1. My return from Jordan has been disorienting. During that year when the blog was closed, I had so much that I was burning to write about: my interaction with Jordanian reformers who were beaten up by police, my studies at an Islamic school, and my thesis on different narratives about Islam in the United States, just to name a few. Returning to the flying world was an abrupt change. Instead of worrying about constitutional reform in Jordan, I needed to worry about the C-17 electrical system and the Emergency Engine Shutdown checklist. And I quickly realized that my strategic and regional studies would count for very little at this particular stage of my career. Successful officership at the moment means, first and foremost, being a skilled pilot and hardworking contributor to the squadron and wing. Of course my informal strategic/regional education is vital to me, and I know it will pay dividends later. But for now, I’m still puzzling through how to balance these tasks. That has affected my ability to write.
2. My standards have risen. Over the past three years, I’ve had the joy of engaging with some of the country’s finest national security thinkers. I’ve read and studied more than I ever have in my life. As a result, I’ve realized just how much excellent thinking and writing is going on out there… and the incredibly high quality standard of thinking and writing that is necessary to hang with them. My blog was never intended to be “expert” analysis, and was more about having a conversation. Still, my rising standards for myself have made it increasingly difficult to blog.
3. I’m not sure how much I should say. I strive to maintain a high level of professionalism on this blog, and often reflect on what that means. But as I’m getting older, the stakes are rising. My next assignment will most likely be a Middle East-related staff position, and within a few years after that I could be in higher leadership positions or even command. I don’t want to eliminate myself by writing something stupid. I had some negative experiences in Jordan, when my outspokenness got me in trouble.
Even more importantly, I am struggling to find the right tone for my writing. Sound strategic thinking requires cold pragmatism, a frank willingness to discuss uncomfortable truths, and a healthy dose of cynicism. Our country is in dire straits. Our economy is broken and our government is paralyzed. We have spent the last decade waging two catastrophic wars, which we need to learn from. These are the issues I mull over every single day, and these are the issues I like to write about. But effective military leaders need to exude confidence and optimism about the mission. How do I balance that? What does it mean to be an optimistic leader in a war that was lost before the first shot was fired? How does one inspire and motivate subordinates, without resorting to the cheesy and completely groundless optimism that caused me so much disillusionment as a young officer? I know that inspiring but sober leadership is possible, because great wartime leaders like Churchill and Lincoln pulled it off. Unfortunately, I’m not Churchill or Lincoln, so I need to proceed with caution.
Despite these concerns, I do want to keep this blog going. I got a kick in the pants from Admiral Stavridis’ NDU speech Read, Think, Write: Keys to 21st-century Security Leadership. He says nothing particularly new, but it was an encouraging reminder that there are senior leaders out there who want younger officers to write and contribute to our collective knowledge.