First, in terms of reception and cordiality, I have rarely experienced such an extensive and personal outreach as was demonstrated by the War College staff, faculty, administration and students. Every new member had a “sponsor” – a student, usually a colonel or Navy captain, who acted as a liason and personal guide from the time their plane touched down until the moment they returned to the airport. My sponsor, the former commander of the Wolfhounds, Colonel Richard “Flip” Wilson, whom I consider a friend, really extended himself on my behalf, making me feel welcome and a full member of Seminar Group 20. Most of the students have multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan under their belt and many can report the same for the first Gulf War, Panama, Bosnia or Kosovo.
The War College, the Commandant and the Seminar Group all hosted receptions and dinners designed to get students and civilian new members to mix and further discuss issues raised in the seminar sessions or lectures. At these events I had the opportunity to meet and talk to the leadership of the Army War College including the Commandant Major General Gregg Martin, the Deputy Commandant for International Affairs, Ambassador Carol Van Voorst, the Executive Director of the Army Heritage Foundation, Mike Perry, the Director of SSI, Dr. Douglas Lovelace, the Chief of Staff and numerous faculty and seminar members. The New Members such as myself were exceedingly well fed at these events as I suspect the Army was attempting to prove that it really does march on it’s stomach.
The serious business of the National Security Seminar was divided into two segments, the talks given by distinguished speakers to the entire class of 2011 and the New Members and the Seminar Group sessions of approximately twenty students, New Members, academics and foreign visitors. We received a brief on the war in Afghanistan from the ISAF Chief of Staff, who was standing in last minute for General Petraeus who was called to meet with senior adminstration officials; and a very interesting concluding talk by Foreign Affairs Editor Gideon Rose, author of How Wars End, which covered issues of strategy, grand strategy and the disconnect with policy.
The National Security Seminar is run strictly on a non-attribution basis, in order to encourage candor and frank exchange of views, which handicaps my ability to discuss specifics here. I can say that my views on Pakistan ( which I compared to “North Vietnam” ) riled more than a few people – Pakistan is the only country in the world given 2 exchange student slots at the Army War College at the request of the most senior leadership of the US Army – and several students and faculty members took the time, outside of seminar sessions, to make certain I heard countervailing POV regarding Pakistan’s value as an ally. Other topics included, but were not limited to:
Defense budget cuts and force structure
Narco-cartels in Mexico: Insurgency or No?
Repeal of DADT
al Qaida and GWOT/US Strategy
Critical thinking and Leadership
Libya and NATO
AWC Strategy Curriculum/Program
What the US public expects from their military
China as a peer competitor
Effects of ten years of war on officer corps/military
Illegal combatants and international law
Battle of Gettysburg and Grand Strategy
Differences in Armed Services strategy, command climate, discipline, leadership
The Arab Spring
US Global leadership and Economics
Interagency Operational jointness
Most of the discussion took place in the seminar groups, with Q&A periods in the mass sessions with featured speakers. I came away deeply impressed with the seriousness and insights as practitioners that AWC students brought to the table. The AWC strategic studies program seeks to broaden students who are assumed to arrive with tactical expertise and prepare them for higher command that carries operational, strategic and even policy responsibilities (at least in terms of interpreting and executing within policy guidelines). Many students were articulating ideas associated with Thomas P.M. Barnett, the “mission order” and “commander’s intent” style of leadership or Clausewitzian strategic premises during debates and discussion.
The National Security Seminar Week was for me, an enlightening and exceptionally enjoyable experience, one I would highly recommend to readers who may have such opportunities in future years.