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Human Terrain System

The Pentagon is bringing social scientists to the battlefield. Plus Big Thinker Samantha Power.

In The Game, a book about how to pick up girls, author Neil Strauss recommends studying your target before attempting to seduce her. With the human terrain system, the Pentagon is using the same principle to win hearts and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan. The program brings social scientists to the battlefield to help coalition forces better understand "the human terrain"-military-speak for the sociocultural, economic, ethnographic, and political elements of a battlefield-and to calibrate its actions accordingly. The result? Sheiks and colonels regularly share tea together, and soldiers now understand that garbage removal can be as effective as brute force to secure the support of the local population.The thinking comes from an Australian army officer named David Kilcullen, a whisky-swigging expert on "small wars" and an anthropologist of insurgencies who is now working closely with General David Petraeus in Iraq. Kilcullen says that the long struggle with extremism (read: the global war on terror) is actually a battle for hearts and minds. And to win hearts and minds, you have to know something about them. Enter the anthropologists. It's seduction time.BIG THINKER:

Samantha Power

Freedom from fear. Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the concept in 1941. Sixty years later, we lost sight of his wisdom, stoking fear at home to justify an all-expansive, counterproductive lunge at real and imagined threats abroad. Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. envoy murdered in a 2003 terrorist attack in Baghdad, had it right when he said, "Fear is a bad adviser." Neutralizing terrorism would entail freeing ourselves from fear at home, while also launching a grand international initiative to make citizens abroad safe in their persons and property. Insecurity causes all of us to make bad decisions, to back extreme policies, or to support extreme leaders-and each of these only compounds our insecurity. It's time to break the cycle, returning to respecting law ourselves, and for the first time channeling major development assistance into helping bring law to lawless places.Samantha Power is a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the author of Chasing The Flame: Sergio Viera de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, and a foreign-policy advisor to the Barack Obama presidential campaign.


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