Podcast • April 3, 2014

Phil Klay: Redeployment

Phil Klay has assembled a remarkable group of fictional short stories in a collection called Redeployment. A Dartmouth alum with two brothers in the military, he joined the Marine Corps, serving as a Public Affairs Officer in Iraq's Anbar Province between the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. Redeployment explores the horrors of the battlefield, and the shaken veterans that struggle to escape them.

 

Phil Klay has assembled a remarkable group of fictional short stories in a collection called Redeployment. A Dartmouth alum with two brothers in the military, he joined the Marine Corps, serving as a Public Affairs Officer in Iraq’s Anbar Province between the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. Redeployment explores the horrors of the battlefield, and the shaken veterans that struggle to escape them.

“Growing up,” Jessie says, “Sarah spent a lot of time at our house, and she still spends some holidays with us. Her family is a mess. And last Thanksgiving we were talking with my grandpa about how nobody remembers Korea, and he said the only way to do it right wasn’t to do a film about the war. Do a film about a kid, growing up. About the girl he falls in love with and breaks his heart and how he joins the Army after World War Two. Then he starts a family and his first kid is born and it teaches him what it means to value life and to have something to live for and how to care for other people. And then Korea happens and he’s sent over there and he’s excited and scared and he wonders if he’ll be courageous and he’s kind of proud and then in the last sixty seconds of the film they put them in boats to go to Inchon and he’s shot in the water and drowns in three feet of surf and the movie doesn’t even give him a close-up, it just ends. That’d be a war film.”

An excerpt from “War Stories”

 

Phil Klay’s Reading List on the Iraq War

Matt Gallagher – Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War

Jessica Goodell & John Heam – Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraq

David Finkel – The Good Soldiers

Joe Haldeman – The Forever War

Adrian Bonenberger – Afghan Post

Podcast • October 1, 2010

John Mearsheimer: Why does a smart country act so stupid?

When Barack Obama delivered his defining “dumb war” denunciation of war against Iraq in October, 2002, he was a state senator standing in at Chicago’s first big anti-war rally for the invited keynoter, John Mearsheimer, ...

When Barack Obama delivered his defining “dumb war” denunciation of war against Iraq in October, 2002, he was a state senator standing in at Chicago’s first big anti-war rally for the invited keynoter, John Mearsheimer, who’d been booked elsewhere.

It was John Mearsheimer, the foreign policy scholar at the University of Chicago, who’d drafted the ad — op-ed in the New York Times on September 26, 2002 — that I keep pinned over my desk 8 years later. “WAR WITH IRAQ IS NOT IN AMERICA’S NATIONAL INTEREST,” was the headline. Signed by 33 university-based analysts, the ad was a marker then of rare vision, independence and mettle in the “expert” ranks. (My interviews with these uncelebrated heroes are here). Their ad came to stand also for the sorry truth that hitting the target smack-on in these surreal times is not often a good career move. All of that was before Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt at Harvard wrote the book that made them famous, The Israel Lobby.

In conversation here at Brown this week, Mearsheimer is reviewing a course that’s been “all down hill” for nearly a decade. We face four big unfixable fiascos abroad, in the Mearsheimer brief — all legacies of the “radical, reckless” George W. Bush. Afghanistan is being driven by demography and war back into Taliban control. Iraq, centrifugal by nature, continues to tear itself apart. Iran is not about to foreswear nuclear sophistication. And Israel, hell-bent on extending settlements, will defy the world’s pressure for a two-state deal with Palestinians; a Greater Israel, with apartheid rules, will be “a festering sore” on the American imperium for decades to come.

For President Obama, Mearsheimer sees no ways out, no “clever strategies” at hand. Obama might better have told the country in the Spring of 2009 that, on sober review, our problems were beyond solving any time soon — that we had to lower expectations and be prepared to shift directions. But Obama has mostly stayed the Bush course with softer rhetoric; and lots of people are angry at him because none of the problems are getting fixed.

Mearsheimer makes (to me) the intriguing argument that the great snare and delusion on the way to these quagmires was the first brief “successful” war on Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001. What felt like a quick and easy toppling of the Taliban so soon after 9.11 persuaded the Bush warriors that the combination of air power and special forces could wreck regimes and install puppets almost overnight. This was the premise for the invasion of Iraq — with dreams of turning over Syria and Iran after that, on the way to transforming the Arab and Muslim worlds. In time, that Afghan victory proved a “mirage” and a trap. The Taliban hid out, then resurged. Hamid Karzai proved both incompetent and corrupt. Iraq proved to be a bottomless quagmire, and nine years later we are still bleeding in Afghanistan.

The confounding riddle for Mearsheimer in all this is why the upper reaches of the American establishment have been so slow about examining the damage, so stubbornly set in doctrines that don’t work. He underlines the correspondence between the Iraq disaster and the money meltdown that Michael Lewis memorably set out in our conversation about The Big Short last spring:

The big question in the United States is how is it that a country with so much intellectual capital could have screwed up not just foreign policy so badly, but the economy as well. … Virtually all the economists and all the key business people thought that the American economy was in terrific shape, and hardly any of them foresaw the tsunami that hit us in 2008. Something is fundamentally wrong here.

Let’s go back to the discourse about the Iraq war. The fact that so few prominent people in the national security establishment foresaw a problem here is really quite remarkable. I don’t think you had to be very smart to understand that invading Iraq was likely to lead to disaster. …

So this leads us to the question: what is wrong in the United States? How is it that a country with all this intellectual capital could have been simultaneously wrong about two such fundamentally important issues, the economy and foreign policy?

Truth be told, I don’t have a good answer.

John Mearsheimer with Chris Lydon at the Watson Institute, Brown University, September 27, 2010.

May 29, 2007

Deploying. Again.

We've been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for longer than we fought in WWII, without a draft or any national call to serve. While the political fight over withdrawal continues in Washington, the reality for now is that President Bush's 21,000-troop surge is underway -- and it's clear that the military is too small to sustain its current troop levels easily in a protracted ground war.

We’ve been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for longer than we fought in WWII, without a draft or any national call to serve. While the political fight over withdrawal continues in Washington, the reality for now is that President Bush’s 21,000-troop surge is underway — and it’s clear that the military is too small to sustain its current troop levels easily in a protracted ground war.

The result is that many servicemen and women are now in their third or fourth (or even sixth) tours of duty. And for some those tours are getting longer: last month, the Army extended them from 12 to 15 months.

The military is also boosting its numbers through the “backdoor draft.” This became an issue barely a year after the start of the Iraq war when the Army announced sweeping use of stop-loss policies. (Stop-loss forces troops to finish tours with their units even if their individual service commitments would otherwise end mid-way through.) Another part of the “backdoor draft” involves recalls from the Individual Ready Reserve — soldiers and Marines who are no longer on active duty. The Army has been using its IRR for several years; and the Marine Corps recently announced its biggest call back to active duty since the early days of the Iraq war.

With the weight of the war falling on soldiers and Marines (and their families) who have to cope with multiple and extended deployments, we want to ask some of them who are about to start their third or fourth tours: How different is it this time around? Does your sense of mission change as the war in Iraq grinds on? Or if you’ve seen many casualties in previous tours? Or if you just feel you’ve done enough for your country already? What stops you from creating family or medical excuses to avoid a recall? How do you leave family behind again and what kinds of conversations do you have to have?

Update, 5/30 8:00 pm

Sometimes the production process takes you in directions you don’t anticipate. We thought we’d focus primarily on different attitudes towards repeated deployments. But the pre-interviews led us to recast the show a little bit. We found three Marine Corps officers just finishing or slated to start Harvard Business School. It turns out that the military’s well represented in the ranks of HBS and other b-schools, and we’re curious to know more about that connection. We’ll definitely still talk about what it takes to serve repeatedly in Iraq or Afghanistan. But we also want to ask how the draw of leadership — being led and leading others — affects your willingness to return. And how that experience carries over to civilian life and the business world later on.

Seth Moulton

Captain, USMC Reserve

Deploying on 4th tour in Iraq to work for Gen Petraeus

In previous tours: infantry platoon commander; worked for Gen Petraeus training Iraqi Security Forces

Accepted to Harvard Business School and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government

Donovan Campbell

Captain, USMC

Deploying on 3rd tour in Iraq

In previous tours: intelligence analysis officer; and infantry platoon commander

Class of 2007, Harvard Business School

Sarah Stokes

[Sarah unfortunately won’t be able to join us because of a delayed flight.]
Captain, USMC

Deploying to Afghanistan on 3rd tour

In previous tours in Iraq: logistics officer

Class of 2007, Harvard Business School

Extra Credit Reading
Why Military Officers Make Successful MBAs, Military MBA: “Through active practice and experience, military officers live a life of leadership. Officers are known for their values, ethics, and strong leadership skills such as problem solving, decisiveness and succinct communication. They have experience developing teams and working with large groups of diverse people to accomplish organizational goals. These character traits are important factors for success in both graduate school and corporate America.”

Debra M. Schwartz, Military officers courted by Olin School, The Washington University Record, September 10, 2004: “Veterans have always been welcome at the Olin School, said Joe Stephens, assistant director of M.B.A. admissions, who has responsibility for military recruitment. But “there wasn’t a steady stream,” and the school wanted more because they add value to the educational experience.”

Janet I. Farley, Using the Right Lingo, Operation Hero for Hire: Resource Corner:

“In the Military: First Sergeant

In the Civilian World: Personnel Manager

In the Military: Squad Leader

In the Civilian World: Team Leader/Team Chief

In the Military: Supply Sergeant

In the Civilian World: Supply Manager/Logistics Manager”

Lee Iacocca with Catherine Whitney, Where have all the leaders gone?, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 26, 2007: “I’ve never been commander in chief, but I’ve been a CEO. I understand a few things about leadership at the top… We should look at how the current administration stacks up.”

sig, Learning to lead, SigSpace: Form Without Function, May 20, 2007: “I was hoping that a few days at home would give me perspective on the NCO development course I just finished, the so-called Warrior Leadership Course (previously known as Platoon Leader Development Course, before the Army’s penchant for calling everything Warrior-this and Warrior-that). What has actually happened is that I am quickly forgetting things. This may be for the best.”

Ken Lovell, ‘Winning’ in Iraq, kenalovell.com Blog, January 11, 2007: “The new measures are a mix of military optimism and Harvard Business School Management By Objectives (MBO), circa 1975. First to the military optimism.”

Robert J. Williams, J. Douglas Barrett, and Mary Brabston, Managers’ business school education and military service: Possible links to corporate criminal activity, Human Relations, 2000: “The study utilized data from 184 Fortune 500 companies. The results suggest that both graduate business education and prior military service among members of a firm’s TMT strengthen the relationship between firm size and corporate criminal activity. Further, the results provide no support for the moderating influence of managers’ graduate business education or prior military experience on the relationships between firm strategy and corporate criminal activity.”