Archive for the 'Josh's Page' Category

How Blogs Failed the War in Georgia

Columbia Journalism Review asked me to write an essay criticizing blogger coverage of the War in Georgia. As I’m sure you can imagine, I was scathing.

While this wasn’t necessarily surprising—after all, these blogs all talk in a big circle, and tend to reference each other—it was disappointing. As Reason’s Michael C. Moynihan trenchantly observed, much of the commentary on the conflict resolved into very clear partisan lines: Russia on the Left, Georgia on the Right. Rather than providing the clarity, nuance, and honesty that they promise to provide, the big blogs instead retreated to their comfortable and predictable ideological corners. By keeping to their usual haunts, these blogs did their readers a tremendous disservice: they were just as incurious and ideological as they regularly accuse the MSM of being.

Go read the whole thing.

Sphere: Related Content

Support Citizen’s Media: A Challenge Grant

Official Sean-Paul Kelley, of The Agonist fame, has set forth an offer I simply cannot refuse: He is willing to pitch in $1000, if I can raise the remainder of my costs for going to Afghanistan August 22. That would mean that, in order to buy my plane tickets without their cost rising into unaffordability, I would need to raise $3000 by August 7, or I won’t be able to go.

I have received some support from some pretty incredible people so far. The meter below is about $70 short of my actual total raised representative of what remains, so I need more help to be able to head off to the country I love and cover so much here.

This represents an extraordinary show of support on his part. So let’s call this pushing into official blegging territory: pass this link around to whomever you can think of, link from your blogs, email with gleeful abandon.

Help send me to Afghanistan! Help support citizen’s media!

UPDATE: Another, who wishes to remain anonymous, has pledged an additional $1000 to the cause of sending me to Afghanistan. In addition, I see in the last 12 hours several people have contributed significant sums of money as well. I am, in a word, stunned by your generosity. Thank you! And keep on spreading the word!

Sphere: Related Content

Counterintuiting the FATA

Posted first at, the web’s best source of news and analysis of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

My friend Jeb Koogler and I co-wrote an op-ed in Thursday’s Christian Science Monitor, titled, “Myths in Al Qaeda’s ‘home’.” This matters tremendously as we ponder what to do (if anything) about the latest round of peace talks. A brief excerpt of our argument:

Given the growing reach of FATA-affiliated militants, it is becoming clear that developments in the tribal areas are central to NATO’s success in Afghanistan, as well as an important factor in the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan and the security of both Europe and the United States. Yet many Western policymakers and pundits misread current events, espousing views and prescribing policies that are based more on stereotypes than on a solid grasp of the region’s history and culture.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the Pakistani Taliban pose a unique and insurmountable threat, that the Pashtuns are the problem, that the tribal areas are lawless and chaotic, and that the targeted assassinations are an effective deterrent against Islamic militancy. But none of these assertions are accurate.

Although the conventional thinking holds that the Pakistani Taliban and their leader Baitullah Mehsud are a formidable and unprecedented threat to the region, the movement is neither historically unique nor overwhelmingly powerful.

And so on (read the whole thing, natch). I anticipate many will quibble with our argument over targeted assassinations; I welcome any such discussion, so long as it’s kept civil.

Update: Here is another example of how perception can matter tremendously, and how pitiful U.S. planning has been in the area. It takes nine paragraphs of Eric Schmitt quoting a press conference on the problem of foreign militants entering Pakistan until he finds anonymous officials urging caution that the problem isn’t quite as bad as it was sold to the media. He then quotes anonymous officials in Pakistan who complain that things are just harder to do without a friendly dictator to bark orders at. Finally, in the last paragraph of a two-page story, he quotes another anonymous official who complains that U.S. relations with Pakistan are “toxic.” So many anonymous people!

Why is that, do you think? Could it be because the current civilian government doesn’t like that we supported the country’s military dictator through several rounds of stolen elections, the imposition of martial law and the cancellation of the country’s civil liberties? That, after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, we supported him cancelling free press and arresting lawyers who were protesting for the reinstatement of the judicial system, instead of going after Baitullah Mehsud’s group? That, even after Pervez Musharraf’s tenure was clearly over, we insisted on bombing their territory as often as possible before they could have a chance to ask us to stop?

It should be no surprise relations with Pakistan are tense. We are dealing with a popularly elected government that is at least somewhat in tune with its generally poor and generally uneducated population, and is not a disconnected, whiskey-swilling, Oxford-educated dictator. Instead of bothering to learn how we can make U.S. policy congruous with Pakistan’s needs and problems over the past eight years, we just short-cut our way through using an autocracy… and now complain viciously when it is deposed and democracy is restored and we have to actually argue our case. Like it or not, much of the world does not view our cause as self-evidently good and just and righteous—we need to argue that it is so. That we haven’t bothered so speaks legions about how we view the people who live in the areas we invade.

In other words, we are our own worst enemies.

Sphere: Related Content

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

Blogging can bring about some amazing opportunities. Through my involvement with Global Voices I’ve had the opportunity to meet some extraordinary people working very hard for the basic right to speak their minds—something I routinely take for granted. It is humbling. But speech isn’t everything. Every once in a while, you get the chance to follow through on what you write about. Because of a book I reviewed in this space, this past week I received a very generous invitation to spend two weeks touring northern Afghanistan at the end of August. More importantly, my employer even more generously gave me permission to take the time to do this.

Such an opportunity does, however, pose its challenges. For one, because of transit time I shall have to take unpaid leave from my job. For another, I have neither the benefit of corporate or government sponsorship for such a trip, nor do I have wealthy parents, which means I am out-of-pocket for a significant portion of the trip. And since I do not happen to be independently wealthy, I’m looking at a mountain of debt—about $3000—to go.

So here is my humble plea to you, my dear readers: in the great tradition of blogger-journalists across the web, help me go to Afghanistan. I will be posting dispatches from there as regularly as possible (some areas we will travel to are very remote and inaccessible), and trying to take as many pictures as I can. Individually, contributions can be as small as you want or can afford—$5, $10, it doesn’t matter terribly. The wonderful thing about the web is everyone can contribute small things and the result is spectacular. Whatever you feel is appropriate I will appreciate, given the trust I have hopefully built up here that I don’t carry anyone’s water or push anyone else’s agenda.

Here is a contributor’s box from PayPal. Giving is secure, and confidential (you can make it anonymous if you prefer). I’ll personally email you my thanks, and hopefully strike up a correspondence. That’s the other thing about blogging: I have met, and more importantly befriended, some of the most incredible people one can meet. So let’s add to the cause of citizen journalism, and see what we can accomplish!

Sphere: Related Content

The Hated Become the Hateful

Jesse Helms has died today. And I have lost track of the number of gay friends who have written me congratulatory or celebratory emails and IMs. It really is terrible—yes, the man opposed our right to an equal stake in society, the right to have a family, the right simply to live our lives without men like him imposing his views on us. But celebrating his death? Helms has been a non-issue for years—no matter what crimes one may pin on him, if people really think he could have spoken magic words and suddenly convinced people to stop condomless sex in the 1980s… well, that is simply delusional.

The amount of hate being spewed at a man we all condemned for hatred is simply despicable. And people wonder why I have such problems being associated with other gay men. His family is grieving, just as our families grieved when our loved ones die. To dance upon his grave, no matter how much you opposed his message—one friend even crowed that he was “rotting in hell, paling around with Hitler and Stalin”—is so far beyond the pale, I really am out of words.

Sphere: Related Content

It’s Not Just America

Budapest is fun. What’s also fun is when Lufthansa cancels your flight to Frankfurt on the tarmac, then spends so many hours making you wait in line you miss other, useful connections and wind up on some Air France flight to Paris that is nevertheless still delayed on the runway — again, without explanation — so that you land just in time to be told you’re stuck in Paris without clothing or anyway of crossing the hour’s drive into the city for the next 24 hours.

I slept well. Now I get to try it all over again. For the record, Charles de Gaulle Aéroport is distinctly unfabulous.

Sphere: Related Content

Hungary Hungary Hippies

Hungary Hungary Hippies!

Pic: simplistic political activism at the Blaha Lujla metro stop in Central Budapest. My own thoughts on the matter are here. And no, Michael, the Gellert baths were not as molest-y as you made them out to be. Rather, the aggressors weren’t quite as frightening as you implied!

Sphere: Related Content

I’m Leaving

But not forevs. Tomorrow I hope on a plane and fly to Budapest, Hungary, for a well-deserved break from the grunt and grind of every day. At the tail end of the week, I shall be attending the Global Voices Citizen Media 2008 Summit. Despite some closed sessions, I’ll try to report back here what we heard of the state of bloggers and citizen-driven media from around the planet.

Sphere: Related Content

Forgive the Self-Promotion

I honestly don’t have the time to reformat everything for several cross-posts, so this is a summary of posts at my other blog,, where I’ve been discussing some interesting topics related to counterinsurgency and reconstruction in Afghanistan, as well as media and culture issues.

  • First up is a critical review of a new essay by Dave Kilcullen, on the security benefits of road construction. It was followed up by posting a disturbing video of an ambush against U.S. forces in the Korengal Valley to support my analysis.
  • Related to the above is a look at scholarship on the implementation and effectiveness of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and where both scholarship and tweaked policy could yield enormous positive dividends on the ground and larger community.
  • I noted some not-so-buried racism shining brightly at the L.A. Times. Co-blogger Kayumars Turkestani noted this isn’t the first time.
  • I take a peek at the potential of Kazakhstan dominating the global uranium market, and if concerns over their security capabilities are legitimate or overblown.
  • And yet again, a look at how Afghanistan is not at all the same as Iraq, and why arguments that apply to one country do not necessarily apply to the other.
  • And finally, some lighter cultural stuff: a reporter traveled to Afghanistan several years ago and found out they deeply loved Johnny Cash. Yes, that is typed correctly. Go check out that video!
  • Oh and let’s all look at that movie about PMCs and Central Asia starring Hillary Duff as a slutty Central Asian pop star.
Sphere: Related Content

Apropos of Nothing, I Had to Post This

This came courtesy a post on, the blog where I spend the majority of my brain power. There’s some really cool stuff up there this week, discussing stereotyping, historical context, the downed Georgian drone, and Afghanistan’s most famous cover musician. Go on and add it to your RSS Reader.

Sphere: Related Content

The Wonders of the Midwest

Ever since I moved to the Midwest four-point-five long months ago, I’ve been amazed at the subtle difference that occasionally make me feel like I’m in another country. Maybe Arlington, VA is just too damned humorless, but there are random bits of naughty that crop up here and there that just make me giggle uncontrollably. For instance, I saw this the other day in a Price Chopper:


Really? The cheshire-grinning coach is packing fudge bars? Ridiculous. This brings up an interesting Tyler Cowen post, in which he lays out his “Anti-American” positions. Among them?

4. I could not live in rural America and be happy.

I used to say the same thing about the Midwest. While many of my fears of it are, in fact true—the racism in particular is galling (like the old white guy at Wal-Mart checking only the receipts of black people)—there are surprising benefits. I’m still unaccustomed to random strangers saying hello to me and probably meaning it. A far higher percentage of fast food employees are white (this, too, stands out for some reason). Even the local flavors of homosexual are far gentler, friendlier in many ways, though not as delicately coiffed and a touch flakier.

I guess what I’m saying is, I just didn’t expect it to be so mild. But that sort of sums up this whole region: mild. I was afraid of that at first. But not anymore.

Sphere: Related Content

A Socio-cultural approach to tribal militancy

Quite unexpectedly, I’ve found myself in an ongoing debate with William McCallister on the utility of pushing a counterinsurgency through the tribal areas of Pakistan. I don’t think it’s really a debate, though, so much as a discussion, as we largely agree—we’re just bickering over (hammering out?) some details. My biggest issue is that he’s trying to generalize from Anbar, which I think is a mistake given the histories of both.

Regardless, it might interest our readers here.

Sphere: Related Content

About Josh: The most frustrating blogger you’ve never heard of

i look ROUGHHello, my name is Josh. After writing here for many months, Lance finally asked me to do an “about me” thing. That was certainly kind of him.

I like to write about government policy, though not domestically (this is not born from snobbery, but utility: all of my experience and training is in the foreign stuff, and I neither have the time to become appropriately knowledgeable nor do I wish to mouth off on a topic about which I know little). I’m reasonably learned about the DoD, military contracting, foreign policy, and Central and South Asia, so I tend to stick to those topics.

Also I am a homosexual, so while politically I do tend to agree more with Republicans than Democrats, I am rather hostile to the GOP. I also dislike a bloated and domineering government, so I am further hostile to the GOP. These attributes also make me hostile to the Democrats, since they neither protect the interests of gay Americans (contrary to their many claims), nor do they tend to run the country in a noticeably adult manner. A faster way of summarizing this paragraph is that I have very strong views, but I do consider myself non-partisan—I hate everyone, and don’t make party-based calculations when it comes to electioneering (save my firm anti-incumbent stance, which is quite useful: I think our system of government is best served by a high rate of turnover amongst our elected officials, regardless of party).

I stick to the news briefings here, mostly, though that of course is changing. I’m in the midst of a big transition in my life right now, leaving my beloved/be-hated DC for a nameless Midwestern metropolis to do a job related to my knowledge of Central Asia. Thus, my time has become severely limited, and while I once did these briefings daily, now the best I can aim for is weekly.

I'm an Author for Global VoicesPlease do not hold your breath, however: I am also the weekly roundup editor for Afghanistan at Global Voices Online, a non-profit global citizens’ media project founded at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a research think-tank focused on the Internet’s impact on society. Most of my blogging time is occupied with, a blog devoted to covering the Former Soviet Union (from the energy industry up in the Caspian Sea down to ISAF’s efforts in Afghanistan).

In terms of background, I got my B.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I majored in International Security with a double minor in Political Science and French (yes, French). I’ve lived in Kazakhstan for a time, and have spent many years in the defense contracting industry. I remain decent at French, am learning Russian, and know pleasantries and market-speak in a smattering of other languages. My writing can be found in several publications in the U.S. and abroad, and I used to contribute weekly political roundup segments to The John McMullen Show on Sirius Radio’s OutQ channel.

And I have a day job. They neither approve, nor review, nor deny anything I write here. I will say controversial things, but they are my views, not my employer’s. They have no relation to the stances I take here, so if you have a problem with something I write or think, take it up with me—not with them.

Sphere: Related Content

Get rewarded at leading casinos.

online casino real money usa