- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
As a general rule, when serving military officers decide to place their opinions on the public record, they write in hyper-cautious military-speak that appears designed to conceal any sort of original insight. So thank you, Col. Lawrence Sellin, for being an exception to the rule. Sellin, a staff officer in ISAF Joint Command in Kabul, sounds like he had a Very Bad Day at the office, and then returned home to pen a screed against the work being done at headquarters.
For headquarters staff, war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information. Even one tiny flaw in a slide can halt a general’s thought processes as abruptly as a computer system’s blue screen of death.
The ability to brief well is, therefore, a critical skill. It is important to note that skill in briefing resides in how you say it. It doesn’t matter so much what you say or even if you are speaking Klingon.
Random motion, ad hoc processes and an in-depth knowledge of Army minutia and acronyms are also key characteristics of a successful staff officer. Harried movement together with furrowed brows and appropriate expressions of concern a la Clint Eastwood will please the generals. Progress in the war is optional.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. Col. Sellin sounds like he has a future career as a pundit — which, come to think of it, may soon come in handy. (H/T Ghosts of Alexander)
Update: Not surprisingly, Sellin has been sacked from his job at ISAF headquarters, officially for violating a directive that requires officers to clear "written or oral presentations to the media" with a public-affairs officer. He says that he bears no ill will to anyone in his former organization, and will be returning to Finland to work for an IT company where he had been employed before going to Afghanistan.