April 03, 2008

Charlie Weighs In

[Excuse the violation of the AM style guide as I blog in the first person.]

Well, AM seems to have stepped in a big steaming pile with his broadside against the Kagans and their lack of military service (if you haven't read through the comments, do so post-haste). Guys, this is why we (or at least I) blog here. It's a fascinating discussion and similar to the one we had about Sen. McCain's speech earlier this week.

In my mind, AM is cleared hot to question the Kagans' military experience. If you're keen on sending kids to war, you damn well better have an idea of what you're asking of them.* But they'd be right to ask him wtf strategic level insight he gained from kicking down doors as a Ranger platoon leader.** Both are fair questions.

And that's really the point here--questioning. I'm not doing my job if my students just sit and take notes. Now, I wouldn't dare to lecture on anything resembling tactics, as I know jack and/or sh*t about them (not surprisingly, I learn a lot from my students on this front, which is at least half of why I like working with them). But if we're talking strategy or history, then game on. I want them to read Galula and call bullshit based on their experience in Ramadi. Not because they've served and I haven't, but because they're smart and it's their job (and mine) to think seriously about these things.

This is also about humility. Which is where I really have a problem with the Kagans (and I suspect AM does, too). No one has a monopoly on the answers to these questions. Military or civilian you should be asking yourself everyday how you would know if you were wrong. That doesn't mean that you're paralyzed by self-doubt. But you should probably realize that unless you can literally walk on water (or turn said water into wine), then maybe there's an epsilon sized chance that you're just effing wrong, buddy. That applies to PFCs and PhDs and everyone in between. So ease up on the sanctimonious assertions of success, and let's get down to brass tacks. These are wicked problems, and we've got a shit ton of work to do.

*To be clear, I think you can come to have at least a passing understanding of the human cost of war without serving--by knowing and loving those who fight. You can do worse than immersing yourself in sea stories and walking a friend (or six) through some nasty combat stress. (Through their time at West Point, I think the Kagan's probably meet this requirement, but there are many who don't.)

**His answer, I think, is none. More tellingly, AM often admits he didn't understand the tactical situation that well either. Which is why he went and learned Arabic and everything he could about the Middle East...and why you now read this world famous blog.