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The Fifty-Year War

November 16, 2009

by Jonathan Schell
from The Nation

chrisserraI was about to write that there can be no military solution to the war in Afghanistan, only a political one. But I almost fainted with boredom and had to stop. Who, as President Obama lengthily ponders his decisions regarding the war, wants to repeat a point that’s been made 11,000 times before? Is there anyone on earth who doesn’t know by now that you can’t win a guerrilla war without winning the “hearts and minds” of the people? The American public has known this since the American defeat in Vietnam. The formerly colonized peoples of the Third World, whose hearts and minds were the ones contested, know it. American officialdom knows it. (In a recent New Yorker profile by George Packer of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s envoy to the so-called Af-Pak region, Leslie Gelb, who worked in the Pentagon in the 1960s, recalled, “Changing hearts and minds–all the smart young men thought that.”) Today, even the general in charge in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, now asking for 40,000 or more troops, knows it. He can read all about it in the new Army counterinsurgency manual produced by his boss, Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus. There he can learn that “political factors have primacy in COIN [counterinsurgency]” and that “arguably, the decisive battle is for the people’s minds.” more

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