This is the last post on Abu Muqawama. As many of you know,
I left the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in August of 2012 to spend
a fellowship year in the U.S. Department of Defense doing Middle East policy.
My plan had been to stay away for one year, but as I approached the end of my
fellowship, I decided I was more interested in new challenges, and my leave of
absence became permanent.*
I began this blog in February 2007 while spending another
fellowship year in between my master’s degree and Ph.D. I was sharing an office
at the Washington Institute with Seth Wikas, now a foreign service officer in the Middle East,
when someone wrote something nasty on the internet about an op-ed Seth had
written for an-Nahar on the Druze of
the Golan. I decided to respond, but I needed a nom de plume so no one figured out my real identity as Seth’s
office mate. I was doing some research on Hizballah (that later became the
basis for my doctoral dissertation), so Seth suggested “Abu Muqawama.”**
The name stuck, and, as more a joke than anything else, I shortly thereafter
started an account on Blogger.
I was soon joined on my new blog by others. Erin Simpson, a
Ph.D. student at Harvard and instructor at Quantico, began blogging as
“Charlie.” An Army officer (who is still serving on active duty)
began blogging as “Kip.” Amil Khan, my roommate in Cairo and, later,
London, began blogging as “Londonstani.” Two Iraq experts (both of
whom went on to serve in the Obama Administration) briefly blogged as “Dr.
Irak” and “Iraqologist” respectively. (While I was in
government, Adam Elkus and Dan Trombly kept the blog going – with wit and
intelligence that made the blog’s alumni very proud.)
In March 2009, Nate Fick and John Nagl hired me at CNAS
under the terms that the blog would come with me. As they never failed to
remind me, they hired the blog, and I came with it. I am extremely grateful to
the past and current leadership at CNAS for the support they have given me, and
I am very proud of the way in which this blog has helped break a tired old
think tank paradigm:
Under the old paradigm, communication was largely one-way. Scholars
sat in the ivory tower and issued reports and wrote op-eds. About the only
back-and-forth arrived through letters to the editor. I like to think this blog,
by contrast, turned what was previously one-way communication into a real
conversation. The commenters on this blog have often been crude and a little
nuts, but they have just as often been brilliant: I thank people like Carl
Prine, Gian Gentille, and Mike Horowitz (always writing under a pseudonym
matching the name of a Boston Celtics bench player from the 1980s) for their interventions
over the years. Adam and Dan started out as commenters, and they ended up
running the damn place. My own research and writing has been much stronger for
the way in which I have been able to engage and argue with my readers as I have
conducted my research. People who think blogs or Twitter accounts are all
narcissistic are missing an important point: Social media turns what had
previously been an isolating (and potentially arrogant) exercise into a more humble
engagement with readers and fellow scholars. There were think tank blogs before this one, but I don’t think it’s overstating things to say this blog helped popularize social media in research institutes.
My favorite memories of this blog, though, will always belong to the year
I spent penniless in London, sharing a flat with Amil in Walthamstow. I would
wake up each morning, read the news, blog, and then leave the flat to go lift
weights and spend the afternoons and evenings in the University of London’s libraries.
I had gone to London to be Yezid Sayigh’s worst ever student, and I had no
money and hated London. (Come to think of it, there may be a causal
relationship there.) But blogging was incredibly fun. I revealed my identity
just prior to taking my first leave of absence in May 2008. I spent the summer
of 2008 at SWAMOS and in the New York Public Library and spent the fall of 2008
back in Beirut, where I had earlier done a master’s degree, doing research. I
started blogging again just before moving back to Washington.
CNAS gave this blog a larger and more engaged readership
than I ever could have imagined. And unlike most bloggers, I was actually
getting paid to do something I loved and would have done for free anyway. I had
a great three-and-a-half year run at CNAS, and it has a special place in my
heart. It’s a different place now, but the people who work there are more
talented than ever. And despite what many say about Washington, I have found Washington — and CNAS in particular —
to be a tremendously rewarding place to live and work, full of smart, interesting, and — yes — honorable people.***
Thank you for reading this blog for the past six and a half
years. It has been an honor to have engaged with you.
* One of the things that made the great Alex Ferguson so
great was his willingness to take a good team and tear it apart to build a more
successful one. Don’t be afraid to do the same thing with your career. I did it
once when I left the Army in 2004, and did I miss the Ranger Regiment? Sure –
every day. But did I regret leaving? Never – because the amazing opportunities
I soon got wouldn’t have been possible had I stayed in.
I had a great experience working in the Department of
Defense and would love the opportunity to serve again. But Coolidge was probably
right when he said that the chief business of the American people is business. Those
of us who live in the District of Columbia have more of an obligation than most
others to spend some time in the private sector, and I got a great opportunity
to do so in a job that doesn’t involve the defense industry or government
lobbying. (Nothing wrong with either of those two a priori, of course, but considering I might want to return to
policy research or government service one day, I wanted to avoid as many
potential future conflicts of interest as possible.)
** Literally, “Father of the Resistance.” Hizballah, “the party of God,” is often referred to on flags and banners as “the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon.” (It used to be “the Islamic Revolution in Lebanon,” but that’s another story.)
*** Rules for Washington:
(1) Do a good job in the job you’re in. Don’t be so focused
on what your next job might be that you leave a bad taste in the mouths of
those with and for whom you currently work.
(2) Don’t be a jerk. As Nate Fick always says, it’s an
iterative game with a limited number of players. The people you’re working with
today might be the people you’re working with – or for – tomorrow.
(3) Be a servant-leader. Toward the end of my
less-than-stellar athletic career, I played a few seasons as a flanker in
rugby. It’s not the most glorious position, but the people who do it best are
the people who keep up a very high work rate doing all the ugly stuff – largely rucking
and tackling – a team needs to do in order to win. Volunteer for the
crappy work in the office. Go fetch coffee. Put together binders. Do it with a
smile on your face, and keep a bottle of Old Overholt on your desk for your
co-workers when times get tough.
(4) Have a sense of humor. This blog covered Very Serious
national security issues with a Lego jihadi as its mascot. That was always by design. If you take
yourself or the issues too seriously, the terrorists win.
(5) As Charlie always reminds people, stay away from the
marrieds. Sounds like an obvious one, but people screw this up too often.
(6) Don’t write op-eds in the Washington Post defending torture or, if you happen to edit the Washington Post, hire people who defend
torture. Because torture is wrong. Yes, always. Do I really have to explain
this? … F***, really? I quit.
Pictured: Londonstani and I, drinking arak, eating shwarma, and blogging from the E17, 2008