Saturday, December 03, 2005

A week in the life...

I saw four pretty incredible speakers at SAIS this week.

First, on Monday, Marc Sageman guest lectured in my History of Irregular Warfare class. Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist who now teaches at UPenn, was one of two CIA case officers stationed in Afghanistan during its war with the Soviet Union in the 1980's. He is short, bespectacled, mostly bald, has a white beard, and speaks with an accent that I could not identify. He began his lecture by saying: "I love war. I enjoyed killing. I am not proud of that, but my time spent in Afghanistan was the most thrilling period of my life." He went on to explain the political dynamic in Afghanistan at the time and how he actually spent most of his time in Pakistan negotiating very shady weapons deals with many different foreign countries. He worked very hard to plant stories in the press that were favorable to the Afghani rebels, and ironically, he lamented the U.S.' current inability to manipulate the foreign press like they could "in the good old days." The things Dr. Sageman said were shocking, and a lot of the students reacted with gaping jaws, but as he said, "What I'm saying may not be P.C., but it is the truth, and this was war."

On Wednesday, I attended Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns speak at SAIS. He was speaking about United States policy toward Iran. Dean Einhorn described him in her introduction as a "matinee idol," which I found uncouth. In any event, it was billed as a big policy speech, and there were a long line of television crews and loads of press, but I didn't notice anything particularly new about what he said: that Iran is very bad, and that the statement of its recently elected president that Israel should be "wiped off the map" was very bad. Secretary Burns is a SAIS grad himself, and when he took questions from the audience, a Rolling Stone reporter interrupted him and accused him of not answering the questions he had asked. Burns replied: "Sir, I respect your right to ask any question you'd like in any way you'd like. And in turn you should respect my right to answer your question in any way that I'd like. I learned that when I was at SAIS." I would have rather Burns answered the questions more directly too, but that's a funny thing for a career diplomat to say.

On Thursday, Paul Frandano spoke about what it's like to be an analyst at the CIA. He was awesome. The main thing I took away from him was his insight that what the intelligence agencies provide is not and should not be considered "the truth." Information is imperfect, and intelligence analysts do their best to extract something meaningful from the information they have and then present their analysis to policymakers. What policymakers then do with that information is their choice and is outside the domain of influence of intelligence professionals (as it should be). It was an honest assessment of the limits of what can and should be expected of intelligence agencies. My conclusion is not that the agencies are bad things or that they are unnecessary, but rather that policymakers and citizens alike would benefit from being educated about the role that intelligence agencies play, lest they expect too much.

Finally, I saw the eminent political scientist and current Undersecretary of State for Policy Planning Stephen Krasner speak about what its like for an academic to work in government. He said that the ideas generated in academia do influence policymaking, and listed a few theories that had had a large influence specifically during his tenure at the State Department. He concluded, though, that academic training can benefit you in government in that it teaches you to write concisely and to communicate effectively which are very important skills when you are writing two-page memos on very complicated subjects to be read by people who are already well-informed and do not have a lot of time. I asked him, "as an academic, how do you feel about the Bush administration's description of our current war as a `Global War on Terror', specifically whether those words precisely describe the war we are fighting?" He argued (sort of half-heartedly) that changing the terms to a "War on Islamic Fundamentalism" (which is much more accurate) could have disasterous political ramifications, in that it could be perceived as a crusade against Islam. He added "and what happens when it is inevitably distorted in the foreign press, and `fundamentalism' is dropped from the name?". A fair point, I think, and he assured me that a lot of people at high levels were thinking about it, which is not at all surprising.

Monday morning Secretary Rumsfeld will be speaking at SAIS. I'll be there.
-- Eric

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Good Magician (almost) Never Tells: John McLaughlin in the Spotlight


President George W. Bush was an officer in his college fraternity. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was a wrestler for his high school team, and General Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a ROTC cadet as an undergraduate. The extracurricular interests of these influential policymakers foreshadowed the roles they would assume years later in government.

So what activity engrossed John McLaughlin, former Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as a young man?

Magic, of course.

“As an eleven-year old, I began practicing magic like you’d practice a musical instrument. Today, I perform at a yearly outdoor fair in Loudoun country in a little town called Waterford,” said Mr. McLaughlin, who joined SAIS this year as a Senior Fellow at the Merrill Center for Strategic Studies. “I perform what you would call parlor magic, not stage magic like David Copperfield. For example, I recreate illusions that were performed three thousands years ago in the palaces of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt. That’s my theme - I weave it into history.”

Mr. McLaughlin made history firsthand during a 32-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, including a stint as Acting Director from July to September 2004.

And magic has not been an idle hobby. Some of the same skills that have benefited him as a magician, McLaughlin said, have served him well in his career with the spy agency. “Houdini once said something applicable to my business. Someone asked him after he had escaped from being buried alive- they said what’s your secret? He replied, ‘never panic - if you panic, you’ll die, if you keep your head and take things step by step, you can do these things.’”

When his career in government ended, McLaughlin was considering full-time job offers to work in business when, at SAIS’ 60th Anniversary party, Professor Eliot Cohen mentioned to him that a new Senior Fellow position was vacant.

“I didn’t want to do something that felt like my old job – suiting up and showing up every morning at 8 and being there until after the sun went down or sweating in a corporate culture somewhere," said McLaughlin. "I wanted to free myself to do a lot of different things that I hadn’t had time to do in the past four or five years.”

In the spring of 2005, McLaughlin joined the faculty at SAIS, where he presents seminars on intelligence and policy, participates in Strategic Studies courses involving intelligence analysis, and consults with students who wish to learn more about the field of intelligence. He is considering teaching a course on intelligence-related issues.

Before his career at the agency, McLaughlin developed an interest in international affairs as a member of the debate team in high school. During his senior year at Wittenberg College in Pennsylvania, while considering attending law school, he learned about SAIS from a fellow student. “I happened to have a colleague whose father taught in the Latin America program at SAIS. I visited the school and I said, 'Wow, wouldn’t I love to come here.'"

After being admitted, McLaughlin concentrated in European Studies and spent his second year in Bologna. The policy experience of the faculty there impressed him, and motivated him to work in government. “There was a commitment to being a contemporary person. [The faculty felt] the need to be grounded in some substantive field but to remain involved, concerned about, and desirous of affecting what’s happening now – because ultimately it turns into history.”

Even then, McLaughlin said, SAIS professors were focused on current events and policy as much as academia. “One of my professors would always begin his class with a review of what happened in the Middle East that week. It always impressed me that we would then go to the nineteenth century.”

After graduating from SAIS, McLaughlin joined the U.S. Army, attended Officer Training School and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He spent a year working in Army intelligence in Vietnam, where he said his background at SAIS served him well. “I don’t think a day has gone by in my intelligence career where something that happened to me during my SAIS experience has not resonated.”

After returning to the United States, McLaughlin joined the CIA as an analyst in 1972, working on European, Russian, and Eurasian affairs. Later, he founded the Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis, an institution “dedicated to teaching the history, mission, and essential skills of the analytic profession to new CIA employees.”

In 2000, McLaughlin was promoted to Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. In that role he represented the intelligence community in briefings with the President, at meetings of the National Security Council Deputies Committee, and at hearings on Capitol Hill.

McLaughlin is animated when talking about current SAIS students' career prospects. “This feels a lot like 1947 or 1918, one of those moments in time when what the US does in the world can be pivotal. Which means that as an individual you’re going to have a great opportunity to affect things and challenges that will leave you very satisfied.”

The key skill to develop in graduate school, McLaughlin said, is an ability to learn rather than mastering any particular subject. “There was a time in international relations when you could master a few major texts and have your conceptual framework for some years to come, but we’re past that now. The future belongs to those that are continuously learning, are flexible, engaged, and willing to roll with the punches.”
-- Eric

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Getting it Right

Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff speaks out.

Fascinating, brilliant stuff.

Maybe some commentary soon.
-- Eric

Thursday, October 06, 2005

SAIS Observer Article

The following article appeared in this month's SAIS Observer, which I am writing for. My first byline ever.

SAIS Professors Start New Magazine

War-hungry neoconservatives write for The American Interest. So do peacenik liberals.

Or do they?

The magazine’s founder, Francis Fukuyama, wants to change your mind about what those labels mean. If they mean anything at all.

“A lot of the important issues and debates are not ones that can easily be categorized as right, left, realist, or neoconservative,” said Fukuyama, who took over as director of the International Development program at SAIS this fall.

Frustrated with the rigidity of existing political magazines, which Fukuyama says foster the development of party talking points rather than honest, constructive ideas, he founded the magazine with SAIS professors Eliot Cohen and Zbigniew Brzezinski and former SAIS professorial lecturer Josef Joffe.

“Too much of the debate in foreign policy is partisan,” said Fukuyama in an interview. “You almost don’t need to read the articles because you can look at the cover of the journal and figure out what they’re going to say.”

Professor Cohen, head of the Strategic Studies department at SAIS, lamented the limiting effect of political labels. “Labels like conservative or liberal, realist, neocon, hawk or dove are profoundly misleading and they really don’t capture what are frequently complex views of the world. Since the world is a greatly complicated place it seems you should have complicated views.”

The American Interest, Cohen added, would differ from other publications like The National Interest and Foreign Policy by focusing on both domestic and international policy, noting that “In a way, the premise of a lot of writing on foreign policy in the past is that it’s somehow distinct from domestic policy. And that’s clearly untrue.”

Even though the magazine will feature a variety of opinions, Fukuyama emphasized that the articles will “be based on serious empirical arguments”

In a representative article, Glenn Loury, an economics professor at Brown University, asks, “How many Iraqis equal one Marine?” He maintains that, in the eyes of Americans, Iraqi lives may be “cheap.”

Fifty pages later, Robert Kaplan, a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, extols the virtues of the warrior, and notes that “wanting to fight is an ordinary emotion for those who choose combat arms as profession.” He concludes by admonishing Democrats, saying they should “act more like men.”

When two educated people disagree so fundamentally in their approach to foreign policy, can they have a constructive dialogue? Fukuyama says that it might be hard, but it can be done. “The whole point of a symposium is to have interaction and to develop ideas.”

If two people don’t find common ground, Cohen says, there is still an opportunity for others to learn. “Even if [Kaplan and Loury] don’t speak to each other directly, the rest of us can look and wag our heads and try to figure out where we stand.”

One particular focus for The American Interest, according to Cohen, will be to advance the debate over the war in Iraq. “My view of the Iraq War – which I favored – was that it was one that reasonable people could disagree on,” said Cohen. “One thing that troubled me was how quickly highly intelligent friends of mine began talking past each other. Hopefully, The American Interest will be a place where civilized discourse can take place and people can courteously disagree with each other.”

Though the foreign policy debate in America has traditionally been dominated by the so-called “wise men” – the old, white, male, Washington, DC, establishment - Fukuyama would like to give other voices an opportunity to be heard.

Many non-Americans are affected by the actions of the United States, Fukuyama said, and are frustrated that they can’t vote in American elections. “The idea is that they can at least write in The American Interest. “I think it’s not just up to Americans to determine how America shapes its interests and its objectives.

Non-Americans aren’t the only establishment outsiders Fukuyama has invited to join the discussion. The American Interest website ( features a blog that Fukuyama hopes will appeal to a younger audience who “may be turned off by the existing debate over foreign policy.”

It’s an ambitious plan: access new readerships, publish thoughtful and sober analysis, plunge headfirst into the turbulent blogosphere, and maintain credibility. Fukuyama did not have to search far for those who would take on the challenge.

“We’ve hired a couple of SAIS graduates, so SAIS has its fingerprints all over it. But I think that’s a reflection of the overlap between what we want to do and the kind of training that SAIS provides.”

Cohen added “it says something good about the school that this is the kind of place that can give birth to that kind of magazine.”

The autumn issue, the first of five to be published each calendar year, can be found at Books-a-Million bookstore on Dupont Circle.
-- Eric

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Church's Answer

Like driving, it is probably not a good idea to blog when angry.

Today's NY Times reported on what has been in the works for some time now: a ban on gay priests in the Catholic Church. Celibate or not, homosexuals will not be permitted to join the clergy despite dwindling numbers of priests world-wide.

As a Catholic, I find this absurd, counter-productive and altogether unsurprising. And I'm not the only one.

Taken alone, this news is distressing. But combined with yesterday's release of a Philadelphia grand jury report chronicling yet another clergy sex scandal cover-up of Bostonian proportions, this is deeply troubling and embarrassing. Read the pdf report and prepare to be horrified.

The whole mess is simply too disgusting for words.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Chief

Slate featured an article on William Rehnquist on Sunday that somehow flew under my radar, despite the fact that the author is Rick Garnett, a professor here at ND Law. Take a look.

UPDATE: Here's a link to Prof. Garnett's blog with an entry about Justice Rehnquist's funeral.

Monday, September 05, 2005

What Happens When Your Faith in God Can't Feed Your Starving Children?

I am glad that Frank has come around on the question of the Federael Government's performance in New Orleans. The hurricane produced a media circus and predictable political point scoring, but those events are separate from the Bush administration's performance in handling the crisis.

I will not be able to say anything new about the administration's abysmal response to the hurricane and its aftermath. In truth, I have been too busy to follow the tragedy very closely, and I think I also share other Americans' general weariness from watching the Bush administration blow it over and over.

One interesting aspect of the story, though, that has received a lot of coverage is that so many of the dead and abandoned in New Orleans are black. This, to my mind, is the first time the formerly hot-button issue of race has resurfaced to the forefront of American culture since 9/11. It is sad that images on television seem to be the only catalyst for outrage in our culture anymore. Those that read the news were probably not very surprised to see that the vast majority of the people who remained stranded in New Orleans are black, much like we were not totally surprised to see the pictures from Abu Ghraib (and will continue to not be surprised when new pictures emerge, as torture continues to be condoned and practiced).

Condi Rice has predictably been deployed by the administration to defend its handling of the crisis, and she has been adament that race has not influenced their response. One particular comment from Rice struck me:
Asked to say a few words from the pulpit, Rice, a preacher's daughter, said: "The Lord Jesus Christ is going to come on time." She added: "If we just wait."

There have been quite a few statements from public officials in the past few days that have come to symbolize how disconnected from reality they are (think of the picture of Bush strumming the guitar and the constant assurances by the FEMA director that everything in New Orleans was going alright). But Condi Rice pathetically asks residents of New Orleans to just have faith in God and know that everything will be alright, just as long as they are patient. It is easy to see how administration officials have remained publicly cheery in spite of the incredible messes they have been responsible for creating and mismanaging in the past five years. They just have faith in God, from the comfort of their cushy, powerful, prestigious jobs, that everything will be alright. Because, for them, it always has and always will.
-- Eric

It's Official: Slow News Month Over

While some critics have proclaimed the demise of Exit145 due to lack of interest and time on our part, the reality is that August was, as usual, a tremendously slow news month. And unless you've been living under a rock for the last week, things have picked up. I'd like to draw your attention to two items concerning the biggest stories of the last week.

First off, the disaster that is New Orleans. I have to admit that I wanted to reserve judgment with regard to the federal government's handling of the post-hurricane situation in the Big Easy. I have determined, with influence coming from many quarters (including the man who puts the '145' in 'Exit145', Eric), that it is irresponsible to continue to look the other way. Further, I must admit that the visceral (and obviously expected) reaction to Bush's action (or lack thereof) from the far left inspired in me a knee-jerk reaction to defend a President who has appeared to this point to be a superior crisis manager. While criticizing the 'left' for playing the partisan card during a national tragedy, I was subconciously doing same. While reading Andrew Sullivan's op-ed from yesterday's London Times I officially realized my mistake. As usual, Sully cuts straight to the core of the controversy (albeit in a fairly emotional tone) while lending both historical perspective and potential future developments to the mix. The entire thing is worth a read, and I found this bit pretty interesting.
What harm can come to Bush? Not much: except a worrying weakening of his ability to carry the public for the war in Iraq. A competent Democrat could clean up with a message to restore government for the people rather than for special interests. But these days, a competent Democrat is an oxymoron. Hillary has been silent. She figures she need do nothing but let the anger vent on Bush.

But in Republican circles, one real change may have occurred. In a matter of days, Rudy Giuliani’s chances of becoming the next president improved drastically. What people want now is someone who can make the federal government work again. They want an executive who can fight a war and keep them safe. Nobody represents that kind of need better than Giuliani. His social liberalism — which makes him anathema to the religious fundamentalists who control the Republican party — would be overwhelmed by his appeal to law-and-order Republicans. Those Republicans know when an almighty error has been made. And last week, their president failed them. It will take enormous political work for him to win them back now.
Second, the nomination of John G. Roberts to Chief Justice was an interesting and seemingly shrewd move. As someone pointed out to me this morning, this puts Sandra Day O'Connor in an interesting position. Roberts was initially slated to replace O'Connor as associate justice once he was given Senate approval. Now that he'll be replacing Rehnquist, O'Connor will remain on the bench until a replacement for her is found. With the confirmation of Roberts expected to take some time, O'Connor could remain on the bench for months to come. Will she take a back seat or will she take advantage of her now 'rock-star' status that was given upon her announcement of retirement? Time will tell.

The gauntlet has been thrown down, Eric.