The 13th Annual Charles W. Johnson lecture was held Tuesday, March 13 at the University of Tennessee's University Center. The lecture, entitled "War and Defense in 2012 and Beyond," was given by Bing West, who once served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for international security affairs in the Reagan administration.
West is graduate of Georgetown University and Princeton University and served in the Marine infantry. According to his biography, West has written eight books on national security including The Village, No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah, The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq, and The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and The Way Out of Afghanistan.
West's latest book, The Wrong War was the focus of his lecture. He spoke about his personal view that the Afghan war was won from the bottom up.
He further broke down the definition of leadership by segmented it into three parts: competence, care, and conviction.
West shared his strong belief that the goal of the United States in the war in Afghanistan was to nation-build the country.
Having visited Afghanistan and Iraq during the war, West shared what the Afghan terrain is really like. He vividly described the hills and valleys recounting how they felt like death traps with soldiers dying in them every two out of three days. He also referenced the amount of gear that a typical soldier carries while in the desert, which generally weighs around 80 pounds.
West noted that the enemy that the US fights today is much different than the enemy in the country faced in World War II. The enemy now is not uniformed; they blend in with the citizens, making it difficult for soldiers to spot them when they are fused into a crowd of civilians.
According to West, often times enemies are identified as dedicated Islamists and American soldiers are seem as infidels and outsiders. He said that the US was not succeeding in the mountains of Afghanistan because the enemy will often flee to Pakistan, using it as a sanctuary and resting place during war time. West says what makes it even more difficult is the Taliban that controls the tribes in the Pakistani regions.
West showed the audience a video describing the different types of combat seen overseas today by many US soldiers, including suicide bombing, classic firefights, and improvised explosive devices. The video showed troops firing at enemies during a firefight which West described as a 30 second event of "controlled chaos."
West ended by revisiting his opening comments. He believes that the US' duty is to prevent a terrorist sanctuary, not to build a nation in Afghanistan. He added that strategy requires knowing your limitations.
After the presentation several students questioned West's portrayal of Islamists as "extreme" in many of his slides. West responded to the questions saying he found only the ones creating problems to be extremists, not all Islamists.
For more information on West's biography and literature, please visit his website.