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Thread: "Experts"

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    Default "Experts"

    Given the lack of solutions with respect to the Iraq situation it is easy to understand why the US is looking far and wide for answers. Let us not, however, fall prey to snake oil salesmen who annoint themselves as counterinsurgency experts and who are trying to market themselves as experts around various governmental entities in these times. Consider, for example, Colin Kahl who has been deemed as a counterinsurgency expert by at least one think tank ( http://www.cnas.org/en/cms/?893) and Harvard no less (http://www.belfercenter.org/experts/...in_h_kahl.html ). Mr. Kahl (http://www2.cla.umn.edu/reach/Fall06/Kahl.html) has spent around a year at DoD studying the rule of law in war and spent 4 days in Iraq (per his own testimony). He has 0 years military experience and is a brand new assistant professor at Georgetown. Yes he has probably read every open source article on Iraq that exists. But he has annointed himself a counterinsurgency expert and has convinced the "New Yorker"; "Mother Jones" and "Foreign Affairs" that he is an expert and thus he is worth listening too. He is even prescribing military strategy to those who will listen to him (see the New Yorker article for an example). If one closely reads the links provided it becomes apparent that Mr. Kahl is a smooth talker but not too careful in presenting a honest account of his credentials, For instance, his 4 actual days in Iraq become a "summer long study" in his credentials list on the cnas.org website. From his own website, In July, Kahl headed to Iraq for four days, to conduct interviews in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and at Camp Victory, the U.S. military headquarters at the former Baghdad airport. It was an intense and unnerving experience, he recalls. “We got shelled every day I was there.”". It is understandable that upward people like Mr. Kahl want to market themselves and advance their career. What experiences does he in fact have that define him as a counterinsurgency expert? I'm still looking. And his is only one example. The situation in Iraq is dire-lives are at stake to say nothing of our country's reputation. Lets stick with credible professionals for advice when construction policy.

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dpeters View Post
    Given the lack of solutions with respect to the Iraq situation it is easy to understand why the US is looking far and wide for answers. Let us not, however, fall prey to snake oil salesmen who annoint themselves as counterinsurgency experts and who are trying to market themselves as experts around various governmental entities in these times. Consider, for example, Colin Kahl who has been deemed as a counterinsurgency expert by at least one think tank ( http://www.cnas.org/en/cms/?893) and Harvard no less (http://www.belfercenter.org/experts/...in_h_kahl.html ). Mr. Kahl (http://www2.cla.umn.edu/reach/Fall06/Kahl.html) has spent around a year at DoD studying the rule of law in war and spent 4 days in Iraq (per his own testimony). He has 0 years military experience and is a brand new assistant professor at Georgetown. Yes he has probably read every open source article on Iraq that exists. But he has annointed himself a counterinsurgency expert and has convinced the "New Yorker"; "Mother Jones" and "Foreign Affairs" that he is an expert and thus he is worth listening too. He is even prescribing military strategy to those who will listen to him (see the New Yorker article for an example). If one closely reads the links provided it becomes apparent that Mr. Kahl is a smooth talker but not too careful in presenting a honest account of his credentials, For instance, his 4 actual days in Iraq become a "summer long study" in his credentials list on the cnas.org website. From his own website, In July, Kahl headed to Iraq for four days, to conduct interviews in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and at Camp Victory, the U.S. military headquarters at the former Baghdad airport. It was an intense and unnerving experience, he recalls. “We got shelled every day I was there.”". It is understandable that upward people like Mr. Kahl want to market themselves and advance their career. What experiences does he in fact have that define him as a counterinsurgency expert? I'm still looking. And his is only one example. The situation in Iraq is dire-lives are at stake to say nothing of our country's reputation. Lets stick with credible professionals for advice when construction policy.
    I have mixed feelings about this. Colin is an exceptionally bright guy. In find him quite impressive intellectually. But you're right that I don't think he'd done much analysis of insurgency until a few years ago. But what does qualify someone to be an "expert"? After, the military suffers from what I've heard called the "any colonel can" syndrome--the idea that if someone was competent enough to become a colonel, he can do any job. So we end up with colonels and generals with no counterinsurgency background leading counterinsurgency efforts.

    I've also been concerned that in terms of counterinsurgency, TOO MUCH expertise can be an impediment. As the U.S. military has re-engaged with it, I've heard a lot of people with deep experience go to great lengths to cram Iraq into the box of El Salvador or even Vietnam. Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dpeters View Post
    Lets stick with credible professionals for advice when construction policy.
    I'd admire your enthusiasm, but speaking of credibility, could you please introduce yourself here?
    Example is better than precept.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.
    My new signature. But if you're wrong, it doesn't take long before the heavy artillery starts raining down.

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    Kahl had a good online debate with Brian Katulis and Marc Lynch over at Dr. Lynch's blog:
    http://abuaardvark.typepad.com/abuaa...atulis-de.html

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    So we end up with colonels and generals with no counterinsurgency background leading counterinsurgency efforts......I've also been concerned that in terms of counterinsurgency, TOO MUCH expertise can be an impediment.......Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.
    If you want the same answer give them the same training and expect the same level of wrong. More experience can often lead to more wrong.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    I've also been concerned that in terms of counterinsurgency, TOO MUCH expertise can be an impediment. As the U.S. military has re-engaged with it, I've heard a lot of people with deep experience go to great lengths to cram Iraq into the box of El Salvador or even Vietnam. Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.
    I think this is an exceptionally important point that Steve makes. Too much experience especially when it is combined with lots of reading and analysis on a subject can produce in some folks arrogance and a positivist approach to fighting a counterinsurgency war. This is actually the main point that I make in an article running online now in AFJ, The Dogmas of War. This is also why I like to offer strident critiques of Nagl and Kilkullen because i think they are good examples of folks who have become just a bit too cocksure about the way ahead in places like Iraq. Nagl just reaked of positivism when he appeared on the Daily Show. Too, his book, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, has gone from being an important book on how organizations learn to a way overrated and incorrectly perceived "history" book of vietnam and malaya. It in fact is a poor example of the latter but to highlight and take a step further Steve's point, we seem to be trying to cram Nagl's purported lessons from Malaya and Vietnam into Iraq; thereby causing us to become dogmatic there.

    gian

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    It seems to me many are posturing and positioning now that the Whitehouse is up for grabs in a year's time. Some of this could have been coming out alot sooner IMO and I remain suspicious of motives.

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    Default who are the "experts"?

    Experts, as my grandmother once told me are "ex-spurts". In other words, they have their moments of importance and then they are gone. Thus, I never claim to be an expert on any subject. Just an interested party.
    Kat-Missouri

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    Quote Originally Posted by kehenry1 View Post
    Experts, as my grandmother once told me are "ex-spurts". In other words, they have their moments of importance and then they are gone. Thus, I never claim to be an expert on any subject. Just an interested party.
    I think there's a fine line between experts and people that think they know what they're doing. Further, I think this applies to any discipline or field of study. There should be a fine line between "experienced" and "expert." Often we confuse the two terms. Take a look at any given mixed martial arts amature night.

    For instance, as an instructor of reconnaissance tactics, I probably have more knowledge in the field of study than 99% of the Army. That doesn't mean I know 99% of what there is to know about reconnaissance. I'd like to think that I haven't moved past my "moment of importance," though I have been introduced as an expert in the tactical and technical application of reconnaissance tactics, planning, and execution.

    In terms of inflated resumes and hollow "expert" labels, I agree with you. But I think a distinction should be made between the two.
    Example is better than precept.

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    I am no more or less an expert on some of these issues than many who comment on Iraq policy in this town, but the original post from someone of unknown "expertise" is deeply unfair in its portrayal of my credentials. I was at DoD (working in OSD Policy) for almost two years working on issues related to stability operations, counterinsurgency, irregular warfare, and ungoverned areas. I never claimed I was in Iraq for an entire summer -- never. I was in theater for about a week and in Iraq for four-and-a-half days (conducting interviews for a lessons learned study 10-12 hours per day). I have followed the Iraq war intensively for four years, and have had access to more than open source material. Before studying Iraq, I spent seven years studying the causes and consequences of civil and ethnic conflict in the developing world -- a kind of expertise that appears incredibly relevant to assessing the current dynamics in Iraq. I am not a "new" Assistant Professor. I am new to Georgetown's Security Studies Program, but I have been a professor at a top 20 political science department since 2000, and I will be up for tenure next year at Georgetown. I did not annoint myself an expert to the New Yorker, Mother Jones, and Foreign Affairs -- I was approached and they found my ideas worthwhile. I have not served in the military, but I regularly engage with military COIN experts who, by and large, think I have something to contribute.

    Ultimately, I find that people who try to impugn individuals ideas by attacking their CV are (1) expressing some deep insecurity about themselves; and (2) lack the analytical skills to attack arguments on their merits.

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    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Default What is Expertise


    When considering such a thing as expertise it has always occurred to me that when evaluating those for whom a topic is of enough import to study and search for answers; their " Expert" is to be seen in the results of what they propose. This being more so than what they say.

    Who among us has not met someone in our lives whom although having no where near the experiences we have had in a given subject matter; still finds
    that person to have knowledge or wisdom which may apply in their given studies.

    Regarding the positivism of Kilcullen, Nagl, etc. I would simply say this.
    I have not really seen or read anything from either of them which denies or fails to place emphasis on the fact that things are not perfect or that the policies/actions of US forces must continue to adjust accordingly with the circumstances.

    Taking this into account isn't it better to be excited about success while fighting against failure, rather than the other way around

    ( Always strive for the best,
    ( Always expect the worst
    ( Never forget it's not necessarily one or the other

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    I do love the one post drive by's... Remembers me of the "Hilltop" in Tacoma in the late 80's... Ahhh the sound of AK47 fire in the warm evening and Gunships with chain guns.
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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by selil View Post
    I do love the one post drive by's... Remembers me of the "Hilltop" in Tacoma in the late 80's... Ahhh the sound of AK47 fire in the warm evening and Gunships with chain guns.
    never forget the whiff of CS gas on an evening breeze...

    and the reflections of burning cars, glowing on the bottoms of low passing clouds...

    heaven on earth...

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    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Default If it's of any comfort...

    This thread was started by a One-Poster drive-byer (note the pathetic use of hyphens, which determines levels of expertise). In his/her own right felt compelled to do the same

    Quote Originally Posted by selil View Post
    I do love the one post drive by's... Remembers me of the "Hilltop" in Tacoma in the late 80's... Ahhh the sound of AK47 fire in the warm evening and Gunships with chain guns.
    Gunfire's OK, but I've thankfully weened myself off identifying the smell of CS. Burning tires, however are a must see

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    never forget the whiff of CS gas on an evening breeze...

    and the reflections of burning cars, glowing on the bottoms of low passing clouds...

    heaven on earth...

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    Default What have we learned

    Hmmm...

    It seems a significant amount of energy was exerted in response to a drive-by character assassination. It was good to see Mr. Kahl chime in and put the lurker in his place. It reminded me of listening to Mr. Kaplan do the same to a few self-inflated SAMS students during a seminar session. That said I think there were a few nuggets to pull from the dialogue that ensued:
    1. Expertise is often fleeting and context dependent
    2. We should always be cognizant of our/ American cultural blind spot, the never ending search for the singular right answer
    3. Valuable contributions to military affairs is not the sole dominion of the maneuver-ist community
    4. Love 'em like a brother, but you can always count on Gian to take a poke at the COIN "experts" and challenge conventional wisdom. Keep up the fire.
    Hacksaw
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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    You know if anybody wanted there is a legal and specific method to becoming an expert. The legal decisions of Frye, Kumho, and Daubert (you'll likely need a JD to know what those are) set out specifically what an expert is (and also what science should be) but the principles are all there... and likley most would disagree.
    Sam Liles
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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    Rory Stewart's take on a famed British Middle East expert comes to mind here.

    Expertise isn't everything. Then again, I think one of OIF's lessons is that this maxim is not an excuse for refusing or or ignoring all knowledge of the area in question.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hacksaw View Post
    Hmmm...4. Love 'em like a brother, but you can always count on Gian to take a poke at the COIN "experts" and challenge conventional wisdom. Keep up the fire.
    Hacksaw: you just say that because we are old SAMS tailgating brothers. What do you think of a reunion tailgate maybe next year with fast eddie; mo g; tommy k; chuck e; and jimbo d? something to think about anyway.

    I actually liked the Kahl piece after reading when it first came out. I thought it was a balanced and reasonable argument, although i thought it played into the Coin meta-narrative too much. You know how that goes, big army screwed up early on except for marines in south and 101 in north, 4 ID fumbled, army continued to mess things up except for ramadi and talafar, but now things are on track with the current command team and the surge.

    Anyway I did not care for dpeters' implication that the only way one can be a true "expert" is by having on the ground experience. If that were the case then we should stop reading one of the best military histories ever written, John Keegan's "Face of Battle." Keegan had no military experience whatsoever but wrote a brilliant book on battle.

    I think my critique of Nagl's book is valid and i intend to write a fresh review of it and maybe the swj editors will post it for me.

    gian

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    Rory Stewart's take on a famed British Middle East expert comes to mind here.

    Expertise isn't everything. Then again, I think one of OIF's lessons is that this maxim is not an excuse for refusing or or ignoring all knowledge of the area in question.
    I have for years refused to use the word expert because it is rather like the word "terrorist," completely abused, misused, and consequently trite in application.

    As a FAO I was a specialist, meaning I knew more than most and could offer informed insights based on experience and study. Most Middle East FAOs--at least the ones I respected--considered Lawrence to be a flawed model and certainly Gertrude Bell falls into the same camp. A spoiled social poodle with too much time on her hands, she took up mountain climbing and then switched to fashioning Iraq. Funny that --and Rory Stewart makes this point rather well--the acclaim for Bell like that for Lawrence all came from fellow imperialist Brits with a smattering of others thrown in. My own contacts in the region dismissed Lawrence as a "spy" when they were being kind.

    On the other hand it was and still is interesting to see and hear people accept pronouncements about regions, peoples, or ideas without ever bothering to shine any kind of intellectual light on those pronouncements. PPT and the 15 second sound bite have only made this tendency more damaging. On a macro level, this is where I have real problems with folks who suggest the Israelis are "Arab experts" based on a half century of continuous conflict.

    Tom

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