Hearts and Minds

US Cultural Management in 21st Century Foreign Relations

by Matthew Chambers (Volume editor)
©2016 Monographs 296 Pages


This volume looks at a key component of recent US foreign relations, namely, its emphasis on «hearts and minds» as part of its cultural management of the global Other. The authors collected here analyze to what extent we can frame the intent and consequences of this term as a coherent policy, discussing how to think about foreign policy strategies that involve the management of cultural relations.
«Including fascinating first-hand and deeply-researched accounts of the workings of various US institutions (many of them ‘cultural’), this volume is a must for an understanding of the power the US projects worldwide.» Professor Laleh Khalili, SOAS University of London
«This fascinating collection reveals the nuance and complexity behind a seemingly banal phrase.» Professor David Schmid, State University of New York at Buffalo

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Policy
  • A Servant Is Not Greater Than His Master: American Primacy in Australian Security
  • No Better Friend: The Outreach Efforts of the United States Marine Corps in Japan and the Asia-Pacific
  • Ebb and Flow: How Strategic Culture, Operational Art, and Threat Perceptions Have Defined the Engagement with Culture
  • Institutions
  • The Matrimony of Patrimony: The Troubled Marriage of Museums and Mission in U.S.-Occupied Iraq
  • The Museum Dimension of American ‘Soft Power’: A Genealogy of Cultural Diplomacy Institutions
  • Media
  • MOOCs and Foreign Affairs: New Challenges for Diplomacy
  • Shaping the U.S. Image in Iran via Satellite: VOA’s Simaye Amrica and Its Projection of America’s Attractiveness
  • ‘These Girls Hold Our Future in Their Hands’: The Case of Girl Rising
  • Language
  • ‘Hearts and Minds’: Discursive Uses and Impacts in US-Russia Relations
  • Quantitative Linguistic Analyses of the Phrase ‘Hearts and Minds’: From the Spiritualism of The King James Bible to the Militarism of Wikileaks Cables
  • About the Authors

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Matthew Chambers


‘Hearts and minds’ is a phrase with a long history and with multiple connotations that tend toward expressing cultural outreach in contested situations. Since 2001, the phrase has become prominently associated with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The issue, then, is that a phrase that points to the appeal of reason and emotion quite often is done so in the context of violence and social and political tension. Thus, there is a tendency to greet the phrase with suspicion, as the sincerity of such expressions are confronted with the paradox out of which they are produced. In other words, can we speak of humane appeals in the context of war? To what degree can we accept proclamations by the military of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ when the ‘winning’ in that phrase suggests combat? This volume explores these questions by examining the true complexity of the so called ‘cultural turn’ of the US military, as well as how various manifestations of American soft power and cultural outreach have developed in this century.

‘Hearts and minds’, as much as it suggests the spectre of violence, also concerns cross-cultural communication, persuasion, and influence. As such, it primarily gets expressed in the context of foreign policy, but a foreign policy that is primarily focused on securing the homeland. Amy Kaplan, for instance, reads foreign policy as a form of ‘domestication’, in the sense that it seeks to tame and make familiar that which is external, and thus perceived as threatening, to the domestic sphere.

‘Domestic’ in this sense is related to the imperial project of civilizing, and the conditions of domesticity often become markers that distinguish civilization from savagery. Domestication implies that the home contains within itself those wild or foreign elements that must be tamed; domesticity monitors the borders between the civilized and the savage as it regulates the traces of savagery within its purview. (2002: 25–6)

‘Hearts and minds’ fits into Kaplan’s analysis in the sense that cultural outreach in the service of foreign policy initiatives often seeks to make familiar that which is threatening, or to project an idea of the domestic onto the Other. In U.S. missions abroad, the sense of the domestic is exported so that the ‘foreign’ in these extraterritorial spaces becomes that which resists the goals of the mission, be they insurgents or an unwilling local populace.

Recent iterations of ‘hearts and minds’ suggest this domesticating drive of American foreign policy. As my framing suggests, the context for analyzing the phrase ‘hearts and minds’ is an American one, specifically as the US has involved ← 7 | 8 → itself more aggressively in extraterritorial conflicts. Indeed, we find the term in President Bush’s post-invasion justification for the US presence in Iraq in front of the United Nations.

By using words and phrases such as ‘opportunity’, ‘inspiring’, ‘encourage their aspirations’, ‘nurture’, and ‘progress’, Bush’s diction portrays contested social and political spaces in the soft glow of flourishing democracy-in-action.1 However, Bush’s foreign policy discourse famously speaks in grand abstractions, so that terms like ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, and even ‘hearts and minds’ feel voided of any meaning.2 A more concrete expression of how American foreign policy engages with the concept of ‘hearts and minds’ can be found in the FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency ← 8 | 9 → Manual (2006) and itself loudly touted as a sign of the US military’s adaptability when it came to cross-cultural contact and communication. The phrase ‘hearts and minds’ appears in the manual, however, firmly in the context of conducting counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, and thus reads as methods for exploiting sources to better wage war.3

Once the unit settles into the AO [area of operations], its next task is to build trusted networks. This is the true meaning of the phrase ‘hearts and minds’, which comprises two separate components. ‘Hearts’ means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. ‘Minds’ means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents. (2006: A-5)

It is no surprise, of course, that a military field manual provides information on fighting tactics, even if they are expressed as cross-cultural communication, however, what is striking is how we encounter two sharply contrasting, yet oddly compatible, senses of the phrase ‘hearts and minds’: Bush’s emphasis on the power of institutions to establish and maintain democratic spaces contrasts sharply with the bald statement of coercive military force, however, the context for Bush’s use is an aftereffect of military action. In other words, both contexts suggest violence, which is what is most problematic about the phrase itself. It is often used to mean a form of persuasion and suggests a consensus deeper than compromise. Yet, most often we hear it in the domain of military and diplomatic strategy, and most recently, as a frequently used term in the context of counterinsurgency doctrine. The fundamental tension between the sense of the phrase suggesting acceptance and consensus and what are ultimately coercive methods points to the need to pause and analyze how and where the phrase is used and to what ends.

One area to examine is the blurring in recent decades between hard and soft power strategies as American foreign policy has increasingly been carried on the back of its military. Dana Priest concisely demonstrates the gradual post-World War II drift towards relying on military forces to conduct functions traditionally reserved for the Department of State (2004: 41–57). Citing Richard N. Gardner’s 2000 Foreign Affairs article on the decrease of diplomatic spending in relation to the overall national budget over the previous decades, she highlights the fact that ‘[i]n the 1960s, the diplomatic budget accounted for 4 percent of the total federal budget…[and in] 2000 it was less than 1 percent, or 20 billion’ (2004: 412). The number Priest is ← 9 | 10 → referring to comes from what Gardner identifies as the ‘150 Account’, or Foreign Assistance budget, which at its 2015 planned level of $35.4 billion keeps it at that 1 percent of the total budget level. By comparison, the April 2015 SIPRI Fact Sheet ‘Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2014’ notes that despite a 6.5% decrease in US defense spending in 2014, it holds at $610 billion – only a 0.4% decrease from 2005 and greater than the next seven countries combined (2015: 2).

Since 2001, greater reliance has been placed on the US military to serve in diplomatic and humanitarian capacities. A reflection of this need for soldiers to act as cultural workers can be demonstrated with the allocation of DoD funds for training in so called ‘critical languages and cultures’. For example, as part of the 2016 planned budget, the Department of Defense allocates $27 million for a National Security Education Program that will ‘provide a future Federal workforce with skills in languages and cultures critical to national security’ and $9 million for ‘9 institutions of higher education hosting Language Training Centers provided training in 17 languages’ (FY2016: 3–22).

One way to approach these numbers that responsibly reflect on a topic that is this far-reaching in its implications and complex in its form is from an interdisciplinary perspective. Indeed, gathered here are researchers and practitioners who are informed by public policy, anthropological, military, media, and cultural studies backgrounds. In presenting this by no means complete, but hopefully comprehensive, accounting of American cultural management globally, this volume attempts to stitch together differing, and in some cases contrasting, perspectives in order to honor the vast complexity of the scope of this topic.

Hearts and Minds has four areas of focus: Policy, Institutions, Media, and Language. These foci reflect the different emphases found in the various approaches of the contributors, and are best thought of as suggested groupings. For example, ‘Policy’ comprises three perspectives on the US military’s role in cultural outreach. This section begins with Tess Lea and Stuart Rollo’s comprehensive look at how American foreign policy has impacted US-Australian relations, especially in light of the Obama administration’s so called ‘pivot to Asia’. They employ ethnographic and interview data to deconstruct the multiple tactics deployed in making US military expansionism such a frictionless event. Their writing shows the ‘vernacular affect theory’ at work on the part of the US military to win local hearts and minds by analyzing reviews of Australian and US government policy, underscoring the ‘neorealist assumptions that inform them’. They go on to argue that the ideology of American exceptionalism is hegemonic to the degree that it is accepted as common sense in Australia that the only military power which should dominate the Asia-Pacific region is the United States, and thus, in turn, America’s interests become Australia’s own. Most significantly for this book, their work ← 10 | 11 → opens by framing their discussion in the terms of Australia’s cultural history as both colonizer and colonized in providing the launching pad for America’s ‘pivot to Asia’, but does so in a way that also historicizes the key concepts of Hearts and Minds as a whole.

In light of Lea and Rollo’s critique, and to be read more as counterpoint than response, is Robert Eldridge, who in his capacity as the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, G-7, Government and External Affairs, Marine Corps Installations Pacific/Marine Forces Japan until April 2015, provides an inside take on the US base in Okinawa, as well as the US cultural outreach on that island, including the challenges of such from the perspective of someone working with US Marines. Eldridge looks at the Japanese and Okinawan public opinion/political narrative on the military bases and the ways the U.S. military, in particular, the Marine Corps has been trying to address the narrative and educate the (local) public. One of the underlying themes will be about the ‘emotionalization’ of the issues (as well as the general ignorance about the alliance and basing matters). With Eldridge’s contribution we have the benefit of an insider’s perspective who has also been academically conversant with the broader cultural issues at play.

Michael Davies rounds out this section by examining approaches to culture within the Department of Defense bureaucracy. He focuses on the need to parse out the terms ‘military’ and ‘strategic’ culture, and argues that attention paid to the concept of culture directly involves practical concerns such as the specificity of the identified enemy and the likelihood of operational action. Davies outlines his concern for an ‘anti-cultural’ element within the US military bureaucracy that has affected procurement, force structure, and strategic mindsets, and further that the institutionalization of this mindset will compound problems in future contexts. However, he hopefully concludes that with the creation of the 7th Warfighting Function, termed ‘Engagement’, being the most powerful expression of the US military’s so called ‘cultural turn’, the shape of the U.S. military will be changed, subtlety at first, but with deep and lasting impact over the long-term.

‘Institutions’ includes two perspectives on the role of museums as both archive and cultural outreach. Mehmed Ali begins with the context of the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad in 2003, and analyzes the work of the US Embassy Baghdad’s Public Affairs Section and the military’s MNF-I and USF-I CJ-9 Directorate. Several projects explored will include the efforts focused with the Iraqi National Museum, the War Crimes Museum, and archeological sites around the country. He goes on to discuss the impact on these museums with the shift in focus away from Iraq as a core foreign policy initiative, as well as the ongoing instability of the country’s infrastructure, which itself calls into question the success of the earlier efforts by external actors. ← 11 | 12 →

Natalia Grincheva uses some examples of the Museum Connect Program to analyze the impact of American museums internationally. Grincheva argues that museums remain a site where politics and culture overlap in their projection of the institutionalized ideal of democracy at work. She argues that democratic values have been communicated by the American museums at home and abroad not only through programming and art collections, but also through the very nature of the museum agency. What she terms ‘museum diplomacy’ in this way is operationalized on two levels: in the straightforward notion of programming that thematically links to positive notions of democracy, but also what she identifies as the ‘more subtle forces of international professional leadership of American museums’ that influence the development and structuring of museums elsewhere.

‘Media’ includes three contributions that approach ‘hearts and minds’ projects through various forms of emerging and established media – MOOC’s [Massive Open Online Courses], radio, and film. Juan Luis Manfredi takes a look at how MOOC’s have become central to public diplomacy efforts in the US, Europe, and Japan. He argues that the idea of digital diplomacy is the use of such tools in order to achieve the goals of foreign policy and conventional diplomacy. The link between technology and diplomacy affects models and processes of international communication, the ways of promoting cultural interests (film, literature), or the dissemination of values associated to a particular lifestyle. MOOCs have become a preferred tool for rethinking strategies, resources, and goals of educational programs. By its technological nature, there are no administrative boarders, broadening the audience. The value proposition is based on international networking. It changes the elitism of the scholarship through mass dissemination. By their content, promoting maintains values (entrepreneurship, citizenship) and highlights the language and culture in different ways.

Yasmin Djabarian asserts that the use of mass media makes it the most visible and cost-effective public diplomacy tool for governmental efforts to wield soft power. In the context of US foreign policy objectives and the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran, Voice of America’s (VOA) Persian News Network (PNN) has become its most significant language service. Djabarian focuses on PNN’s cultural shows, which mainly stress the diversity of US culture, specifically Inside America, which aims to provide Iranian viewers with distinct and comprehensive insights into American culture and society. Djabarian first analyzes several episodes of Inside America in terms of the format’s attempt to create and foster a favorable image of the United States, then compares her findings to her analysis of a format produced by Iran’s English language service Press TV called American Dream. In doing so, Djabarian addresses Iran’s reactions to ← 12 | 13 → Western international broadcasting and its attempt to shape the US image among Iranians, in Iran and the diaspora, and Western audiences.

Serena Fusco performs an analysis of Girl Rising – a series of videos made possible by Intel, USAID, and several Country Partnerships that promotes female education worldwide – to provide a critical counterpoint to the widespread acclaim around the operation enacted by and through the film, thus reflecting on its possibly broader historical and cultural functions. Fusco places the film in the context of its ‘movement’ – meaning not only its advocacy for a cause and its intended circulation, but also the cultural significance of such a ‘movement’ as a way to construct America as a global actor in the 21st century, but she also analyzes how Girl Rising tells stories of female empowerment through education, turning them into the rhetorical ground, and affective horizon, for constructing various forms of subjectivity. Fusco ultimately argues that the operation enacted by and through Girl Rising is part of a rearticulation of American agency’s face to the world, as opposed to ingrained narratives of American unilateralism.

The final section, ‘Language’, addresses the use of the phrase ‘hearts and minds’ as a discursive concept. Eunice Seixas argues that US international funding and the promotion of civil society and human rights organizations has been an important part of an ‘hearts and minds’ strategy that attempts to frame, manage, and administer America’s interests throughout the globe. Seixas analyzes the discursive uses of the phrase in recent statements by the US and Russian presidents, respectively, to address how the phrase reflects foreign policy attitudes and positions of both countries, particularly in relation to one another. Seixas performs a detailed close reading of Barack Obama’s 7 July 2009 speech the Parallel Civil Society Summit in Moscow, and Vladimir Putin’s appropriation of the phrase during an address delivered at St. George’s Hall about Crimea. At the heart of her analysis is how the phrase itself is pliable and indeterminate, and ultimately reflects the speaker’s broad emotional assessment of their own and their perceived counterpart’s foreign policy postures.

Karyn Hollis keyword searches the Wikileaks cables with the program DICTION, which is a content analysis software program which examines tone and content in large data samples, to analyze political discourse as it is expressed in the leaked diplomatic cables. Hollis uses DICTION to discover the discursive strategies used by diplomats in their rhetorical efforts to gain worldwide support for their various causes associated with the phrase, ‘hearts and minds’. Hollis’s results of this analysis are compared to a similar text sample of Wikileaks cables that does not use the phrase ‘hearts and minds’ to affirm statistical differences in tone and content. The results will also be broken down by country or global region to detect any variations in the way the phrase is employed around the world. ← 13 | 14 → Finally, the quantitative analysis will be supported and illustrated by a concise qualitative close reading and Critical Discourse Analysis of a representative cable in the ‘hearts and minds’ sample.

Far from being an empty slogan, ‘hearts and minds’ has emerged as a widespread way of thinking about America’s relations throughout the globe. While it has retained its militaristic association, it has extended out into other sectors such as cultural programs as well as NGO involvement in relief, infrastructure-rebuilding, and educational efforts. The question becomes to what extent can we frame the intent and consequences of this term as a coherent policy? How does it reflect an exceptionalist attitude, in the sense of the drive to manage the global terrain as the non-exceptional Other? How can we think about foreign policy strategies that implicitly or explicitly involve the management of ‘cross-cultural’ relations? And finally, how do affects, as underlying the slogan ‘hearts and minds’, enable ideologies that frame cultural management in foreign relations? Hearts and Minds aims to provide the reader with some context and illumination to these questions.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016. 296 pp., 1 graph, 7 tables

Biographical notes

Matthew Chambers (Volume editor)

Matthew Chambers is Assistant Professor at the Department of American Studies and Mass Media, University of Łód´z, Poland. He has published a monograph on modernism and cultural poetics.


Title: Hearts and Minds