Masterful takedown of the DC Foreign Policy Community

For those that may have missed it over the holiday weekend, I wanted to point out a masterful takedown of the DC foreign policy community by Justin Logan in The American Conservative entitled “How Washington Makes Love for War“.  Logan uses the recent Petraeus scandal as a vehicle to highlight the persistent affirmation of conventional thinking amongst an insular Washington DC foreign policy elite.  For those not familiar with Beltway politics, this article may not interest you.  But for those familiar with DC politics, I believe you’ll find Logan’s article a fantastically accurate portrayal of a town where consensus is king and it pays to affirm rather than challenge conventional thinking. (I learned my lesson on this in late 2007)  I highly recommend reading the article and here are some of my favorite quotes:

Logan’s thesis:

The Washington foreign-policy elite is an insular, cosseted clique that obsesses over minutiae and discourages strategic thought.

On Broadwell:

So why is it that this sort of person looks to be a rising star, someone destined for greatness? Simple: She was an effective self-promoter and networker and, most important, she never stopped to question the conventional wisdom. Broadwell’s ascent to prominence was a stepwise progression. The essential first step for Broadwell was allying herself with the emerging conventional wisdom that population-centric counterinsurgency was the missing tool in America’s defense arsenal and that General Petraeus could use it to fix America’s wars. But the crucial step Broadwell took was to use her status as a promoter of the conventional wisdom to attain access to power: in this case, General Petraeus. It was this proximity to power that made her a boldfaced name and won gushing blurbs for her mash-note book about Petraeus from an array of pundits and think tankers, whose imprimatur then signaled that Broadwell was a part of the establishment with wisdom to be heard.

On the lack of debate in DC on foreign policy strategy:

In the Beltway foreign-policy community, strategy debate is inherently unfriendly and to be avoided. Part of the reason so much attention is spent on process and operational details and so little time on strategy is that everyone can get together in a room and complain about the inter-agency process without disagreeing with another person in particular. The same isn’t true about choices over strategy. If one strategy is appropriate, the other possibilities are wrong.

An excellent analysis of a foreign policy community that thrives on consensus.  And for those that wonder why this blog isn’t called “Conventional Wisdom”, well, here you go – Justin Logan explains it even better than I could.

Counterterrorism Lessons Learned from 25th Anniversary of “The Princess Bride”

I guess today is roughly the 25th anniversary of the movie “The Princess Bride.”  For those that are not familiar with this movie, I assume you’re either an international reader or suspect.  Kelsey Atherton (@the_boy) did an insightful and modern lessons learned analysis from this movie entitled, “False Flags, Piracy, Waterboarding, Deception, Accidental Guerillas and Targeted Strikes: Strategic Lessons from The Princess Bride.”  An excellent piece of work I encourage all who enjoy The Princess Bride to check out.  Here’s a quick snippet from Kelsey:

Twenty five years ago we were first warned against two classic blunders,  “The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia*,”” but the Princess Bride has far more to offer strategic thinkers.

Before delving into lessons, it’s worth establishing that none of the strategy comes from an actual war. Instead, and much like In the Loop, the entire film concerns the machinations of a government to justify starting a war. (Unlike In the Loop, the rest of story is about resisting those machinations, rescuing a princess, and something about True Love?). Prince Humperdinck, confident of his ability to win and eager for glory, wants a war against neighboring Guilder, and with this in mind he manages to get his fiance kidnapped (and, later, [spoilers] attempts to get her killed). Now, on to the lessons!

Check out Kelsey’s analysis here.

BTW, What happened to Cary Elwes? Another lesson learned revealed in discussions on Twitter after Kelsey’s post is: Never get Cary Elwes agent as your personal representative.  His career declined steadily after “The Princes Bride.”

Also, if you’re needing to refresh your memory of the War of Guilder & Florin, refresh your memory with this map courtesy of Kelsey.

More on the “Combat Guitarist”: What’s going on in this picture?

Following up from yesterday’s post “What is going on in this picture?“, I received another update from my friend @ncaucasuscaucus (who sent me the original photo) and he found this picture yesterday at The Atlantic, which shows the same band of fighters with the “Combat Guitarist” seconds after yesterday’s picture.  Here’s the picture and below is a quote from a journalist that was nearby when the picture was snapped:

So it appears the photo is definitely real.  Again, Guy #2 from yesterday (in green running and shooting from the back of the pack) scares me.  Meanwhile, the “Combat Guitarist” strums away.  I would love to know what he is singing as it appears to be quite motivating.  Someone should find that guy and record whatever he is singing and upload to iTunes so I can add it to my running play list.  It’s obviously got these guys fired up.

The photographer, Aris Messinis, explains during an interview what was going on when he took the photo.

“That day the NTC fighters were trying to advance to the centre of the city and it was a heavy street fight with lot of incoming and outgoing firing. (AK-47, machine guns, anti-aircraft machine guns, RPGs, sniper firing),” Messinis told Channel 4 News.

Messinis was amazed to see the man playing guitar amidst the battle but the fighting was so hard it was impossible to cross the street to talk to him.

“I realised by looking at him through my camera that he was trying to encourage the other fighters.

“It was impossible to hear his music becaue the distance between me and him was some 50 metres and the ‘Boom! Boom!’ was too loud.”

Such was the ferocity of the fighting one of Aris’ fellow journalists was wounded by a mortar shell, highlight how dangerous the battle zone was.

“But,” writes Aris, “The whole time that I was in that place I didn’t saw him participating in the battle except his encouraging music.”

The story continues on describing the hunt for the “Combat Guitarist”.  If anyone else knows more, please post or forward along.  I’d be interested to here what he is doing now; post Qaddafi.

It turns out there were quite a few “Combat Guitarists” in Libya.  See the article for more details and here is one of the YouTube clips they noted showing a different guitarist playing for marching troops in Libya.

What is going on in this picture?

A friend of mine was recently using this Boston Globe “Best of 2011” Photo for his screensaver.  As soon as I saw it, I had to try and figure out what was going on in the picture. The picture is of a group of Libyan rebels fighting against Qaddafi forces in the town of Sirte on October 10, 2011.  Thanks to Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images for snagging this crazy picture.

My immediate question is: What’s with the guitar?  But there are lots of questions and interesting things to ponder.

OK, I’m trying to figure out several things, the most important being the guitar.

  1. So, I’ve heard of buglers, drums, whistles etc. being used in battle to signal maneuver and coordinate action. But a guy playing rhythm guitar?  If anyone can tell me what is up with the guitar playing in combat, I would love to know.  Seriously, does anyone know?  I admire his bravery and I guess it would be cool to stand off Qaddafi loyalists with some Dave Matthews Band in the background.  But, seriously, does anyone know what’s up?  Is this like that crazy scene with Antonio Banderas and Enrique Eglesias in the Mariachi shoot out from “Once Upon a Time in Mexico“?
  2. I’d hate to be Guy #2 ducking out around the corner. Especially with Guy #3 firing behind me.  Guy #3 appears to be using the most unstable and least mobile shooting position ever.  I’m scared just looking at Guy #3.
  3. For all those (including me) that were once in the military and wondered why the simulated opposing force (OPFOR) just seemed to get dressed up in any type of camouflage ever created…well, it turns out there is a force that wears every type of camouflage ever made – the Libyan rebels.  The guys around #4 remind me of old OPFOR digs.
  4. Lastly, Guy #2 is in flip flops firing a machine gun.  Hard core.  The shell casings under his feet are probably on fire.

The Steve Jobs FBI File: Non-Story of the Week

The media got all hyped up about the Steve Jobs FBI file release this week.  In 1991, Jobs was being considered for an appointment to the President’s Export Council.  CNN couldn’t stop hyping it when I was passing through the airport. When I finally did hear the story, I found out that the Steve Jobs FBI file reads exactly like everyone’s FBI file would probably read.

What is revealed in these files? Very little!  If the files are worth anything, they only confirm what Steve Isaacson wrote in the Jobs biography (from what I gather) and I imagine Isaacson wishes the FBI had loaned him a copy a couple years back so he wouldn’t have to go interview all the same people and find the same results.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from The Smoking Gun article:

By comparison, the interview subject spoke of his own “high ethical standards,” while noting that Jobs “will twist the truth in order to achieve whatever goal he has set for himself.” The agent wrote that the man considered Jobs “to be a deceptive person.”

The man also told the FBI that he had heard reports from mutual friends–as well as Jobs himself–that he “freely used illicit drugs” like LSD and marijuana while in college. The source also provided the agent with details about how Jobs had fathered a daughter out of wedlock with his high school girlfriend, and how he had “mistreated” them by not providing support.

Amazing gossip – an FBI agent shows up to interview this person and the guy dislikes Jobs so much that he’s willing to repeat rumors he heard from “mutual friends” only to then speak of his own “high ethical standards.” What a joke!

In the end, Jobs profile sounds like that of a highly successful CEO.  In the course of business, things get competitive, some people will like the boss and some people (employees and competitors) will hate the boss.  Some people liked Jobs, some people didn’t like Jobs as he was highly driven, competitive and brilliant – exactly what a successful company needs.  The same thing can be said of most successful CEOs.  The Jobs FBI reports are right up there with the, “can you believe Lance Armstrong is so obsessive about cycling?” stories.

If Jobs could get American exports up, then who cares whether everyone likes him.  And if you wondered what an FBI background on you might look like if they interviewed all of your friends and contacts, just substitute your name for Jobs.

R.I.P. Christopher Boucek

Very sad news today. Christopher Boucek from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a top analyst on Yemen passed away this morning at the age of 38 leaving behind a wife and two children.  Like the other Yemen Yodas I’ve noted at this blog, I relied on Chris’s analysis to understand what was occurring in an extremely complex region of the world.  His insights were a constant help and I enjoyed our Twitter exchanges from time to time. I’ll miss his analysis, insights and challenges.  Gregory Johnsen and Brian O’Neill have written a nice tribute to Chris at Waq al Waq.  Rest in peace Christopher Boucek.

The Loss of “Jobs”

Interesting that while the news has been saturated with discussion of “creating jobs” we have suddenly lost Steve Jobs.  For some reason, I got quite sad reading that Steve Jobs passed away today.  The first time I watched him speak was on iTunes when he gave the now famous 2005 Stanford graduation speech.  I found it surprisingly inspiring considering I come from a military background and I wasn’t used to hearing business leaders say much that interested me.  Here is a great quote from Jobs 2005 speech:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future,” he told Stanford University graduates during a commencement speech in 2005. “You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

In counterterrorism work, “Connecting the Dots” is a constant mantra and yet here Jobs advocates intuition rather past trends to create unprecedented innovation.

I’ve heard both good and bad stories about Jobs.  However, the bad stories never eclipsed the fact that his vision and commitment to excellence has led me to type this post on a MacBook laptop while my iPhone sits 6 inches away on a coffee table as I watch AppleTV.  So thank you Steve Jobs for creating great things and inspiring others to achieve great things with your innovations.  Be thou at peace!

Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement Address from Will Forsythe on Vimeo.


Combating Terrorism Center-West Point is hiring

Today, I received an email that the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point is hiring a new instructor.  For any that are interested in a teaching/research position in terrorism and counterterrorism, make sure to check out this excellent opportunity.  The official posting is available at USA Jobs at this link.  You can also search for it at USA Jobs in the “Instructor/Assistant Professor” openings at the U.S. Military Academy.

McChrystal took the fight to Bin Laden

Media perspectives following Bin Laden’s death have been good, bad and ugly.  Many great organizational and individual efforts have been forgotten or overlooked with regards to their contribution in getting the world’s top fugitive.  I’ve decidedly avoided being overly political or military in my blogging, but today, I’ll take a brief moment to discuss an unsung hero in this week’s events.

General Stanley McChrystal brought the world’s greatest military unit, Joint Special Operations Command, to the pinnacle of its existence.  Over the past ten years, U.S. Special Operations Forces have dominated every battlefield they have touched.  While GEN McChrystal bore the brunt of what appears be unfounded allegations in Afghanistan, he should be recognized for developing an unprecedented military capability in world history.

Common narratives of the Iraq “Surge” paint a picture of nation building and cultural engagement leading to stability.  I argue instead that the decisive point (tipping point for civilians) in the Iraq campaign was McChrystal’s annihilation of terrorist and insurgent networks.  McChrystal’s JSOC dismantled al Qaida in Iraq and other insurgent groups providing the operational space for the more commonly known counterinsurgency strategy to take root.

GEN McChrystal enabled the force that executed this week’s legendary raid on Bin Laden.  The techniques discovered during his tenure allowed JSOC to continually improve and achieve the most daunting mission.  His leadership transcended his tenure and for this the United States should be forever thankful.

I began this post two week’s ago after watching GEN McChrystal’s TED Talk on leadership.  I watched the video on the way to work.  By the time I got off the train, I was prepared to quit my job and reenlist.  GEN McChrystal didn’t dwell on his recent fate, throw himself into politics or take this public opportunity to vindicate himself.  Instead, he did what he has always done: inspired the next generation, provided an example for others to follow and led the way….gallantly prevailing this time for a new audience.

So, today, a shout out to GEN McChrystal for being a key leader in one of our country’s greatest victories.  In the military, officers often seek to emulate certain famous generals storied in TV and print media.  I, however, found my greatest inspiration in the quiet professionals.  While I no longer serve in uniform, I am still inspired in my current profession to emulate those that make transformational change by empowering their subordinates.  I never wanted to be Eisenhower.  I wanted to be a GEN Downing or GEN McChrystal.  Thank you for inspiring me and so many others.

So here’s Friday’s inspirational video from a person that deserves his due….

Great Comments from Secretary Gates

Secretary Gates spoke at West Point on Friday further illustrated how a career intelligence officer might very well end up being the best Secretary of Defense in U.S. history. (The full speech is here.) Secretary Gates put some sanity into the rapidly escalating pundit talk of new military action in North Africa, Yemen and Iran. Here are some highlights from his West Point talk:

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it”

“The odds of repeating another Afghanistan or Iraq — invading, pacifying, and administering a large third-world country — may be low,” Mr. Gates said, but the Army and the rest of the government must focus on capabilities that can “prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly — and controversial — large-scale American military intervention.”

I think he put COINdinista’s on notice.  I agree the era of regime change, wars of preemption and large-scale counterinsurgency are over.  Of course, I hear the reverse from COINdinista’s who routinely reiterate that recent past wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) will be all we face in the future.  As long as its an option, I vote no to COIN and no to regime change.  I understand COIN was a means to an end in Iraq.  But, I’ve always been highly skeptical of COIN as a solution to Afghanistan.

“As the prospects for another head-on clash of large mechanized land armies seem less likely, the Army will be increasingly challenged to justify the number, size, and cost of its heavy formations,”

“Men and women in the prime of their professional lives, who may have been responsible for the lives of scores or hundreds of troops, or millions of dollars in assistance, or engaging or reconciling warring tribes, may find themselves in a cube all day re-formatting PowerPoint slides, preparing quarterly training briefs, or assigned an ever-expanding array of clerical duties,” Mr. Gates said. “The consequences of this terrify me.”

Translation:  Prepare for a rotation in Iraq and Afghanistan, but expect a career that looks very different.  The Captain’s War will come to a close in the next two years.  The Army’s mission, resources, and future will be different from the recent past.  Army officers be prepared to reinvent yourself and your mission.

An excellent, honest speech from a Secretary of Defense handed one of the greatest challenges in the history of military conflict.  I feel for whomever replaces Secretary Gates.  The bar has been set very high.