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Armed Humanitarians
Cover of Armed Humanitarians
Armed Humanitarians
The Rise of the Nation Builders
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In May 2003, President George W. Bush declared victory in Iraq. But while we won the war, we catastrophically lost the peace. Our failure prompted a fundamental change in our foreign policy. Confronted with the shortcomings of "shock and awe," the U.S. military shifted its focus to "stability operations": counterinsurgency and the rebuilding of failed states. In less than a decade, foreign assistance has become militarized; humanitarianism has been armed.

Combining recent history and firsthand reporting, Armed Humanitarians traces how the concepts of nation-building came into vogue, and how, evangelized through think tanks, government seminars, and the press, this new doctrine took root inside the Pentagon and the State Department. Following this extraordinary experiment in armed social work as it plays out from Afghanistan and Iraq to Africa and Haiti, Nathan Hodge exposes the difficulties of translating these ambitious new theories into action.

Ultimately seeing this new era in foreign relations as a noble but flawed experiment, he shows how armed humanitarianism strains our resources, deepens our reliance on outsourcing and private contractors, and leads to perceptions of a new imperialism, arguably a major factor in any number of new conflicts around the world. As we attempt to build nations, we may in fact be weakening our own.

Nathan Hodge is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who specializes in defense and national security. He has reported from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, and a number of other countries in the Middle East and former Soviet Union. He is the author, with Sharon Weinberger, of A Nuclear Family Vacation, and his work has appeared in Slate, the Financial Times, Foreign Policy, and many other newspapers and magazines.

In May 2003, President George W. Bush declared victory in Iraq. But while we won the war, we catastrophically lost the peace. Our failure prompted a fundamental change in our foreign policy. Confronted with the shortcomings of "shock and awe," the U.S. military shifted its focus to "stability operations": counterinsurgency and the rebuilding of failed states. In less than a decade, foreign assistance has become militarized; humanitarianism has been armed.

Combining recent history and firsthand reporting, Armed Humanitarians traces how the concepts of nation-building came into vogue, and how, evangelized through think tanks, government seminars, and the press, this new doctrine took root inside the Pentagon and the State Department. Following this extraordinary experiment in armed social work as it plays out from Afghanistan and Iraq to Africa and Haiti, Nathan Hodge exposes the difficulties of translating these ambitious new theories into action.

Ultimately seeing this new era in foreign relations as a noble but flawed experiment, he shows how armed humanitarianism strains our resources, deepens our reliance on outsourcing and private contractors, and leads to perceptions of a new imperialism, arguably a major factor in any number of new conflicts around the world. As we attempt to build nations, we may in fact be weakening our own.

Nathan Hodge is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who specializes in defense and national security. He has reported from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, and a number of other countries in the Middle East and former Soviet Union. He is the author, with Sharon Weinberger, of A Nuclear Family Vacation, and his work has appeared in Slate, the Financial Times, Foreign Policy, and many other newspapers and magazines.

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About the Author-
  • Nathan Hodge is a Washington DC-based writer for Jane's Defence Weekly. A frequent contributor to Slate, he has reported extensively from Afghanistan, Iraq and the former Soviet Union. His work has appeared in the Financial Times, Foreign Policy and Details, as well as many other newspapers and magazines.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 25, 2010
    Hodge (coauthor of A Nuclear Family Vacation), a journalist specializing in defense and national security issues, takes a critical look at the post-9/11 shift in U.S. foreign policy toward nation building in a timely and balanced account. Drawing upon firsthand reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan and extensive interviews with key figures behind the shift, the author traces how the initial failure to secure Afghanistan and Iraq led to the "military's embrace of counterinsurgency"—a shift to "armed social work" that blended force and humanitarianism and became the new face of American foreign policy. Hodge locates the origins of the new paradigm in the work of defense intellectuals like Thomas Barnett (The Pentagon's New Map) and the support of a cadre of military officers, led by Gen. David Petraeus, who embedded the doctrine in the military's counterinsurgency manual and oversaw its adoption during the 2007 surge. While acknowledging some tentative successes, the author argues that nation building detracts from the military's primary mission and is best left to development and diplomatic agencies. Hodge calls for a national conversation on the issue of nation building, and his carefully reported and sprightly written critique is a good place to begin.

  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2010

    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.

    (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Booklist

    January 1, 2011
    Journalist Hodge, who has spent more than a decade writing about the defense industry, addresses the twenty-first-century foreign policy shift that calls for the U.S. military to engage in armed humanitarianism. A necessary progression from the much-maligned nation building of the 1990s, this change stems from the Pentagons realization that soft power is required to address the economic struggles of disenfranchised peoples that are at the root of most international conflicts. Drawing on an enormous amount of location research in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, the Republic of Georgia, and elsewhere, Hodge exhibits a startling grasp of the primary challenges to our national security as he addresses corruption on the ground overseas, our bloated defense budget, and ongoing difficulties with the State Departments overdependence on military contractors. Readers of Greg Mortensons Three Cups of Tea (2009) will appreciate repeated references to that title and how its philosophy of active civilian engagement is admired and emulated by military in the field. Equal parts inspiring and frustrating, this is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand U.S. foreign policy.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

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The Rise of the Nation Builders
Nathan Hodge
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