Hearts, Minds, and Hydras


Hearts, Minds, and Hydras

Fighting Terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, America, and Beyond--Dilemmas and Lessons

William Nester

320 pages


September 2012


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eBook (PDF)
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March 2011


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About the Book

Insurgencies are like the hydra, the many-headed beast of Greek mythology. Once one begins, the measures a government takes to eliminate militants—to cut off the insurgency’s head—can provoke countless others to join the enemy ranks. Tactical victories often breed strategic defeats. Traditional “search, destroy, and withdraw” missions that rely on firepower to wipe out rebels frequently destroy the livelihoods and loved ones of innocent people caught in the cross fire. U.S. troops have seen the pattern repeated as their initially successful offensives toppled enemy regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq but soon transformed into grueling guerrilla wars.Hearts, Minds, and Hydras outlines the reasons for these worsening situations. The most crucial were self-defeating decisions made by the George W. Bush administration, whose neoconservatism and hubris rather than careful analysis of genuine threats, national interests, and reasonable options shaped its policies. Although the Americans were eventually able to contain and diminish the insurgency in Iraq, the one in Afghanistan not only steadily intensified but also spread into neighboring Pakistan. The near abandonment of the war in Afghanistan and the neoconservative campaign in Iraq were godsends for al Qaeda and all other enemies of the United States. Then, as America’s position deteriorated in both wars, the neoconservatives became even more determined to stay the course. William Nester analyzes some of the more prominent dilemmas haunting American policymakers now struggling to win in Afghanistan, fight terrorism in the United States, and reshape their relationship with Pakistan. In doing so, he reveals the nature of that all-too-real monster of insurgency, what feeds it, and how to starve it.

Author Bio

William Nester is a professor in the Department of Government and Politics at St. John's University in New York City. He is the award-winning author of thirty-seven books on multiple dimensions of international relations, American national security, military history, and the nature of power. His "George Rogers Clark: I Glory in War" won the Army Historical Foundation's best biography award for 2013. His "Titan: The Art of British Power in the Age of Revolution and Napoleon" won the New York Military Affairs Symposium's 2016 Arthur Goodzett Book Award.


“The inconclusive and damaging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are vivid testimony to the failure of American foreign policy. Hearts, Minds, and Hydras is William Nester’s forensic analysis of the reasons for this failure. It arrives at just the right time, and it is to be fervently hoped that U.S. political leaders and policymakers will read his excellent and well-researched book before they repeat the mistakes of the last decade."—Sarwar Kashmeri, fellow, Foreign Policy Association; senior fellow, Atlantic Council; and author of NATO 2.0: Reboot or Delete?

“In a comprehensive and highly critical account of George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror and of the neoconservatives who helped guide and support it, William Nester has provided a sharply drawn realist perspective on our last decade.”—James Dobbins, former special envoy for Afghanistan and author of After the Taliban: Nation Building in Afghanistan