Well, as we discussed yesterday, there are great books doomed to become (potentially) awful movies starring Matt Damon. But apparently there are also great books which can become potentially amazing movies starring Matt Damon*. I blogged about Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation being one of the best books I read last year. I am so excited to see this film:
*As a decidedly short version of the 6'3" Francois Peinaar, but still.
2. Rugby practice.
3. Rushing home to watch Frontline.
Andrew Exum is a Fellow with the Center for a New American Security. He is a native of East Tennessee and joins CNAS having recently completed five months field research in Lebanon. ...Because the fact that I am joining CNAS on Monday morning will affect this blog and the way we do business, I felt the need to explain a little bit about the move and my future. So I sat down with myself over breakfast and did a little Q&A. This is a bit meta, so bear with me here.
Yeah, sorry. I actually do not start work until Monday -- I moved into my office yesterday -- and was meaning to post something on the blog explaining the move and how it will affect the blog then. But the research and support staff at CNAS -- which has really been on the ball and got me settled in nicely -- posted my bio yesterday, so I figured I owed something to the readership this weekend.2. Why are you pitching your tent at CNAS? I mean, other than to regularly poke fun at John Nagl in person rather than over the internets.
As soon as it became likely that John would replace Michèle Flournoy as president of CNAS, he began to leave harassing messages on my phone "wanting to talk." Over the past few months, I have been working in Washington, DC on a project at Fort McNair and plotting my next move. One option was to immediately enter government service in Washington. Another option was to head "downrange" to either Iraq or Afghanistan. And a final option was to buckle down and finish my PhD. I consulted with a bunch of people whose opinions I value, and the recommendation from most of them was to get my dissertation done. This made a lot of sense to me. Although I have been out of the U.S. Army for longer than I have been in it, some folks still revert to treating me like "Captain Exum" or "Ranger Exum" when I'm in a military audience. And although I am terribly proud of my military service, I am quite ready to put it behind me. Working on a staff downrange where everyone still treats you as a captain, for example, would not be too much fun. I certainly didn't want to go to Baghdad or Kabul and sit in a cubicle drafting papers. In the case of the latter, that would have been a waste of my Arabic and government resources. I eventually settled on CNAS because they offered me a very nice deal -- including health insurance, which will be a big change for me -- and I am excited to help Nate Fick and John as they bring the think tank into the post-Flournoy era. I'll be ready to enter government service either in DC or abroad when people can call me "Dr. Exum." (Although plain "Ex" will continue to do just fine, thanks.)3. So what are the terms of your fellowship, and how will this affect the blog?
Well, once Nagl and I agreed that I would come aboard CNAS, I then sat down with Nate and hammered out the terms. Both Nate and I agreed that I would get at least one day of the week set aside to write the final chapters of my dissertation and that I would also have time to travel to Israel to conduct a final round of interviews. We also agreed -- and this is huge -- that a fifth of my time at CNAS would be devoted to running this blog. Let me say this again: I am now getting paid to blog. That means the content on Abu Muqawama should increase and improve. Also, in the near future, this blog will be hosted by CNAS. So this current blogspot address will shut down.4. Woah, but won't the content have to change?
Luckily, Nate's wife Margaret is a huge fan of this blog. I don't think she would ever forgive Nate if the tone or content changed. And when I put the question to Nate himself, he said he didn't want me to change anything about the blog. When the blog moves over to CNAS, Londonstani and Charlie and our collective sarcasm will come with me. I'll be the editor, but they'll be free to post whenever they like on whatever subject they like.5. Readers already accuse you of being a shill for CNAS. And the counter-insurgency community seems a little, well, "clubby." Do you worry you're going to lose your integrity now that you're getting paid to blog for a center that puts forth recommendations on defense policy? If you disagree with something said by one of the fellows at CNAS, will you still dutifully link to it on the blog?
Over the past few weeks, some have complained this blog is not as critical of voices from within the counter-insurgency community as it should be. And that is a legitimate complaint. But let me explain that this blog was never intended to be an open forum in which all sides of the debate are given equal time. Most of us who blog here share some assumptions. One of those assumptions is that the U.S. military (and government) was and remains overly focused on conventional combat operations. More emphasis should be placed on the training, operations and equipment that support success in "small" wars or "wars among the people". Like all assumptions, if this one is proven to be wrong, we at Abu Muqawama will have to change our recommendations. But if you want to really debate that assumption, this is not your blog anymore than the National Review Online would be a welcome home for a socialist. With regard to products put out by CNAS, the same logic is at play: everyone needs to understand that I really might think quite highly of the work produced by this think tank -- which might be why I chose to join it (well, that and health care). So don't immediately cry foul when I speak highly of something written by John Nagl or Tom Ricks. I like John. I like Tom too. At the same time, I enjoy a real debate with John on Afghanistan. I, for one, worry that this great new counter-insurgency doctrine we have will drive our strategy in that country, when our tactics and operations should be determined by the policies and strategy outlined by the Obama Administration and its military advisers and not visa versa. It's one thing to promulgate COIN doctrine. It's another thing to determine what we should do in Central Asia. I suspect the differences of opinion I will bring to discussions is one of the reasons John wanted to hire me, so I plan on raising holy hell as much as possible. And Nate has made clear that differences of opinion within CNAS, voiced on Abu Muqawama, will bring intellectual credit to the center rather than harm its mission. I agree.6. Blah, blah, blah. How about France and Wales?
Wow. What a game. Mistakes on both sides meant the match never really took off in the same way that France-Ireland did, but all the same, it was a delight to watch. Shane Williams did nothing, while France's back-row forwards, led by Imanol Harinordoquy, were fantastic and outplayed a talented trio on the Welsh side. I was also impressed by the tackling of debutant Mathieu Bastareaud and the running of Maxime Médard. Bastareaud's bone-crushing tackle on the big Welsh center Jamie Roberts illustrated nicely why he was picked. (To be fair, the Welsh tackling was also fearsome at times. I had never before seen Thierry Dusautoir get driven back like that.) I watched the match with my friend Stephanie Pezard, a French scholar of small wars and longtime researcher at the Small Arms Survey who has a massive crush on Sébastien Chabal (watch from :58 of this clip). Somehow I ended up holding the rouge third of the French flag at the bar, so apologies to any of this blog's Welsh readers.