While cross cultural communication has been deployed throughout the ages, most notably during WWII and the Cold War, it has now become “unavoidable” if the United States is to succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Col. Glen Ayers, who until retirement last year was chief of the Psychological Operations Division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Col. Ayers was part of the book panel discussion at Heritage on Sept. 10, focusing on the anthology, Cultural Intelligence for Winning the Peace, edited by Dr. Juliana Geron Pilon of the Institute of World Politics.

As noted by panelist Andrew Garfield, senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and intelligence expert, cultural intelligence has been neglected for too long. He also suggested that this is why America’s achievements have been limited.

The value of cultural intelligence lies in grasping a true understanding of the human terrain. Learning the local language, history and cultural nuances are crucial to gaining a local population’s trust, thus achieving success. Making generalizations and oversimplifying the customs of a diverse people ultimately fails. As Garfield pointed out, Iraqis are not just Iraqis, nor are Sunnis simply Sunnis, nor Shia, Shia. Each community is unique and this must be understood if the United States and her allies are to rid Iraq or Afghanistan of insurgency.

Cultures are not necessarily meant to clash, said Dr. Pilon rejecting the thinking of the late Harvard scholar, Samuel Huntington. Dr. Pilon characterized Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” as a “paradigm of oversimplification.” Rather, she believes that cultures are capable of merging, and while they may clash, they can be understood, and objectives through intelligent engagement may be achieved.