting girls’ education and empowering traditional communities by reforming government schools, partnering with the government of the very tribal state of Rajasthan in India.  He has concentrated his recent writing on the uses of civil society in foreign policy and, more specifically, in counterinsurgency warfare.  He is coauthor of Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security (2006).  His other, great interest is conflict management and the search for a transpartisan politics.  He has written two books on that subject: Beyond Left and Right (1993) and (with James S. Turner) Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life (2008).  He is a regular contributor to the SWJ.

Comments

Lawrence Chickering

Fri, 10/22/2010 - 7:22pm

Thank you, Anonymous, for your kind remarks and especially for your reference to the Jones and Munoz RAND paper. I will look at it with interest.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 10/21/2010 - 9:06am

Sir,

Thank you for this powerfull and original point of view.

There is an intersting echo of your point in the Jones & Munoz recent RAND's paper "Afghan Local wars : building local defence forces" (http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2010/RAND_MG1002.pdf) where they propose to let empowerment & ownership be critical factors in building local defense forces in Afghan villages.

V/R

Lawrence Chickering

Sun, 10/17/2010 - 5:21pm

You make good and important points. I don't disagree, really, with any of them. We went into Iraq and then Afghanistan without the faintest clue what we were getting into. The opening lines of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual make it clear how totally unprepared we were to fight these wars. We have made horrendous mistakes, and we are still learning. We still have a long way to go, and one of the most important spaces committed to this learning is the Small Wars Journal and blog.

As we get better at this, we will be able to help people at enormously lower costs than the very great costs we have bourn to this point. The nonmilitary strategy I have tried to present here reflects our highest idealism as a people; and if we focus on empowering other people, they will carry the burden of the fight -- and not rely only on us. The program I founded and run, Educate Girls Globally (EGG), is so powerful that governments are starting to offer to pay for it.

One final point on my argument about the impact on us if we leave Afghanistan and then watch a bloodbath in our wake. I did not mean to push on anyone my own moral belief that we cannot leave. I meant to be saying that our idealism as a people is such that if this happened, it could tear us apart. Imagine the political response, the energy that would go into attacking the barbarism of those in power. I am not taking sides here -- saying either side is right or wrong. I am only saying that if it tears us apart, the result would be really terrible.

kdog101 (not verified)

Sun, 10/17/2010 - 12:31pm

I do not want the Taliban or a brutal government to take control either... at the same our government has an obligation to use our soldiers lives wisely, when our country is truly at risk, not our psyche. We made a very serious commitment to defend our country, once we sign up, we are locked for those 8 years, I think our government owes it to us to be very careful about the promises and commitments they make. Our lives should not be used promoting a mix of people and ideology that we can not understand.

It does irk me when Obama promises the Afghan people that we will not abandon you, because he does not have control of that decision. That said, I am not one who is in favor of abandoning all Afghans, but I do think it has to be their fight not ours. And by that I do not mean giving up on our fight on terrorism, just that we can not fight every bad person on this planet. It is not practical, wise, and we do not have the ability to discern in many cases.

What also disturbs me is that we place the burden on ourselves to convince the Afghans that you should let us help you. I think it is backwards from both perspectives. I think the initiative needs to be on both parties. We find out what we have in common, and make a deal.

Lawrence Chickering,
You have some good points and do not want to diminish that, but I am very concerned about you and others who push their agenda without consideration of the constraints of the people of the United States. I particularly do not care about your comment regarding the people of the United States "every night, in comfort of our own home", because the world is more complicated than this, and to think that your agenda, the Afghan people's lives, is more important than other peoples lives is what I do not care for. There are many ways the people of the United States can help the world, and much of it is not on the battle field. We need a much more balanced and reasoned approach that operates with in our means and laws, and I think the United States left that approach a long time ago.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 10/17/2010 - 12:30pm

I do not want the Taliban or a brutal government to take control either... at the same our government has an obligation to use our soldiers lives wisely, when our country is truly at risk, not our psyche. We made a very serious commitment to defend our country, once we sign up, we are locked for those 8 years, I think our government owes it to us to be very careful about the promises and commitments they make. Our lives should not be used promoting a mix of people and ideology that we can not understand.

It does irk me when Obama promises the Afghan people that we will not abandon you, because he does not have control of that decision. That said, I am not one who is in favor of abandoning all Afghans, but I do think it has to be their fight not ours. And by that I do not mean giving up on our fight on terrorism, just that we can not fight every bad person on this planet. It is not practical, wise, and we do not have the ability to discern in many cases.

What also disturbs me is that we place the burden on ourselves to convince the Afghans that you should let us help you. I think it is backwards from both perspectives. I think the initiative needs to be on both parties. We find out what we have in common, and make a deal.

Lawrence Chickering,
You have some good points and do not want to diminish that, but I am very concerned about you and others who push their agenda without consideration of the constraints of the people of the United States. I particularly do not care about your comment regarding the people of the United States "every night, in comfort of our own home", because the world is more complicated than this, and to think that your agenda, the Afghan people's lives, is more important than other peoples lives is what I do not care for. There are many ways the people of the United States can help the world, and much of it is not on the battle field. We need a much more balanced and reasoned approach that operates with in our means and laws, and I think the United States left that approach a long time ago.

Lawrence Chickering

Fri, 10/15/2010 - 2:10pm

If the Taliban win, they go back to slaughtering women and keeping them in servitude. If we "win", we can leave the country confident that slavery will not return to one-half the population. In most wars, "winning" is about who takes over. Our concept of winning is that we get to leave and no one takes over in a brutal regime than enslaves half the country. In that sense, I think we need to win. In this media age, I shudder to think of the effect on our national psyche and soul if we are forced, every night, in the comfort of our homes, to watch on the evening news genocide raging in a country we abandoned.

This war cannot be "won" by arms alone. Everyone knows that. I do think, perhaps aligned with your comment, that we are not paying enough attention to situations where the mere presence of soldiers stimulates opposition and even violence. I can't remember if I included it in the paper, but one NGO I know was driven out of a community where it had worked for 8 1/2 years by a military PRT, which came in and, without asking, fixed the roof on a school the NGO was supporting. The mere sight of a soldier allowed the Taliban to brand the NGO as a tool of the military, and they had no alternative but to leave.

I believe that the whole role of soldiers "doing good", at huge expense, needs to be rethought because I think military PRTs are often producing results the very opposite of those intended. I have heard this from multiple sources. Understanding why such PRTs can harm the coalition cause there requires focusing on empowerment as the key objective of nonmilitary actions there, as I argued in the paper.

I want to say one other thing about what I understand to be your position. I have written two books on a new "transpartisan" politics, and I argue in both that citizen empowerment is a crucial element that will bring right and left together -- does bring them together whenever it appears. The trouble is, our political idiom is so focused on conflict -- on what separates us rather than on what brings us together -- that there is little public discussion of how and why empowering citizens is essential not only to bring people together, but also to solve problems ranging from COIN in Afghanistan to the challenge of reforming U.S. public schools.

Although I suspect you regard yourself as strong aligned with one side of the U.S. political spectrum, the point you are arguing here can be framed in powerfully transpartisan terms.

kdog101 (not verified)

Thu, 10/14/2010 - 11:54pm

Lawrence Chickering,

Another thing that concerns me about your paper, is that I get the sense that you still support the notion that we need to win in Afghanistan and our strategy for doing this is winning the hearts and minds.

I am not advocating losing, but simply accepting that it is only mildly important, and we do not need the heart of our military there. I wonder if the attention we draw exasperates the problems over there.
I think we had our strategy of Afghanistan right in the beginning, where with a small but strong presence we enabled the Afghans to push out the Taliban.

kdog101 (not verified)

Thu, 10/14/2010 - 11:28pm

Lawrence Chickering,
The first time I read your article I did not like it because it seems to support the role of the military as a social engineering force. That said I do appreciate many of the points you make, and I liked it better the second time I read it.

I am still uncomfortable with the military having this dual role of soldier and social engineer. I am also uncomfortable with the military having a big presence. I wish we were next to nil, and provided a behind the scenes support role. Like you hint at, our presence can hurt even in subtle ways.

I do like that you advocate a bottom up approach to government. I think a government is best and natural where locals choose their leaders and representatives, are given the power to make most of their own laws, and are not a subject of a distant government, but a participant in that government. It seems like Karzai fear of strong local government is not a good thing for Afghans.

Lawrence Chickering

Thu, 10/14/2010 - 1:14pm

If I understand kdog101's point, he has described the essence of EGG's program. EGG focuses not on "welfare and social engineering", but on empowerment. EGG gives no money to anyone. The great challenge in a tribal society like Afghanistan is to activate (the neuroscience term) a passive culture to take control of their own lives -- which includes empowerment to trade and also to cooperate actively in COIN. Individual freedom, which kdog101 emphasizes, depends on *empowerment*; it depends on consciousness, which is encouraged by different things, including *ownership*. EGG makes no promises; it operates invisibly, creating a space for disempowered people to become empowered. It humanizes The Man, creating an equal relationship of dignity and respect between us. I am with you, entirely.

kdog101 (not verified)

Wed, 10/13/2010 - 10:04pm

More of win the hearts and minds and social engineering does not seem like a good idea.

I agree with the article as far as it is not a good idea to just give Afghans things, but I disagree beyond that. Somehow if we give them stuff with the right conditions and that is going to make things better. Welfare and social engineering do not have a good history of creating prosperity. Trade and individual freedom do.

What will they do when the money and interest runs out. Are we setting them up for failure?

I advocate a more natural course of action. Something without promises and false premises. Something that maintains the dignity and respect of both the United States and the Afghan people. We trade to get what we want.

At the end of the day, they do not owe us, and we do not owe them. No resentment, perhaps even friendship.

Lawrence Chickering

Wed, 10/13/2010 - 4:29pm

I wanted to add thoughts on specific actions that I think would advance the position I argued in the article and would speak to the issues discussed by Jim M, MikeF, and Steven Meek.

From the perspective of my article, the idea is to initiate a study of these issues, examining the commander's narrative for its endorsement of empowerment and civil society as the central principles, and then reviewing the totality of operations in the theater for consistency with the narrative. The PRT example I cited -- and many others I have heard about -- directly contradict a true empowerment narrative. Part of such a project should also reach out to USAID and other coalition partner donor agencies and initiate a process that would encourage the partners to adopt the commander's narrative as their own. (If the narratives conflict, of course, there is more noise and no clear narrative.) This would provide a clearer standard by which to judge donor-funded projects that may have no connection to the military.

Imagining this narrative should govern activities in many countries, not just Afghanistan, informal consultation should continue, seeking buy-in from higher levels in the government and the coalition. The purpose, ultimately, would be to expand appreciation of the importance of a civil society-empowerment perspective both for the military and nonmilitary sides of the government and the coalition. Sustaining consultation on these issues could play an important role in promoting consideration of them in the large debates on foreign and national security policy.

Lawrence Chickering

Wed, 10/13/2010 - 6:47am

Steven Meek's comments are excellent because they go straight to the central responsibility for leadership. As an IO officer, perhaps it is natural that he would focus the discussion entirely on communications and the narrative. However, as I tried to argue in my article, the central issue here is the consistency and coherence of both our actions *and* the narrative.

In my article I tried to emphasize the importance of *empowerment* as the central theme in both actions and narrative. In my next article here, which I am now writing, I focus on the centrality of *civil society* as a crucial partner in empowering people and connecting them. This is a central theme in my 2006 coauthored book STRATEGIC FOREIGN ASSISTANCE: CIVIL SOCIETY IN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY, which is focused on how to design foreign aid programs to support foreign policy strategically. My coauthors and I argued that a very central failing in the making of foreign policy is the failure of senior foreign policy leadership, starting with the President and the National Security Council, to provide leadership emphasizing identification of strategic aid projects and then investment in them at strategic scales.

There is no leadership from the top on either actions or a supporting narrative on the empowerment theme I think should be central because the entire foreign policy idiom is focused on states and on governments, and provides no role for civil society. The larger foreign policy community knows nothing about the issue -- read the foreign policy journals like Foreign Affairs and Foriegn Policy: it is all about states. The whole debate is about asking weak states to do things they have no capacity to do.

The answer to all of this, I believe, will not come from the top, which is doing what it knows, focusing on states. If there is an answer to this, it will come from the bottom. It will come from a powerful clarity about a new narrative -- action and communication. For complicated reasons I think leadership for this is much more likely to come from the military than from the State Department (which has that name for a reason). If the military, starting with the commander's narrative (see Jim M's comments above), promulgated a clear directive on this area and then enforced it throughout the command -- eliminating PRTs without consultation and "three cups of tea" -- that would provide an important beginning of leadership from which people on the civilian side of the government could then learn.

Being in the military -- which I am not -- it is easy to think that leadership needs to come from the top, with someone giving an order. But leadership can also come, in an area like this, from the bottom -- by example. I have talked to dozens and dozens of people on both the military and civilian sides of the government about the challenge of the narrative, and I have found nearly unanimous agreement about how the narrative should be articulated -- what is really important in it. The failure starts with a failure to articulate the *essential principles* in the narrative and then to design programs that reflect those principles.

Being clear in the command about what to do and how to implement policy to reflect the principles would be an important beginning. From there, private consultation with the highest levels of the government could begin a conversation about how to do the same throughout all coalition activities and narratives, both military and nonmilitary, that are influencing people's perceptions of us in Afghanistan and other places.

Steven Meek (not verified)

Tue, 10/12/2010 - 9:54pm

Hello everyone, I'm a first time poster. I am currently attending ILE at Ft. Belvoir and am conducting my initial journey into the blogosphere in order to fulfill the course's "+1 requirement."

Great comments above. At the risk of stating the obvious, I would posit that strategic communication needs to start at the State Department (who as we know supposedly has primacy in this area). Of course, this necessitates full partnership with DoD. Problem is, they are reluctant to do it. Proof of this resides in the fact that the R Bureau remains both undermanned and underfunded (if I am wrong here someone please correct me). Also, where does the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, who chairs the Strategic Communication Interagency Policy Committee, fit into the picture?

As a result, DoD - being the action oriented organization we are - has to pick up the strategic communication ball and run with it. The issue with this is that the perception is created that public diplomacy wears nothing but combat boots (as an Information Operations Officer, I do not think that DoD should have the lead in this area).

In my opinion, if State is either unwilling or unable (or both) of taking the strategic communication task, what are the chances of reconstituting the USIA? Should this be inserted into the strategic communication/IO debate? For one, I'm not holding my breath on this to happen.

Lastly, my post is not meant to intentionally defecate on State. It is just frustrating that as an IO practitioner, we don't seem to have much guidance at the strategic level, and it appears that those who are supposed to issue said guidance don't really want to.

All,

For a futher expansion on Jim M's comments, I'd recommend

The Art of "Campaigning" to Inform and Influence
by Brigadier General Huba Wass de Czege

http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2010/09/the-art-of-campaigning-to-info/

Specifically, in the introduction, he states,

"I have come to see that it is not IO practitioners I need to address, but Corps, Division, and Brigade Command-ers and their staffs. And it is not some aspect of IO, or a successor Informing and Influencingâ€â€" function, I need to address, but it is about the nature of Corps, Division, and Brigade campaignsâ€â€" to affect the behavior of various groups of human beings in the mission environment toward some greater purpose.â€â€" It is when extended tactical operations become campaignsâ€â€" that such mission efforts become purposeful, coherent and fruitful."

Lawrence Chickering

Tue, 10/12/2010 - 1:22am

Jim M is right to say the narrative needs to be bigger than IO/PSYOP. Unfortunately, this is an area I do not know well. I would say, in fact, that the narrative *needs to encompass everything the coalition is doing on both the military and civilian sides* -- because all of it is influencing people's perceptions. My sense here is that the commander's narrative about these issues either has not been defined clearly enough, or it is clearly defined but is not effectively governing what goes out under it.

I hope all USAID projects are governed by the commander's narrative. If they are not (as I suspect), they are nevertheless playing an important role in influencing people's perceptions, and they are producing "noise" in the narrative. In this case, it is an urgent priority for DOD and State to rationalize the structure governing the narrative and all activities that influence it.

Jim M (not verified)

Mon, 10/11/2010 - 11:12am

Mr Chickering's is spot on in the need to empower the masses and in describing the occupying forces and central government as "the Man." Where he falls short is in his failure to realize reframing the narrative is bigger than IO/PSYOP even though he cites examples in the article. IO/PSYOP messages working to empower the populace are meaningless at best if the PRTs are operating as Mr Chickering's hypothetical PRT. The <B> commander's narrative </B> has to drive the totality of operations. IO/PSYOP messages must be nested with actions at the lowest echelon which means actions have to be synchronized with the commander's narrative to the lowest echelon. Words and deeds, deeds and words; which is the driver is irrelevant as long as they are synchronized.