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Hearts, Minds and Failures

Posted: 10/12/2012 8:49 am

From Afghanistan, Josh Hersh puts the spotlight in this issue of Huffington on the war efforts we rarely hear about -- the American efforts to build trust among the people. These are the "hearts and minds" development projects bringing clean water, electricity, roads, hospitals and schools to the people under the assumption that, as Hersh puts it, "If you build it, goodwill will come."

Visiting a military base in Lashkar Gah, he encounters deep frustration -- a sense that is reflected in the latest research on the effectiveness of nation-building in Afghanistan. Hundreds of miles of new highways now connect Afghanistan's major cities; life expectancy has risen while infant mortality rates have dropped; and millions of girls attend brand new schools across the country. Yet instead of creating goodwill and stability, the "quick-impact projects" -- long considered essential to counterinsurgency -- are creating the opposite. Seemingly innocuous decisions have inflamed tribal rivalries, reflecting the harsh reality that, as one former development worker puts it, "In these zero-sum societies, one person's gain is someone else's loss." All politics is local, but all local development is also political.

Hersh speaks with Andrew Wilder, who spent several years leading a team of researchers through Afghanistan trying to speak directly with Afghans and tribal leaders to gauge their responses to development projects. "The problem wasn't the tactics, it was that the entire nation-building strategy was ineffective," Hersh writes. And while the failure is not discussed in polite political society, it is, as Hersh puts it, "like discovering, ten years too late, that the West had been firing blanks."

Elsewhere in the issue, Bianca Bosker writes about the world of online dating that lies beyond the more conventional matchmaking sites like Match.com and OkCupid. Bosker spotlights the ways sites from Facebook and Yelp to Nerve and Turntable are bringing people together to "share what they love to do, not who they want to fall in love with." Through the stories of actual couples who met online -- like Rayco García and Nuria Sendra, a Spanish couple now living together thanks to an Instagram photo -- Bosker shows that the universe of online dating is expanding, with people meeting and bonding over everything from retweets to witty Chinese restaurant reviews. The stories illustrate yet another step in the direction of a more grown-up Internet, where the qualities we care about most offline are increasingly reflected in our experiences online -- less of a speed dating exercise, more of a cocktail party, bonding over shared interests. As one young woman puts it, "you're not editing yourself as much... You're just being you."

This piece first appeared in our FREE weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available in the iTunes App store.

 
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