Are “Hearts and Minds” Campaigns Obsolete?

I have a question I’d like to put on the floor. Doesn’t a “hearts and minds campaign” require some level of control over the message? In the modern day when just about any bozo with an Internet connection can put just about anything that he or she cares to up for all the world to see and there are social media capable of spreading the word of its existence to a billion people in milliseconds is it possible to have that level of control?

Are “hearts and minds” campaigns obsolete?

FILED UNDER: Open Forum,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. David M says:

    I think they will be until everyone is used to ignoring nutcases that know how to use YouTube. I think eventually most people everywhere will realize just because some random nobody posted something offensive, it doesn’t mean they need to care about it.

  2. swbarnes2 says:

    I don’t think “hearts and minds” was ever going to work when people know that American policies hurt them.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Related thoughts from Daveed Gartenstein-Ross:

    Even one individual can hold America’s foreign policy hostage to some degree. This was the case with Terry Jones, an obscure Florida pastor who became a major international news story in September 2010 when he threatened to burn a Qur’an. Even General David Petraeus weighed in on Jones’s threats, arguing that burning Islam’s holy book would endanger U.S. forces. Although Jones didn’t follow through on his threat in 2010, in March 2011 he organized a mock trial of the Qur’an in which he served as the judge. (This “trial” also featured attorneys for the prosecution and defense, as well as witnesses.) At the end, Jones declared the Qur’an guilty, and it was set aflame.

    Less than two weeks later, an angry crowd in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, attacked a U.N. compound and killed at least eight people. Although there were multiple responsible parties for this outbreak of violence—not least the crowd itself, as well as President Hamid Karzai—this illustrates how one lone extremist can cause deaths halfway around the world and threaten critical U.S. foreign-policy objectives. One aid worker in Afghanistan commented at the time, “This is not the beginning of the end for the international community in Afghanistan. This is the end. Terry Jones and others will continue to pull anti-Islam stunts and opportunistic extremists here will use those actions to incite attacks against foreigners. Unless we, the internationals, want our guards to fire on unarmed protesters from now on, the day has come for us to leave Afghanistan.”

    It will be virtually impossible to stop rogue individuals like Jones from igniting similar controversies. Their impact can be mitigated, but one reality of life in the early twenty-first century is that lone nuts can influence geopolitics in ways they couldn’t have twenty years ago. In 1991, Jones would most likely have been consigned to the letters-to-the-editor section of the local newspaper, his Qur’an-burning antics earning no more than local exposure.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Did they ever work? Was Curtis LeMay trying to win the hearts and minds of the Japanese by bombing the p*ss out of them? Was Sherman trying to win the hearts and minds of southerners on his march through Georgia?

    I think for a while there we had ourselves fooled that man was an animal that could be reasoned with. He’s not.

  5. Rob in CT says:

    Ozark beat me to it.

    First, did they ever work?

    Second, yeah, you have to figure they are even less effective now.

  6. I certainly think Voice of America (FY 2010 budget estimate was $206.5 million) is obsolete. Whatever we do, it has to work with the new media mix.

    (Yes Rob, embassy tweets)

  7. Obviously messaging and meme warfare have increased, not declined, in the information age.

  8. Gustopher says:

    A lot of the world doesn’t understand the freedom of speech.

    Since any yahoo on the internet (including, for the sake of homophones, Yahoo!), can post horrible, inflammatory stuff (which Yahoo! has not yet done, to the best of my knowledge), any “hearts and minds” campaign has to include educating the locals about freedom of speech.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    We have a hearts and minds campaign, it’s called entertainment. Movies, music, TV and books are the real US message to the world.

    Does it work? Of course it does. Europe snipes but they basically like us quite a bit. Most of Asia is moderately well-disposed to us. You have to bear in mind that we are the only great power on earth today and as such we shouldn’t be nearly as popular as we are. Who likes the superpower? And yet, generally, we are liked quite a bit.

    Hollywood, baby. Government efforts are small potatoes by comparison. We are defined more by Spielberg than by Obama.

    Now, in some of the more backward areas of the world they haven’t drunk as deeply of the sweet milk of Hollywood decadence. Notably, Muslim countries, where governments and religious leaders censor our “hearts and minds” campaign. If you can’t show cleavage you don’t have Hollywood.

    In those areas often the only entertainment is some ancient Mullah prattling on about events that occurred 1400 years ago. Lacking a single interesting thing to watch on TV people with no entertainment but religious harangues like to blow off steam by rioting. And who can blame them? It’s not like they have to get home to watch Modern Family.

  10. @michael reynolds:

    Pull the plug on VOA and send a medal of freedom to D.H.

    (I believe you’ve endorsed the diplomatic power of that same show in the past.)

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Actually, Michael, I think there’s another sort of “hearts and minds” campaign that works very well, maybe better than any other. It’s when the cousin or brother or sister or aunt or uncle who emigrated to the U. S. comes back to the Old Country to visit Grandma and Grandpa. When he or she comes, he or she is healthy, happy, and has a suitcase full of stuff.

    Howver, like the entertainment industry, that kind of campaign is not one that can be directed from the Pentagon or White House.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    That is a very good point. The Irish, for example, will always love us because they are us.