Monday, February 4, 2008

Military Experience and National Security Expertise

People sometimes claim or imply that only people with military experience are really qualified to have an opinion on national security matters. There are other perspectives that I can think of which would be equally valid and important in such a discussion. For example, someone who has served in the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders would have a similarly valuable perspective. Even those of us who have lived through revolutions as civilians have a valuable perspective on the subject.

Regardless of the role that an individual may have played, it is only as valuable to the conversation as the level of thought and reflection that the individual has brought to bear on their experience.

I was always amazed by the general cluelessness of Americans living overseas. They saw the same things I did and lived through similar experiences, but they might never have left Kansas or wherever for all of the impact it had in their lives. They cluster in their little English-speaking enclaves and fly in Hamburger Helper from the US.

Civil wars, in particular, are difficult beasts. Unfortunately, many soldiers only consider how to fight them, not necessarily how to win them. There are some exceptions--Petraeus is a notable exception. Based on what I've read of his writings, he seems to be able to get past the strictly military aspects of the situation and see how to make the overall situation better. Our best current hope in Iraq is that the political leadership will follow his lead. A sense of urgency from the Secretary of State would help too.

People who have served in NGOs, the Peace Corps, or even some religious groups in war areas have seen a different side of the conflict than a typical soldier would see. Both perspectives need to be considered, because you need to both push apart the combatants and also deal with the tensions underlying the conflict.