Friday, January 8, 2016


I made my way back through the alleys, walking exceedingly slowly. My head was spinning from the discussion. The question I kept coming back to was what do you do when you feel the heat coming around the corner? Do you walk out on everything in 30 seconds flat? Do you hem and haw, regretting that once again you are putting your life and your family on hold for an increasingly dubious mission and end up going anyway? Or do you find a new way in life?
It made me think of my friend, Wyatt. Wyatt was an attack helicopter pilot, he flew the sleek AH-1W Cobra. A few weeks before my deployment, I stopped in to visit him at Camp Pendleton, nestled in the tan velvet hills between San Diego and Los Angeles. I was stationed on another part of the vast base as a forward air controller, or FAC. My job in Afghanistan would be to call in air support for my unit, acting as the liaison between my fellow aviators above and the grunts in the dust and mud, trying to chase the Taliban down without losing their legs or their lives.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


The dance rose and rose to an impossible crescendo.  Hands exploded across strings.  Feet pounded the stage in perfect time. I was dazed by the blur of clapping hands and the whirl of colored costume. It all revolved around the pivot of the woman I’d followed across the city.  It built and built and built until I was almost breathless, completely immersed. Then, with a final fusillade of chords and a closing barrage of stomped feet, it was over.  The audience applauded wildly as the artists somewhat uncomfortably bowed and left the stage. For me, it was unresolved, insufficient.  I caught one last look of her as she glanced over her shoulder and disappeared again through the door.  The lights came up, scattering the dying applause and leaving me empty.
While everyone else fled the lights, leaving in their groups into the comforting darkness of the night, I sat back down at my table and contemplated the remnants of my drink.  At a tap on my shoulder, I looked up to find the room deserted except for waiters stacking chairs.  The hand tapping my shoulder belonged to the guitarist who spoke to me in deep, gravelly Spanish shrouded in cigarette smoke. He could tell I didn’t understand a word so switched to English.  “You come with us,” he said with a smile.  Several others from the show stood behind him.  I don’t think I smiled, but I nodded in agreement and followed them into the dark, flowing with the current of the night.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking Back, Looking Ahead: The Empty Archway

In the five years since my last deployment to Afghanistan, I have been trying to put together a novel. I wrote out an entire draft manuscript and rewrote it twice before deciding to scrap the entire thing and start over. The original plot was centered on a Marine officer who, on the flight back from Afghanistan, gets drunk in Spain, misses his plane, and journeys north to Paris.

In the nearly three years since I left the Marine Corps, I realized that the story is much larger than that, so I'm back to the drawing board. But as we close out 2015 and head into the new year, I decided to read over the ending of the original. It resonates with me even more strongly now, albeit for the fact that I have not made much progress in doing the things I told myself I would do when I got out.

2016 is another year. I have no resolutions and I make no promises. I only hope that it does not pass me by in as much of a blur as 2015 did. One of these years, I'll start really living.

I hope that the ending of this novel that will never be published will remind me, and maybe a few others, to keep after it.

Paris, France
Darkness had fallen by the time the train pulled toward its rest at the Gare Montparnasse. The curved modern façade of the building defied my hopes for a grand Belle Epoque terminus. Rather than gliding into a tunnel set into a distinguished building, the tracks just skirted under the glass paneling of the station. The lamps within were too weak to reach beyond the tinsel and bathed only the platform in their pale light. The anticlimax feeling left me drained.    
I transferred to the Metro and took it one stop to Saint-Placide. Both tourists and locals both passed me by in their rush, but I savored each step as I emerged from the ground to drink in Paris one more time. It was a city to love and the sights, sounds, and smells came to me more and more with each step; like an awakening. And when I stood on the sidewalk in the Paris night, the indescribable city energy I’d always loved reached up into my chest and clutched it tight with that intoxicating anxiousness to roam and explore and experience it all. I knew, though, where I was going. The route was chosen, so I headed down Rue Notre-Dame des Champs briefly before turning left on Rue de Fleurus.
I walked more quickly, though not too quickly to gaze at the distant warmth of the apartment lights glowing above the street. I stopped for a moment to look longingly down the tree-lined Boulevard Raspail, but I knew I had to cross and continue on down the narrow vein. I stopped for a moment as the plaque at 27 Rue de Fleurus caught my eye, marking the place where Gertrude Stein threw out her dirty, easy labels. “You are all a génération perdue … all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.” I shook my head and stepped off again on my march into the night.
Registan Desert, Afghanistan
They flew south through the cold night, the wind biting deep and the roar of the rotors cut only by the constant frequency of the turbines that spun them. The sound enveloped us, leaving each alone with his thoughts for nearly an hour.  Nearing the border, the crew chief began to give us time warnings with a yell and a hand signal.  Looking across the helo and out the gunner’s door, I vaguely registered the streak of rockets firing into the hills north of the objective.  Ahead, huge flashes rent the night as 2000-pound bombs pummeled the areas around our landing zone. The crew chief yelled, “One minute out.” I looked at the faces across from me in their various expressions of concentration, nervousness, or dismissal. The helicopters reefed back, using their rotors to slow at the last minute. We heard the moon dust and pebbles blasting the metal belly below us, then felt the wheels strike the earth.  The Marines charged off the chopper, running through the open doorway into the black night, immediately positioning themselves in a hasty perimeter.  No sooner were we off the helos than the pilots powered into the sky, pivoted, and peeled back away from the objective.  I watched the last helo go, the eerie green light of its interior fading almost immediately into the night.  They left a tornado, then silence. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I used to be a Marine

I used to be a Marine.

In a way, that sums up this story and its ending. It doesn’t seem like much, but I think it is.

There are a lot of things that happened. A lot of significant things happened. When I first tried to write this story, I realized that I didn’t understand a lot of the things, because I knew only what I experienced of them. We experience life in medias res – in the middle of things. I didn’t realize how much I was missing until I tried to tell the story. So I thought and asked. Some of the people I wanted to ask, I couldn’t anymore. And that is part of the story. In the end, I can’t tell the whole story. No one can. But maybe that is the point.

We think our story is the whole story, but the earth doesn’t work that way. We are born in the middle of things and we die in the middle of things. We come into people’s lives in the middle of things. We don’t even understand our own stories, but we assume we understand others at a glance.

Lacking an understanding of our own stories, we create them of whole cloth. Most of us create them in first person future tense. A friend of mine called this our “mind movie.” We while our days away dreaming through our mind movies and judging others by this future fiction of ourselves. We hope and aim to be something and in being something, we hope to immortalize ourselves. As was said once by a wise teacher, these are all vanities.

Writers have always reminded us of the fickle, unknowable finiteness of our lives. We nod our heads, moved for a few moments, then go on as we have. It takes a sharp blow – more likely a series of them – to understand that only the earth remains forever. Tomorrow is a dream. Regret can only be avoided by what you do today, not by what you were or what you hope to be.

I used to be a Marine.

All of that is over now. In a way.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Essence: Veterans Day

When he was little, he spent hours in the basement, mining cardboard boxes for uniforms and artifacts, wondering what they all meant. Sometimes, when no one was in the house, he would tiptoe into his father’s room. He slid open the top drawer of the tall dresser and gingerly took out the weathered plastic bag. At that point, he did not yet know that such bags were meant to protect radio batteries then repurposed to waterproof all else in a world that was perpetually wet.

He opened the bag, which was folded over on itself in a very specific way, and took out a map and a green memo book. He laid the map flat on the bed, trying not to further disturb the dried out acetate where it was cracking at the folds. He stared at the browns and greens of the map and tried to decipher the lines stacked against each other like the whorls of a great fingerprint. The map sheet was labelled “Hiep Duc.” A strange name that meant nothing.
The memo book was equally foreign. It was filled only with strings of numbers – 9673 3856 - and cryptic shorthand like “H&I” or “8 EN” or “”3 VC.” The only thing recognizable was a jack-o-lantern drawn next to the date 31 Oct 69. James carefully folded the map the way he’d found it, placed it and the memo book back in the bag, wrapped the bag over on itself, and laid it back to rest in the top drawer, where it always stayed.

All the men in his family had been in the military. All had been in wars – World War II, Korea, Vietnam. The stories they told were like the dress uniforms he found in the basement. They were tidy and comprehensible.

It was not until far later that James heard more. “More” wasn’t a matter of gore. The fragility of the human body is a known quantity and – while disturbing – is not the essence. The essence is how the living carry on.

James’ grandfather was a child of the Depression. He matriculated from tramping around the Midwest on trains to working in the Civilian Conservation Corps, to joining the Navy in ’39. He was off the coast of Panama when Pearl Harbor awoke to war and spent most of the next four years in the Pacific as an aviation metalsmith on aircraft carriers.

Late in his life, after his wife passed and his eyesight made reading a challenge, he started getting old videotapes of the war from the library. One day, James and his wife stopped by when he was watching a documentary about the Battle for Okinawa. As the screen filled with the anti-aircraft fire of the U.S. fleet, Penny asked the old man if he had been near this. He let out a dry chuckle and reached out a weathered finger toward the screen. “I was right here,” he said, pointing at an aircraft carrier just as a kamikaze blossomed into a cloud of white, gray, and black that careened down the long deck.

When they were leaving, Penny went ahead to get the kids in the car and James was saying his goodbyes. Out of the blue, his grandfather said, “Right before that kamikaze hit, I sent up one of my sailors to check on a plane for the next mission. It was just a routine thing. I sent him up there and a few minutes later he was dead.” The old man shook his head. No melodramatics. No outward emotion. Just a fact about something that happened long ago and never quite made sense. He knew that James, back from Afghanistan, would understand that there is no understanding.

While it was slow in coming, James eventually got some additional perspective from his father. It stemmed from a firefight one October day in the Que Sohn Mountains that rose into the clouds north of Hiep Duc. Late one winter night when James was home for the holidays, his father narrated the basic details in a taught, matter of fact way. It was like something he’d read in a book.

Sometime later, James sent his father a link to Tim O’Brien’s “July ’69,” precipitating a series of short emails, spartan, yet meaningful, like haikus.

i have always been a loner

but VN forced me to mix and mingle

He addressed this topic obliquely.

in VN i saw one marine pull his weapon on another marine

because he had drank up the other marine’s water

it was over the top but everyone was strung out after we had been hit and my TBS classmate had been killed that day. Everyone just let it go

around the same time we were not getting resupplied because of the weather

and the gunny (he and i hated each other) and a lower rank enlisted had a fight (verbal and physical) over food that the enlisted had humped up the hill

the enlisted wanted it to go to his unit/guys and the gunny wanted it dropped at the CP

i do remember at one point sharing what we had for a few days with my group (snipers, mortar and air/naval gun)

so when i did eat a full meal of c-rats i felt dizzy afterwards

probably the only time i was really short on food

that is stress and that is what puts people at each others’ throat as you well know

What James’ father didn’t say in the email was that the weather also precluded a medevac, so his TBS classmate, a platoon leader in the company, was wrapped in a poncho and carried down away from the ridgeline where they had run up against an NVA bunker complex. His body cooled in the night as they set in a defensive perimeter on a finger that jutted out below. The next day, a chopper was able to carry the body away and they carried on with their exile in the wilderness.

James’ father ruminated some more on O’Brien’s piece and wrote another email a few days later.

his esquire article seems to be not mom’s apple pie

it is cynical with cause because “life is hard then we die”

btw i started in VN in August of ‘69

once in VN i did not feel i was fighting for my mother or the motherland


i felt brothership with fellow Marines (the snuffies especially, although i hugged Cookie from Georgia, a platoon leader from my TBS class, upon celebrating the Marine Corps B-day in 69 at the rock crusher south of Da Nang with help of a guy named Jack Daniels)

when i was an FO in the field with a company, an enlisted Hispanic and me used to have an exchange which he started

when one of us saw the other had something in short supply like a cigarette the one would say “is that right” and the other (with the cigarette) would say “don’t mean nothing but i owe it to myself”

when i left that company for the rear i thought i would be happy but i felt i was abandoning them

i felt like i was leaving the good guys

He must have read the essay one more time, because he sent James one last email on the subject.

i did like the story because it seemed real in its confusion

That is the essence. Brotherhood and confusion. There isn’t much more.

Maybe also cynicism. Cynicism with a cause.

all the civilians god bless me now when they hear i served

back in the day around VN when they had a draft it was f you you bum but that has changed now with no draft as you know

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Sleep of the Dead

Casualties aboard the USS Hancock, 1945.

James died again and again in his dreams, the consummation of one death flowing into the start of another. A skull-rattling shockwave initiated the procession. In this dream world, James was standing next to an aircraft, the deck of a ship rolling beneath his feet as he looked over his shoulder to see the inferno snowballing toward him. The beast gathered more metal and fire by the inch, spitting out pieces of the men it did not swallow whole. The light washed over him reducing his world to fire and pain. The searing light faded to a point and, just before blinking out, expanded again into a new scene.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How many more?

I'm sitting outside in the Florida fall night. I've just watched the sun go down in front of me and the full moon is rising behind me and Paul Bowles is asking, "How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless." 

I try very hard to get outside, to watch the full moon rise. To just smell the air. It is a constant battle.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

There it is

Brownies won today. I don't expect a playoff berth, but maybe someday. There are so many people who would have loved to have seen that.

On lazy summer afternoons when he was home on leave, they piled into the black pick-up and headed down the country roads, through the sun-soaked farm fields, and into the canopied roads that led through the woods to Larry’s favorite bar.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Ghosts That Remain


The U.S. Marines and the British in Helmand Province officially turned over their bases - Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion - to the Afghans this Sunday, 28 October. Although I knew that this was coming, the news still caught me off guard. I'm out of the Marine Corps now and, though I pay more attention than most, Afghanistan no longer monopolizes my attention. It did, though, for over a decade.

I first landed in Afghanistan in early 2002, deploying once again and flying into the country in late 2002 and early 2003. Then, in 2004 while the rest of the world was focused on the growing catastrophe of Iraq, I spent half a year in Uruzgan Province. I returned again in 2010 for a little over half a year flying out of Kandahar into Helmand during the height of the Marine surge there. We were pushing as quickly as we could to expand our footprint, expanding bases, airfields, and territory at a mind-boggling pace. Success came at a high price. It was a period when we flew bodies out of Helmand on a daily basis and amputees were being produced by the hour. I remember during one meeting, the MEF Surgeon saying that his doctors were "up to their elbows in blood 12 hours a day." The pace was frenetic, though, and for all the bad news, the place was alive with activity.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Hope is not a course of action

My daughter had a chorus concert a few weeks ago in which they sang an arrangement of the poem  Invictus. In introducing the song, the teacher mentioned that Nelson Mandela was inspired by the message of the poem and recited it to his cellmates during his long incarceration in South Africa. 
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

In my mind, the poem conjured an image of "The Pit" - the prison in The Dark Knight Rises

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Earth Remains Forever: The Idea

"Then as I was getting up to the Closerie des Lilas with the light on my old friend, the statue of Marshal Ney with his sword out and the shadows of the trees on the bronze, and he alone there and nobody behind him and what a fiasco he'd made of Waterloo, I thought that all generations were lost by something and always had been and always would be."
I posted the first few pages of my novel manuscript the other day. I've actually written the entire manuscript once, heavily edited/rewrote it a second time, and then sent out a round of queries to agents. I got some great feedback and I realized that, while it might have found a home if I kept querying, it wasn't quite to the level I wanted it to be yet. These things take time to develop. So, I busied myself with my life after the Corps and let it rest for a little while. I kept coming back to it to jot down ideas and read things, but only recently did I get back into gear on finishing up the revisions.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Earth Remains Forever: A Start

At the dawn of a new millennium, their prophets foresaw the end of history. Justice would triumph over ambition and the good of the many would coincide with the good of the few. Fear and honor would become relics of a tribal past, known only in libraries where paper copies of the great epic poems sat gathering dust.
Perhaps the new prophets’ visions angered the ancient gods. What else could explain the apple of discord that fell heavily from the sky? This evil deed done under the bright sun threw a vast pall of gray smoke into thin air, casting the darkness of night over the land. Fear clawed at the people and the prophets once again cried out for the defense of honor and interest.
These were a people descended from the Achaeans and the Trojans, the Athenians and the Spartans, the Romans and the Carthaginians. They were no longer a singularly war-like people, but the spirits of the old warriors still lived among them. Those with the hearts of Peleus and Achilles, Priam and Hector, Laertes and Odysseus, they eagerly boarded swift vessels that deposited them on desolate, foreign shores. They found that the riches of the peoples of these lands had been plundered or squandered. Their once-high walls had been laid low and left in disrepair. The gods had forsaken these lands long ago.
The warriors, arriving on their sleek vessels, knew these lands were troubled, but they were not there for empire or booty. They went to remake new cities of men, ones forged after their image in which justice and the common good would triumph. They ignored the admonitions, as had their forbears, that he who undertakes to found a city among strangers and enemies, “must be prepared to become master of the country the first day he lands, or failing in this to find everything hostile to him.”
They did not become masters of the country. They built ramparts, high and strong, to protect themselves, but only the few went beyond the ramparts and traveled among the people and they indeed found everything hostile to them.
The ramparts were built of fear, shored up by indecisiveness, and topped with facile certitudes. The ramparts set off two starkly different realities that could never be reconciled. Within the ramparts sat the old kings who refused all advice, believing steadfastly that they could control the world. Those who traveled beyond saw the evil deeds that are done under the sun. They learned from bitter experience that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Fate strikes on its own terms. The only certainty is that it will strike all some day.
In the end, they left their ramparts behind and set sail for home, but the way back was different. Many found themselves tossed on the seas; sailing, searching, lost. They fought to save their own lives and to bring their comrades home. But some could not be saved. Recklessness, grand recklessness, destroyed them.

In the end of the matter, when all was heard, they left little more than their ramparts.
The earth patiently endures man’s vain toils, then unleashes its tireless forces to wash away the remains and make all smooth once again. The timeless work of sun, wind, and water has smashed all man’s ramparts, swept away his implements of war, and tumbled the bodies of warriors into the seas to be buried forever in the cool silt of time. The earth sets all things physical to rights once more.
The world of man is far more than the physical, however. The world of man is a construct of the mind, in which even the physical is only an image, a snapshot limited in time and depth – filtered, bent, deconstructed, reconstructed, obscured, and focused by uncounted, unknown lenses passed down over generations.
These lenses shape and order each individual’s collection of memories and ideas held in a wilderness of billions of neurons that course with ever-changing chemical currents as they encounter an unending stream of new, often incomprehensible experiences. From this material, each mind creates its own, private world. These worlds drift on tempestuous seas, held together by the most tenuous threads of meaning.
Over the ages, seers, storytellers, prophets, and philosophers have spun these threads, tying communities together and giving them an outsized belief in their ability to understand and control the world. The ancients trusted their success to the intercession of the gods. They saw the fates as fickle, however. Their wisdom was set down in the words of a great teacher. “What has been is what will be; and what has been done is what will be done. There is nothing new under the sun.”
Generations have come and generations have gone and wise cautions have never been a match for the indomitable hopefulness of the human spirit. When the power of divine intervention to fuel this hopefulness waned, humanity turned to new prophets, who stoked their enthusiasm anew, foretelling that science and logic would lay the old order low. They divined in the annals of history not repetition, nor rhyme, but the self-similarity of fractal patterns that could be mathematically determined. They promised to unlock the secrets of Chaos, the primordial void.
Computers produced great crystalline swirls that represented the elegance of the fractal, like the growth of frost on a windowpane, or a large and perfect snowflake in the second that it remains solid on a small, cold hand in the night. This enthusiasm proved that there is but one fractal pattern in humanity. From the one, to the few, to the many, they cannot abide a world that lacks order. They will spend their lives seeking, weaving, and protecting a thread of meaning. This thread of meaning, of belief that there is an order in things and that they will always be a part of that order, is what keeps the individual worlds from careening off into the terrifying space of utter loneliness. When this thread snaps, they fall weightless, unique, and separate, like a snowflake.
Water is patiently irreversible in its work. Snow is immediate and transitory. It paints the sky in its dancing patterns and remakes the world in hours, not months or years. But the fresh canvas is fragile and impermanent. There is only a brief window to wonder at the unblemished blanket of perfect white before it begins to tarnish and fade.
For that, it is all the more magical and captivating. So, when James Eacus finally came to rest on the bench in Paris and the weight of the journey slipped from his shoulders, he breathed a sigh of relief, closed his eyes, and thought of snow.
He thought of the warm, dark bedroom in his boyhood home – a space of his own, comfortable and safe. He remembered the cherished moments, watching the first flakes begin to float down, testing the night. More and more followed until they were dancing together in great, sweeping swirls around the lights lining his street.
The earth resisted at first, the warmth of the fleeing sun still clinging to the soil. Before long, it accepted the first dusting of white. As the squall built, flake upon tiny flake painted a new scene. James could think of nothing more peaceful or hopeful. He remembered how his small hands strained to open the old window a crack and how the polar wind mixed in eddies and whirls with the heat of the furnace at that border between his room and the rest of the world.
Just before closing the window for the night and crawling under the warm covers, James reached out and swept his fingers through the damp accumulation on the sill and believed. The new day would bring a fresh start – each footfall a fresh conquest. Then, if he was quiet and patient and willed his body to be deathly still, he could collect the silences of a million unique crystals slipping through the night into a hush that beckoned dreams of wonder and possibility untarnished by the disappointments he’d eventually come to know.

Some thirty years later, James let the memory of those disappointments slip off into the dark. He opened his eyes with childlike wonder, unsurprised to see the snow starting to float and dance down from above. The facets of each flake glistened in their unique way as they fell to the ground, melting away at first, then beginning to accumulate into something tangible and recognizable, no matter how transitory. This was what James needed. He needed a blank canvas – a fresh start to put his mind at rest. He smiled the first smile in a long time as the City of Light shone against the blanket of white.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Military Transition Pointers

I recently completed a transition from the military to civilian employment. This is my effort to share some of the lessons I learned in the process. First, I’ll provide a little information about myself as a baseline. This post is targeted primarily at officers and senior SNCOs with a college degree and 10 or more years of service, to include retirees at the 20-plus year mark, aiming at civilian employment outside of the defense sector. Many of the lessons here will carry over to military members separating earlier or those looking for defense sector employment, but my experience is not in those demographics.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An Essay and a Quote

My latest essay at War on the Rocks is out, in which I argue that this is not the diplomacy you're looking for. The rush to war with Syria has turned into a tumble into a Russian led diplomatic effort that is a lose-lose for everyone. Our focus on war and dismissal of due diplomatic process has led us into a dead end that ultimately damages both American credibility and the reputation of diplomacy, not to mention the continued tragedy that is Syria.

I was also quoted today in the Washington Post on a story about the Obama Administration and the President's uneasy role of Commander in Chief, alongside Panetta, Gates, Cordesman and others. Read the story here.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Moral Abstractions, Real Tragedies, and False Solutions

As the debate over unilateral American intervention in Syria continues, it is relatively clear that US public opinion does not favor a new adventure there. Nonetheless, the Obama Administration continues to push for Congressional authorization, promising a "full-court press" in coming days. While Obama and Kerry have spoken on the issue, remarks by Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power seem to have resonated most with the foreign policy audience and may begin to change the discussion.

Power's remarks played carefully on notions of moral indignation, then providing a nuanced and circumscribed call for limited intervention to prevent future use of weapons of mass destruction, explaining that the latest chemical attack killed far more than even the worst of Assad's conventional barrages against civilian neighborhoods. While I found her words to be compelling in a way, and I truly am conflicted in my feelings about the entire issue of Syria, I think that a deeper deconstruction of the bases of the case for intervention helps me to remain steadfastly against military action.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Last Chapter

As I look back, there are many memories that rise to the surface, but somehow one innocuous, forgettable flight keeps coming to mind. It was 2001, in the summer. Before September. I was a new pilot in the KC-130 flying a day helicopter refueling mission over the shimmering waters off of North Carolina. Jacksonville and Wilmington were off our right wing. Cherry Point was on the tail. And somewhere over my left shoulder was the fishhook of Cape Lookout anchored by the iconic black and white pole of a lighthouse. I was entirely focused on the dials in front of me: airspeed, altitude, vertical velocity. Trying to keep all the needles pointed in the right direction, as motionless as possible in order to steady the hose bouncing in the airstream some hundred feet behind me, where I could hear the rotors of a CH-53E beating the air in an effort to claw its way into the basket for a good plug and drink of fuel. At 120 knots in a wallowing, heavy Herc, keeping steady requires concentration. I’d flown this mission before and I would fly many afterward, but this one sticks out. My sweaty hand squeezed the yoke and my brow furrowed in concentration. Then, for some reason, it dawned on me just how amazing my job was. My brow unfurrowed, my hand relaxed a bit on the yoke, and I took in the beautiful day and the Carolina blue skies above us through the arc of greenhouse windows that open the cockpit of a KC-130 to the world. I wish there were more such simple moments that I’d taken in over the years, but that is life. We are often too busy to appreciate the everyday things that make it truly exceptional.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More Thoughts on a Defensive Mindset

My op-ed in the Washington Post on 3 Feb was generally very well received. It has now been reprinted in multiple papers in multiple countries including my own hometown of Cleveland, the Stars and Stripes, as well as places as far-flung as Japan, Malaysia, and Qatar. Crafting an argument in under 800 words is no small task and given some of the commentary I've clearly left some ambiguity in what I meant. That being said, this was hopefully more of a conversation-starter piece than a solution to all that ills us.
Critically, I was not arguing–as some have interpreted–about the opportunity costs of defense spending nor arguing that defense spending is crowding out other sectors to make for a serious drain on our economy. While I do believe that we could spend less, more intelligently, and find greater return on investment, I don’t believe that a reduction in defense spending is the key issue.
Instead, I’m arguing that a defensive mindset has permeated our culture and discourse. As such, instead of leading and taking advantage of change, we are afraid of it. What is more, this mindset makes us paranoid and pessimistic, impairing the sort of bold investments and initiatives that make business and society great. We complain of short term outlooks in our corporations, for example. Part of this is due to the tyranny of the investors in public corporations and the concomitant short term outlook based on quarterly statements, but part of it also is due to pessimism and fear of change.
Infrastructure and educational spending is not a panacea. I’m not arguing for a massive state-led focus on projects such as high-speed rail, but many of our cities and the businesses and workers therein are facing real losses due to poor and underprovided infrastructure. Likewise, while we are pumping out college graduates, for example, these graduates are not necessarily suited to the jobs that are available. Same for high school and technical school grads. Businesses again are facing real losses due to the mismatch of educational programs to skills required and the dearth of specifically skilled workers. We need to revamp these institutions. And while I said "invest" in them, I more properly should have said "invest rationally" in them. We spend a great deal on education (as an aside, we also spend a great deal on healthcare) and we do not get the return on investment we should in either field. We need to reexamine the distortions in our markets and continue to invest, but invest smartly.
Many of our illogical and inefficient investments come because specific interests have distorted markets. A pessimistic and defensive outlook prohibits the consensus and cooperation needed to provide the public goods that underpin our economy. You need to believe in a better future to invest in it, whether in public goods or in specific corporate projects. If you don't believe in a better future, it makes more sense to ensure that investment disproportionately benefits your interests. While human nature tends to make people want to profit ahead of others, this is especially the case when we don't believe a more general investment will pay off. 
I am arguing that our last decade of war, coupled with the economic crisis which I couldn’t discuss in a short op-ed, has made us incredibly defensive and pessimistic and that we absolutely have to change that mindset if we are to lead again, invest in our future, and ensure that the bases of our liberal state and capitalist economy are properly tended. I argue this at much greater length and nuance in my new book, War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America’s Quest for the End of History.
I hope this helped to flesh out my argument a bit and I hope people can find something to build on in it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Banish the Fear, Paranoia, and Dissension. Lead Again.

This weekend, the Washington Post published my opinion piece which they have titled "An America Cramped by Defensiveness." In it, I argue that a traumatized America has an overwhelmingly defensive focus and must learn to stand up, create, and lead again.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States sent its military off to war and fretted about post-traumatic stress disorder — but paid little attention to the fact that America itself was traumatized. Americans became angry and withdrawn. We are fearful and paranoid because after a strike on our nation we chose to focus on defense rather than the resilience and vitality that made America great. ... 
We have little reason to be so negative. ... In our increasingly paranoiac discourse, we too have lost focus on the positive, creative tasks that continuously remake American power, resilience and vitality. We cannot agree to invest in education for our children or in infrastructure for our commerce, to rationalize the regulations that underpin our markets or to act collectively to create value. Instead, we hunker in a defensive crouch. 
Defense is an act of negation. It brings no victory, instead making us fearful, paranoid, angry and uncooperative. ... We must exalt those who create value in our society: parents, teachers, workers, builders, entrepreneurs, innovators. We must go forth confident that we can lead a changing world by continuing to create, by working together and by living the sorts of fearless lives that our fallen lived.

Read it all here. It is online now and will be in the Sunday print edition. The thoughts here are drawn on much deeper foundations in my book, War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History, which you can explore here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Thoughts on Military Culture Today and its Implication for the Future Force

I compiled the following thoughts in preparation for a trip to DC this week for a panel discussion with the Chief of Staff of the Army's Strategic Studies Group on "Military Culture Today and its Implication for the Future Force.” The panel is on Wednesday, so you have a few days to comment and perhaps have your voice heard at the panel.

For an organization facing a period of significant transition, during a time of continued resource advantage and undefined threat, coming on the heels of the traumatic experiences of two ambiguous-to-unsuccessful wars, adjustments to culture will be critical to the success or failure of any reform efforts. Recent experiences have significantly skewed the organization’s culture, which must be re-grounded in order to move ahead rationally.  You can see my general thoughts on this issue in more detail at “Disruptive Thinkers: Defining the Problem.”

Friday, March 9, 2012

Forgetting Our Own History - The Messy Process of Modernization

I had the opportunity to do an interview with Robert Tollast on some issues with the transition in Iraq for Global Politics this week.  I'll let you know when he publishes it.  I found myself coming back again and again to the theme that our surprise with the way things went there owes more to a lack of understanding of our own western history of state formation than it does to some cultural peculiarity of Arabs.  To back that up, I offer an excerpt from my forthcoming book, War, Welfare, and Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History, (Potomac, fall 2012).

The lofty discourse of philosophers and other intellectuals has too often ignored the sordid reality of state making.  Charles Tilly, the preeminent historian of state formation, has compared the process to the protection rackets of organized crime.  Local warlords provided protection for merchants and farmers in turn for rents, later taxes.  They vied with rivals, each seeking to expand their territory and their revenues.  Certain conditions, noted by anthropologist Robert Carneiro among others, brought people together and forced them into competition over resources, yielding the wars that produced the state:  competition drove the creation of militaries, internal security, bureaucracies and taxation mechanisms, and campaigns to create allegiance to the ruler and the nation.[1]  Over centuries, with no world public opinion to judge them as criminals, warlords became monarchs, created state governments, and cobbled together empires.  The process of Western state formation was morally dubious, but there was no international community to judge and intervene as there is today.  Only the strong survived, forcing competitive development of state capacity.  While the foibles of developing states today evoke exasperation, they should not be surprising when considered against the long road of European state development.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Toward at Typology of Military Dysfunction

Cross-posted from the Marine Corps Gazette blog.
In previous posts, I've explored some organizational and incentive factors as to why the military acts the way it does.  Actions at the individual level, though, are often the most perplexing.  For instance, why would people who have risen to senior levels with 20 years or more of experience in the organization exhibit such toxic personalities as to drive middle managers to homicidal or suicidal contemplation.  I haven't actually seen a case of actual suicidal thoughts, but I have heard more than one officer say, "I wish they would just fire me and put me out of my misery."  The screaming, belittling, and insecure; the email all-caps yellers (who cc the world); the control freaks; the incompetents; the indifferent...  What is the pathology behind this behavior, I wondered.  I reached out to some friends to test their reactions to the question, has a decade of the stress of combat operations caused irreparable psychological harm to our senior officers?  While the answer is undoubtedly yes in some cases, I think that some more salient factors have contributed to the dysfunction and may move us toward understanding (I doubt rectifying) the situation.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gordon Gekko, DoD, and the La Brea Tar Pits

It would be good for the stockholders in DoD, Inc. to remember Gordon Gekko thundering in the original Wall Street: "You own the company. That's right, you, the stockholder. And you are all being royally screwed over by these, these bureaucrats, with their luncheons, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes. ...  Teldar Paper, Mr. Cromwell, Teldar Paper has 33 different vice presidents each earning over 200 thousand dollars a year. Now, I have spent the last two months analyzing what all these guys do, and I still can't figure it out. One thing I do know is that our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I'll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents. The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated. In the last seven deals that I've been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you. I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them!"

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Syria, R2P, and the Real World

For more on this back and forth see this post.

I annoyed several people today on Twitter when I mused as to whether those who were touting our responsibility to protect (so glibly abbreviated by people who want this to be a "thing" as R2P) the people of Syria were going to be heading down to recruiting offices to join in the effort.  This was a rhetorical jab and one that some took umbrage to, saying that people who aren't in the military have a right to an opinion, as well, and that such questions are too important to be left to generals.  The sensitivity of these Ivy Tower champions of the utility of force to such jabs drives me to distraction, but it also misses my point.  I do think such issues are too important for generals.  They are also too important for people who have neatly packaged conceptions of the world, designed to fit through the narrow funnel of academic theory and confirmed through "research trips" consisting of friendly conversations sitting cross-legged on a dirt floor or in a coffee house or university, plus maybe a few years working to churn out policies that practitioners shake their heads at from the bowels of the Pentagon or Foggy Bottom.  One need not have served to have an opinion, but I do think that people signing others up to "protect" with glib assumptions of easy and limited interventions and quick success deserve the rhetorical jab.  And this is not a jab at all who inhabit the ivory towers of academia and rarified policy, because some understand the sordid reality of the world just from others' accounts of them.  The ones I aim at, however, have missed them in their quest for elegant theories and policies.  Finally, even for those who vow to "understand the sacrifice" involved in such interventions and have "counted the cost," this is a sterile, abstract, and academic accounting that I think would be far different if they were rallying to the gunfire as idealists once did in a different age, as volunteers in World War I and II or the Spanish Civil War, to take examples in which the U.S. was not involved (initially in the first cases).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Getting Real About STOVL

This is a cross-post from the Marine Corps Gazette Blog.  For more background behind my thoughts, see this post and this Marine Corps Gazette article.

Thom Shanker from the NYT reports this morning about Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's decision to take the F-35B Lightning II off of probation. The B variant is a short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) jet capable of taking off from short landing strips or the deck of an amphibious ship (as opposed to a catapult-assisted launch and an arrested landing on a full-sized carrier). The Marine Corps' story is that STOVL is needed for (a) use in amphibious scenarios and (b) expeditionary scenarios where landing sites are limited. Shanker alludes to this in discussing "the importance to the Marine Corps of coming up with a replacement for its Harrier jump-jet, which has proved its value in countering insurgencies and terrorists in rugged, remote areas."

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Arc of Enterprise

In an email between colleagues yesterday, one pointed out an article in Joint Forces Quarterly and labelled it as subpar.  That's putting it nicely.  My sole contribution to the discussion was to state that this is what happens when we are overspecialized.  I didn't elaborate in the email, but I will here.  I'm still working through Richard Rumelt's Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, which I highly recommend, and a few days ago encountered a section entitled "The Arc of Enterprise."  What we are seeing today in the military, and in the government more generally, is a familiar phenomenon in business, and in health for that matter.  When you get too fat for your own good due to an advantageous "resource position," you start to not only lose the race, but to lose your own vision of how to run the race.  This need not be a terminal decline, but it must be recognized to be corrected.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Must Reading: The Great Deleveraging

FT's Alphaville blog has must reading for anyone trying to understand our economy these days.  They quote Bill Gross of the bond company Pimco, a market authority, in his attempt to describe the Great Deleveraging we are seeing.  I touched on this in a previous post that tried to explain our balance of payments crisis and the underlying structural imbalances.  Gross is talking about the private lending that buoyed the system and underwrote these imbalances.

Since 1971, when the U.S. went off the gold standard and the Bretton Woods system evaporated, banks have been able to use "credit and the expansion of debt to drive growth and prosperity" with no anchor.  Credit became "a substitution for investment in tangible real things - plant, equipment, and an educated labor force."  The Great Recession of 2008 marked the limit of this credit expansion, or leveraging.  Gross goes on to say, "The financial markets are slowly imploding - delevering - because there's too much paper and too little trust."  Because the system cannot create any more credit, it must deleverage.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

For the Itinerants

For the itinerants out there, we have the opposite problem of my favorite movie character, Jack. As we go from one year to the next, you'd do well to watch "The Family Man" and think about where you fall out with all of the forces pulling on your life. We've chosen to live as itinerants. But we're not doing it to live for P.K. Lassiter. Far from it. These are a few lines near the end of the movie. If you haven't seen it, you should. It may change your perspective. It isn't a complex movie, but I think I finally figured it out.

-Don’t take Annie out of a school she loves. Don’t move us out of a house we’ve become a family in...

Maybe I was being naive but I believed we’d grow old together in this house. That we’d spend holidays here, have grandchildren visit us here. I had this image of us all grey and wrinkly, me working in the garden, you repainting the deck...

Things change, right? People change...


If you need this, Jack, I mean really need this, I will take these children from a life they love, and take myself from the only home we’ve ever shared, and move wherever you need to go. I’ll do that because I love you...

I love you, Jack. And that’s more important to me than our address...

Kate smiles lovingly at Jack...she walks over to him, kisses him gently on the forehead.

-I choose us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Leading Change and Managing Stasis

It has been a while since I posted my two missives on leadership and management in the military.  Overall, they were well received, but could use some refinement.  I'll lay out some caveats, then talk about what I've learned from a cursory dive into the literature, then discuss how this impacts my recent commentary about the institution, the budget battle, and Goldwater-Nichols.  I'll break this up into two posts, the first covering the background, the second talking about the application.

First, some caveats.  This message is targeted at the battalion-level and above, though some of its lessons could be used at lower levels.  Overall, I think we do a decent job of leadership at the small unit level and real management is not required for the most part in smaller formations.  Second, my background is from aviation, which brings significant requirements for management at the squadron/battalion level.  We have our own maintenance in the Marine Corps, a significant budget/flight hour program to manage, plus the detailed training and qualification of hundreds of aircrew, for a C-130 squadron.  This perspective is different than a ground-based battalion, however I still think that the unit sizes require management and leadership.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kennan, Morality, and Leading by Example

In writing about the early formation of American foreign policy, historians Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson contrasted the dichotomy between the roles of crusader and exemplar. Early statesmen like Thomas Jefferson believed that America should stick to the exemplar role. They feared that if America became a crusader for her principles, she would sully herself in the effort and therefore lose the unique qualities she sought to impart on the rest of the world. Nonetheless, even these early statesmen of a country much less powerful in the world than we are today were unable to resist the crusading impulse. With the release of a new biography, much attention has been placed on modern statesman George Kennan. The author of containment, Kennan might be cited by those setting up new cold wars around our globe. They should read carefully, however, as Kennan had words of warning in the Long Telegram that would provide the basis for his “X” article in Foreign Affairs. “[W]e must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society.” He saw America’s strength in its power of example and its self-confidence.

Kennan took up this issue again in a 1985 Foreign Affairs article entitled “Morality and Foreign Policy.” He urged America to concern herself with the “interests of the national society” it governed, particularly “military security, the integrity of its political life and the well-being of its people.” This, in and of itself, was such a daunting task in Kennan’s mind that the government would have little capacity for other issues. This was a warning. He specifically stated that, “Democracy, as Americans understand it, is not necessarily the future of all mankind, nor is it the duty of the U.S. government to assure that it becomes that.” He indicted the tendencies of special interests pursuing their moral objectives as a major cause of America’s crusading bent, and of our overextension, stating that it was a duty to limit the country’s commitments to those which it had a reasonable chance of actually and predictably influencing the international environment. He was skeptical, however, (as am I) that this capability for influence was nearly as broad as many thought it.

Nonetheless, the country’s crusading bent had produced military spending “badly out of relationship to the other needs of its economy,” representing no less than a “national addiction.” He condemned the “feeling that we must have the solution to everyone’s problems and a finger in every pie…”

Instead of moralizing crusades, Kennan suggested an inward focus and some humility. “A first step along the path of morality would be the frank recognition of the immense gap between what we dream of doing and what we really have to offer, and a resolve conceived in all humility, to take ourselves under control and to establish a better relationship between our undertakings and our real capabilities.”

While some may quibble, claiming that his approach is immoral because it seeks to be amoral, or that it is too hard-nosed and unsympathetic, or that we ignore moral issues at the peril of our military security, I think that his call for humility and realistic appraisals of our capabilities is spot on. His missive should be required reading for all budding cold and hot policy warriors.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Neller Responds

If you have followed my back and forth with LtGen Neller in the Marine Corps Gazette, you must read his article in this month's edition.  There is no blueprint for action, but he admits that the institutional leadership must listen to the "young turks," adapt where required, and explain their stance where they cannot adapt.  I don't think things will get better any time soon.  There are a whole host of toxic and incapable "leaders" that need to face the hatchet, or the firing squad, but won't.  And the politics and posturing only get more intense as the budget fights loom.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Security Cooperation: Understanding Our Partners

"Don't point this at me."
I work in the realm of security cooperation these days, which is much in vogue as we talk about drawing down our combat adventures.  In security cooperation, we seek to both prevent conflict by helping to build capable and responsible militaries, while also building partners' capacity to take up the fight with us or for us if needed.  This is all well and good if we maintain attainable expectations, but when we imagine that we can take our partners places they won't go, this leads to frustrations on both sides and vast misspent resources on our side.  Some of the background in the following post is taken from my forthcoming book, War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History, due out from Potomac Books in 2012.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The World According to Winnie the Pooh

I just watched the Winnie the Pooh movie with my wife and daughter.  Here's what I got out of it.  Unlearned people defer to leader figures who pretend to know more than they do, but really don't.  The leader figures, straining to understand things they cannot, tend to overblow evidence and create monsters, which reinforces their leadership role.  They blunder about in the woods for some time and in the end, end up doing more harm to themselves than anyone else does.  I think I need to take an extended vacation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

More on Leadership - You Have to Be a Leader Too

See my latest on the subject at this post.

While my post about leadership and management was generally well received and got record views, my rhetorical flourish put some people off while also supporting my thesis in a way.  Critics have characterized managers as meek block checkers and the sorts that ensure the TPS reports are duly filed and go on "making the ham sandwich" for higher headquarters, no matter how ridiculous the demand for the ham sandwich is.  Another comment was that managers manage things while leaders lead people.  These criticisms underline that we in the military know so little about management and are so put off by it due to bad management, that it is tantamount to being a dirty word.  Furthermore, I downplayed leadership in the post for several reasons.  One, military officers are steeped in rhetoric and education on leadership.  If you don't already "get it" to some degree by the time you're a mid-level company grade, you're probably a hopeless case.  Two, I'm an anonymous typist on here for most of you, so my focus on management may make me sound like a meek bean counter wannabe manager-as-leader.  I take leadership very seriously and I'm the last guy, in my mind anyway, to keep my head down and do the TPS reports.  In my billets, I did try to manage our metrics well and keep the blocks green, but I also stood up to stupidity to the limits of propriety (and sometimes maybe a little beyond).  Most importantly, I tried to make sure that we created the reality of the intent behind the green blocks and that this reality took priority over good numbers.  I think I'm a better leader than manager, and if I can't be equally good at both, I'd rather be better at leadership.  Third, in the blog post I focused on management and dissed leadership-as-a-parlor-trick to make a rhetorical point.  When you add all these together, I'm not saying that military officers should be managers first.  I'm saying that we collectively have a big leadership claw and a tiny little management claw.  What is more, we are not making an effort as an institution to develop the management claw.  The situation is so bad that management is seen pejoratively among many officers.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lessons in Military Leadership: Learn to be a Manager

Update: I've answered some comments and added some thoughts in a new post here and hereA few years back, I was on a flight from Muscat, Oman to Spain. I was seated next to an Omani gentleman in his dishdasha and traditional Omani cap and gazed at the book I was reading, Joseph Nye's The Powers to Lead. In nearly perfect, British-accented English, he asked me about the book. I do not remember the details of the conversation, except that he dropped what I would later realize was a bombshell on me. He said something to the effect of, "Leadership is not that important.  Managing is what is really critical, and difficult." As a Marine officer, steeped in propaganda about leadership from the earliest days of my training and education (ductus exemplo being the motto of Officer Candidates School), I dismissed this as the mumblings of someone who didn't get it. I mean, clearly the guy was a pretty well to do businessman and he was going to Europe for business, but still, he didn't understand what leadership really meant. I've rethought my position since then.  Military officers as a class are atrocious at management.  This is the root cause of many of our most significant problems in the military today.  Caution:  This post is slightly rambling, but you're getting it for free on a Saturday.  Maybe a more focused and edited version may show up in the Marine Corps Gazette or other publication someday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Whither the Public Weal?

During my whirlwind trip to DC this week, I was able to spend a few hours on the Mall, during
which I visited the fabulous National Gallery of Art. One of the most powerful displays in that impressive collection is
August Saint-Gaudens' tribute to Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw was the commander of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all-black regiment immortalized in the movie Glory, in which Shaw was played by Matthew Broderick. The dramatization of Shaw's death in battle at the head of his African-American unit is an impressively moving piece of cinematography. The monument carved by Saint-Gaudens, though, is the greater artistic feat.

Two copies of his work exist, one outdoors in Boston and one in the National Gallery. I have yet to see the Boston monument, but the one in the National Gallery is breathtaking, dominating a room at one end of the gallery with its huge figures and flawless gold finish. Saint-Gaudens took inspiration from a painting by the French painter, Jean-Louis Meissonier, entitled Campagne de France 1814, showing Napoleon at the head of a mounted column in the snow, with infantry marching in the background. Saint-Gaudens, seeking to make his work as life-like as possible, used a host of African-Americans of varied ages as studies, with amazing effects in the finished work, the first one to depict African-Americans realistically in a monument.

For its main inscription, Saint-Gaudens chose the motto of the Society of the Cincinnati, OMNIA RELINQVIT SERVARE REMPVBLICAM - He forsook all to protect the public weal.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Black Hole of Real Thinking

Reading the Saturday Financial Times, I came across an article by Tyler Brule at the end of the Life & Arts section.  In reference to meeting with US corporations in New York, he bemoans the difficulty of deciphering "what marketeers have been attempting to say with their special language that borrows too much from a Pentagon strategy book rather than daily English."  This is not meant to complement the literary talents of the Pentagon.  Rather, it is an indictment of the shallow and jargon-filled collection of buzz words and platitudes that Pentagon strategy statements have become.  The combination of simplistic statements of strategic guidance and overly complex, specialized, and deterministic decision-making and planning models make for a muddle of policy that officers often place far more faith in than is warranted.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Labor Productivity and the Recession

What happened to labor productivity during the recession?  The data are thought provoking. I created these charts from the International Labor Comparisons data at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Productivity by Worker (USD at 2000 value)
Productivity by Hour (USD at 2000 value)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Beyond the Rentier State - The Distributive State in the Arab World

After living in the Gulf, I started working on a paper about the "distributive state":  that model the Gulf states use to parlay their rents into social and political stabilities.  That model is running into some problems today, but its guiding logic is salient in how Gulf rulers are attempting to deal with unrest there.  These are my thoughts from about 4 years ago.

In the past decade, Gulf city-states have burst onto the world stage, striving to become international centers of political, economic, and social activity.  The blossoming of the Gulf has encouraged real and rhetorical speculation that rapid economic development will result in prosperity, liberalism, and stability in a tumultuous region.  These bold hopes ignore a number of formidable obstacles laid plain by an examination of the unique case of state formation and the ruling paradigm in the Gulf.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Explaining American Foreign Policy

As I continue to work on my book, forthcoming from Potomac in 2012, I am trying to explain the suboptimal results of American foreign policy, in particular her foreign adventures after the Second World War.  This is a first draft of the preamble to the chapter that deals with the issue.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Invincibility, Omniscience, and Infallibility - The Foundations of American Foreign Policy

A chorus of defense punditry is rising in astonishment at how a CH-47 Chinook with dozens of Navy SEALs on board could have been shot down by the lowly Taliban (nicely summed up here at Time's Battleland blog).  The questions range from tactics, techniques, and procedures (how did they put themselves in a vulnerable position, where were the escorts, couldn't they have prevented the shootdown), to command decisions and resourcing (why so many in one bird, why not an MH-47 or H-60), to technological (why don't we have laser beams that can blind the shooters, was this some new improved enemy weapon).  Even Max Boot weighs in from the Wall Street Journal, arguing indirectly (only just indirectly) that the tragedy is a product of the Obama administration's decision to draw down the number of troops in Afghanistan, and suggesting between the lines that we can expect more of this as special operations forces are relied on more heavily.  This chorus exposes the bases of American foreign policy thought:  invincibility, omniscience, and infallibility.  Pundits, politicians, and even generals believe that we can achieve far more than good sense would suggest.  The disbelief at the CH-47 shootdown demonstrates that our foreign policy community is delusional.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Can the F-35B Turn Inside its Critics?

As Defense budget debate mounts, look for the Marine Corps' F-35B short-takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) to be the wounded duck taken out first.  A leader in The Economist, "Coming Up Short: The Future of the Joint Strike Fighter,"  recommends axing the STOVL variant:  "It has been the main cause of the technical and weight problems that have bedevilled the program.  Having been put on two-year 'probation' by Mr. Gates in January, this version should be put out of its misery."  This spells big trouble for the Marine Corps' vision for itself.  As I will discuss shortly, it need not be a tragedy for the Corps.