I have been abroad for the past five weeks and just got back two nights ago. I have currently worked my way through two weeks of emails and have another three to go, so if you have tried to get in touch over the past month, have some patience with me. I was working a bit while I was abroad, as anyone who watched me in debates on France24 knows, and I want to provide some links to my columns for World Politics Review so that you can reach beyond the paywall. (Now having said that, I encourage you all to actually buy a subscription to WPR. It's not terribly expensive, and -- my column aside -- the content is both fresh and informed.)
1 August 2012: "Fallout from Libya Precedent Felt in Syria Debate"
25 July 2012: "State, USAID Must Learn From Afghanistan Errors"
18 July 2012: "U.S.-Israel Military Ties Face Long-Term Strains"
4 July 2012: "No Crisis in Wartime U.S. Civil-Military Relations"
27 June 2012: "America's Dysfunctional Decade in Afghanistan"
Anne-Marie Slaughter has decisively demonstrated why she is one of America's most valuable public intellectuals with this thought-provoking cover story in the Atlantic. I recommend this article to any Washington professionals -- male or female -- looking to balance work and family over the course of a successful career. This article deserves to be read and debated collectively by couples over the weekend.
A few points:
1. I would love to read a companion piece to Anne-Marie's article by Andrew Moravcsik, who is not the only guy out there married to a woman whose intellectual gifts and professional promise often overshadow his own. How does he, as an accomplished and gifted professional, enable his wife? What went through his own mind as his wife took on positions of ever-increasing responsibility that placed more of the burden for parenting on him? For some of us, these questions are not hypothetical, and I suspect I am not the only one out there who would love to hear his perspective.
2. It might be because I know so many theologically orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Jews, but I know a lot of really well educated and professionally promising women out there for whom being a full-time mother is the acme of career success. These women, who do not necessarily think they have "lost" anything by choosing to raise children full time, are not represented in Anne-Marie's article. There is a starting assumption that positions of high authority in government and in corporations should eventually be split 50-50 between men and women because well educated women, if given the chance, want to be both mothers and high-profile executives. That is not necessarily the case, though. I know a lot of ridiculously talented women out there for whom their highest professional aspiration is to be a stay-at-home mother. I'm related to some of those women and go to church with others, but I suspect that there are women out there outside conservative faith communities for whom this is also true.
3. Don't forget the boys. Every conversation we have about women and their careers and families should be accompanied by a discussion of what we want for our boys who are growing up. What should it mean, for these young men, to be fathers and working professionals? Should their roles in families and at work precisely mirror those of women or should we have different expectations for their roles and responsibilities? When I was growing up, the only expectations for me that differed from those for my sister related to manners and the military: I was expected to hold doors open for women and stand up when they left the table, and I was also expected, by my mother and unlike my sister, to serve in the military. But that was about it. Only when I was in my twenties did I start having conversations with older men and women about what my role as a husband and (potentially) a father should be.
4 (counterpoints). Dan and Barbara's amazing kids criticize the article both directly and indirectly in Salon. I didn't think Rebecca's somewhat knee-jerk reaction to the piece really wrestled with much of its content, even though she is, in my mind, one of the brightest women writing on women's issues. Aaron's article, by contrast, wasn't about Anne-Marie's article at all. But Aaron starts to explore #3 on my list of points in a really interesting and oblique way that I appreciated. Read them both.
As some of you may know, I am planning on taking a leave of absence at the end of the summer from CNAS in order to participate in the Council on Foreign Relations' International Affairs Fellowship program. When I do that, I will no longer be able to blog at Abu Muqawama. But if the truth be told, I have not found the time to blog as much as I used to over the past year, and the quality of the blog has already suffered as a result.
In the past, I have been helped out on the blog by some pretty fantastic co-authors. Amil Khan and Erin Simpson were my two longest-running partners in crime, but I was also helped out by some anonymous folks who have gone on to serve at high levels in the Dept. of Defense, the National Security Council, and the U.S. Army. These folks have to remain anonymous, but their contributions really added something great to the blog.
I realized earlier this spring, even before I knew I was going to have to take a leave of absence, that if the blog was to continue, I would need some help. So I began to scout around for some of the smartest younger folks out there writing about issues related to strategy, counterinsurgency and defense policy. As it turns out, there are some fantastically bright young analysts out there, and they deserve a bigger platform. So over the summer, I will begin to incorporate some of these younger voices into the blog.
The first two young turks to join me will be Adam Elkus and Dan Trombly. When I first approached these guys about blogging here, they informed me that it would be an honor because they had been reading this blog since high school. (I took a strong sip of whatever I was drinking at the time and continued my pitch.) Adam is a PhD student in International Relations at American University. He helps edit the Red Team Journal, contributes to CTOVision.com, and blogs at his own site at Rethinking Security. Dan has not yet graduated from George Washington University, but his kung-fu is already strong. He blogs at Slouching Towards Columbia. You can follow both of these trouble-makers on Twitter at @aelkus and @stcolumbia, respectively.
I told both Adam and Dan that we'll take a look at things as the summer progresses and might consider adding some more voices -- likely folks who can either write on security issues related to the Middle East or people who have on-the-ground experience in either Iraq or Afghanistan they can share. But Adam and Dan will be running the show when I leave, so please welcome them to the team.
It's Sunday evening, and I need to get something off my chest that has been bothering me all weekend. The annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner is my least favorite annual event on the calendar in this city, and for all the reasons people have already identified: the sycophancy, the all-too-close relationship between the decisions makers in this city and the people who cover them, the desire of so many journalists to not simply report the news but to be the news themselves.
I think it's great, actually, that the president can poke fun at himself and others -- I laughed while reading the president's speech and enjoyed those of President Bush as well. And I heartily approve of journalists breaking bread and sharing the occasional drink with their sources and subjects. There's nothing wrong with any of that when it is done discretely and in moderation.
But what really set me off was the constant use of the phrase "nerd prom" -- usually by the attendants themselves -- to describe the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Teenagers go to proms -- not grown men and women. This is part of a broader pattern I see in Washington -- a pattern which include cupcake stores, kickball leagues, and adults dressing up on Halloween (to amuse themselves, not children) -- whereby ostensibly grown people adopt the rituals of childhood.*
Unlike some people <cough> Spencer Ackerman </cough>, I really like Washington, DC: I love my neighborhood, I love my neighbors, I love my neighborhood church, and I love my local rugby club. I especially love the fact that neither my neighbors, nor the people in my church, nor my rugby teammates care anything about what I do for a living and that my social life is generally pretty separate from my professional life. I met my wife here, and although I very much miss Tennessee, I enjoy my adopted hometown.
But it rubs me the wrong way that people sending 18-year old kids off to war spend so much of their own time posing as children. Grow the bleep up, DC. It's no wonder the Congress behaves like infants when they see nothing but infants around them.**
*Yes, yes, I realize what you're thinking: who am I to be lectured on behaving like an adult from a d*** Lego man? I can explain: in Iraq, in 2003, I got some very wise advice from an officer in the British SAS for whom I was working. He told me that keeping one's sense of humor was one of the most important things one could do. The minute you start taking yourself too seriously, he told me, you start thinking you're too good to get killed. So I have always tried to not take myself too seriously and to approach even the most serious subjects -- war, terrorism -- with a sense of humor. Hence the Lego jihadi. There is a thin line, though, between having a sense of humor and behaving like a jackass. I'm not sure where that line is, but I'm sure it has been crossed when you start attending parties with Kardashians present.
**I might be affected by having spent the entire weekend with my father-in-law, who is the most adult man I know. The guy got off a boat from southern Italy about 50 years ago with his mother, his father, his infant brother, and about $50 between the four of them. He's been working hard ever since and took enough pity on his son-in-law this weekend to show him how to do all the things around the house that he, as a man in his thirties, frankly should have known how to do already. (By the way, look out, world: I can replace windowpanes now.)
If it were up to me, I would get rid of all medals not related to valor or campaign-specific service. Most medals awarded for "service" -- from the Army Achievement Medal to the Meritorious Service Medal -- seem like trinkets most often given based on the rank of the awardee on completion of a duty assignment rather than any activity soldiers actually take pride in. Maybe I am wrong. But you see a lot of soldiers out there who look like someone has spilled fruit salad on their chests when in actuality they have merely been competent in the non-combat-related aspects of the military bureaucracy. If the Army really wanted to encourage a warrior ethos, why not scrap everything but those Army Commendation Medals, Bronze Stars, Silver Stars, etc. given for valor under fire? After all, do you ever see Gen. Dempsey sporting his AAMs? Rarely.*
Anyway, discuss this amongst yourselves in the comments.
*The first medal I ever received was an AAM for writing good press releases at U.S. Army ROTC Advanced Camp in the summer of 2000. True story. I got a medal for that. And I then had to explain all that to anyone who asked about it. Folks, I did not feel like a warrior. I felt like a clown.
1. I do not know why we continue to be surprised that initial reporting and statements on the raid to kill Osama bin Laden were innacurate. It will be a long time -- maybe even decades -- before the facts of the raid fully see the light of day. As far as journalistic accounts are concerned, I have no reason to doubt the reporting of my friend Nick Schmidle and others, but bear in mind Mark Bowden wrote his original award-winning articles on "Blackhawk Down" four years after the event. And in the case of Abbottabad, we're talking about a highly sensitive special operation that was and necessarily remains cloaked in secrecy. So caveat lector, as always.
2. I spent yesterday with the students at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where my mother has taught for over two decades. I was really impressed by the intelligence and intellectual curiosity of the girls, which served as a nice antidote to the Tennessee state legislature's war on science. My family farm is about five miles from where John Scopes went on trial in 1925, and I would have thought we Tennesseans had come a long way since then. Most folks in my hometown with whom I spoke, to be fair, seemed depressed about the fact that we are the country's laughing stock again and spoke of their desire for the legislature to focus on issues that matter. Personally, I am just happy that Henry Mencken is dead and can't weigh in on the matter.
If it's any consolation, though, the sponsor of the so-called Monkey Bill is an alumnus and former member of the Board of Trustees of the Baylor School. My alma mater, the McCallie School, taught me that intellectual life can live in harmony with a strong faith in Christ. McCallie has accordingly produced statesmen, captains of industry, war heroes, and some of our nation's leading public intellectuals. Our bitter rivals, meanwhile, can take now take pride in the war its alumni wage against ... the scientific method.*
3. Speaking of intellectuals, my old friend and professor Peter Stallybrass recently sent me an old article of his titled "The Mystery of Walking" from the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. I recommend this article to all literary-minded infantrymen out there. It is delightful.
*Problematically, Pat Robertson also went to my alma mater, but in deference to our rivals, I am not allowing trivia like "facts" or "exculpatory evidence" to get in the way of my arguments today.
I spent all last week in Poland, where I delivered lectures here, here and here. (I want to thank the wonderful folks at both the Polish Institute for International Affairs as well as the U.S. embassy in Warsaw for hosting me.) Much to both my delight and chagrin, though, a gentleman in one of my audiences told me that I needed to blog more, and he is right. I have not stewarded this blog very well over the past few months. (Which is partly why I am bringing on co-bloggers soon.)
The good news is that my commentary will now appear weekly in the World Politics Review. You can read my first column here, and subsequent columns will run each Wednesday. You should be able to get around the firewall for the WPR if you click through from this site, but let me know if you have any trouble.
I promise, though, to be a better blogger as the spring progresses.
In an essay on the alleged crimes at Penn State, Iraq War veteran Thomas L. Day does the best job of anyone summing up why I am so frustrated with the generation that precedes my own:
A leader must emerge from Happy Valley to tie our community together again, and it won’t come from our parents’ generation.
They have failed us, over and over and over again.
I speak not specifically of our parents -- I have two loving ones -- but of the public leaders our parents’ generation has produced. With the demise of my own community’s two most revered leaders, Sandusky and Joe Paterno, I have decided to continue to respect my elders, but to politely tell them, “Out of my way.”
They have had their time to lead. Time’s up. I’m tired of waiting for them to live up to obligations.
Think of the world our parents’ generation inherited. They inherited a country of boundless economic prosperity and the highest admiration overseas, produced by the hands of their mothers and fathers. They were safe. For most, they were endowed opportunities to succeed, to prosper, and build on their parents’ work.
For those of us in our 20s and early 30s, this is not the world we are inheriting.
We looked to Washington to lead us after September 11th. I remember telling my college roommates, in a spate of emotion, that I was thinking of enlisting in the military in the days after the attacks. I expected legions of us -- at the orders of our leader -- to do the same. But nobody asked us. Instead we were told to go shopping.
Read the whole thing. Then go read Mark Bowden's wonderful -- and wonderfully balanced -- take on the attack at Wanat. It includes this brilliant passage:
The lieutenant’s battle was over. His bravery had little impact on the course of the fight. He could not rescue the men on Topside, and those who survived would have done so anyway. As it is with all soldiers who die heroically in battle, his final act would define him emphatically, completely, and forever. In those loud and terrifying minutes he had chosen to leave a place of relative safety, braving intense fire, and had run and scrambled uphill toward the most perilous point of the fight. A man does such a thing out of loyalty so consuming that it entirely crowds out consideration of self. In essence, Jon Brostrom had cast off his own life the instant he started running uphill, and only fate would determine if it would be given back to him when the shooting stopped. He died in the heat of that effort, living fully his best idea of himself.
I have rarely read a better tribute to a fallen officer.
A few weeks back, I was asked by the U.S. embassies in Helsinki and Oslo to visit each city to lead a series of informal roundtable discussions and particpate in formal think tank events on a variety of issues touching on both the anniversary of the September 11th attacks and the lessons learned -- or not learned -- over the past decade. As I wrote earlier, I jumped at the chance to visit each city because I think interacting with our allies is really important, and I am honored to help out the State Department with their public engagement activities abroad.
To begin, I was really impressed with the foreign service officers and other diplomatic staff working for the United States abroad. Without fail, our foreign service officers are smart, funny, and great ambassadors to the rest of the world. Second, I was just as impressed by the many scholars, journalists and other people with whom I interacted. The purpose of this post is to highlight some of the really smart people I met with and the work they are doing.
31 August 2011
What better way to begin a visit to Helsinki than with a drink with Finnish journalist Jari Lindholm? Jari has done some great reporting from Afghanistan to Libya and introduced me to the fine folks expertly mixing drinks at the American Bar in the Hotel Torni. I read about as much Finnish as I read Mandarin Chinese, but Jari gave me a copy of his most recent reporting from Misurata for Suomen Kuvalehti, and his pictures alone -- including one two-page color photograph of Tripoli Street during a lull in the fighting -- were stunning.
1 September 2011
I led a series of informal roundtable discussions on Thursday with the Finnish Min. of Defense among others but started out the day the Finnish Institute for International Affairs leading a conversation about post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization in Libya with Timo Behr. Timo and I used to live in the exact same building in Washington, DC but had never met until five minutes before the event began. I began my presentation talking about the challenges the United States has had in responding to post-conflict stablization operations and shared some lessons we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. I then, echoing both Mona el-Ghobashy and especially Lisa Anderson, talked about how the challenges of Libya will be harder and different than the challenges facing Egypt and Tunisia. The question and answer session that followed was a good one, with question ranging from the Saudi-Syrian relationship to issues relating to R2P.
2 September 2011
I led another series of informal roundtables on Friday, including one at the Min. of Foreign Affairs with their very experienced and knowledgable team working on Afghanistan. I ended the day with a more formal presentation to the Atlantic Council of Finland. I spoke about the ways in which the conflicts in both Afghanistan and Libya has revealed strengths and weaknesses in the trans-Atlantic alliance and in NATO. I then spoke about the economic pressures that will lead to cuts in the U.S. defense budget and what that means for the alliance. The question and answer session included some really good questions, including several from Leif Blomqvist, the former Finnish ambassador to NATO.
3 September 2011
I arrived in a rainy Oslo on Saturday and started off with a tour of the city by famed Norwegian tour guide and sometime scholar of jihadist movements Thomas Hegghammer. (But seriously, you all need to read the man's book.) I visited the Viking ship museum and also the Arctic exploration museum and then dined Chez Hegghammer, which is a gastronomically satisfying but intellectually humbling experience considering Thomas isn't even the smartest scholar in his own house.
5 September 2011
After spending Sunday going to church and drinking lots of coffee in Oslo's many and excellent coffee shops, I paid a visit to the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs, where Hans-Inge Langø introduced me to some of the great scholars working there. We had an informal roundtable discussion on, primarily, the Arab Spring and security sector reform. I ended the evening with beers with some scholars working on Afghanistan. (Allow me to recommend the Havrestout from Nøgne Ø.)
6 September 2011
The embassy in Oslo scheduled two formal events for me on Tuesday. The first event was a talk at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment on issues related to the transition in Afghanistan. This event was particularly fun for me because it allowed me to pick the brains of people like Thomas and Anne Stenersen, possibly the world's leading expert in the relations between al-Qaeda and the insurgent groups active in Afghanistan. A formal presentation evolved into a broader conversation that began at nine in the morning and lasted through lunch. I then visited the Norwegian Defense Command and Staff College, where I delivered a formal lecture to the students there on the development of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine and operations. I began with an exploration of theories of military transformation and then talked about the ways in which the U.S. military has learned -- or, again, has not learned -- in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I concluded with a few remarks about the future of both insurgencies and counterinsurgency and then opened things up to the students, many of whom had spent time in Afghanistan and wanted to talk about the transition.
Overall, I had a great visit to both Helsinki and Oslo and am grateful to the State Department for both inviting me to visit and coordinating the logistics upon my arrival. Now ...
Coffee and Food
The best place to get an espresso in Helsinki is, hands down, Kaffecentralen. The best meal I had, meanwhile -- and I think Finnish food is underrated and quite excellent -- was the Helsinki Menu at Grotesk. Oslo, for its part, has some of the best espresso bars in the world. Try Fuglen while you're there, and I myself also had a good cappucino at Stockfleths. The best espresso, though, is to be found at Tim Wendelboe. I was myself seriously impressed. I saved up my per diem in Oslo, finally, for a really good meal on my last night. And I'm here to tell you that the 10-course menu at Maaemo was pretty much the most incredible dining experience of my life. Just stunning, stunning food.
Micah Zenko has a piece up on Foreign Policy's website about gender (im)balance in think tanks. His data (which I assume he took from our website, here) demonstrates that only 18% of our policy-related staff is female and that just 31% of our overall staff is female.
There are lies, though, damn lies, and then statistics. In this case (and I can only speak for myself, obviously), CNAS does not seem like such a male-dominated place if you actually work here. This is because our staff includes a lot of non-resident and part-time staff who are rarely here. If you subtract part-time staff like Tom Ricks and Bob Kaplan (sorry, guys) who are rarely here and non-resident staff like David Asher and Nancy Berglass (who are almost never here), the numbers are different: CNAS actually has just as many female full-time staff (50%, or 11) as we do male full-time staff. (And two more females are about to join the full-time staff in the next week, putting men in the overall minority.) Among our research staff, we do have a big gender imbalance: 11 men to just three women. (With another on the way, making the percentage either 21% or 27%, depending on how charitable you want to be.) That having been said, our director of research is Kristin Lord, and her deputy is Nora Bensahel. So to the degree that we are hierarchical, women are in real positions of authority when it comes to shaping our research agenda.