Over on his Middle East Blog , Marc Lynch asks whether the Iraq war will change how scholars study the Middle East. It’s a question he has been pondering for sometime since taking over as director of the Middle East Studies program at the Elliott School of International Affairs:
Graduate programs in political science and Middle East Studies have already begun to see a steady flow of applicants back from Iraq (including, among many others, my research assistant from last year). I expect that over the next decade, this will turn into a flood as smart, young veterans look to put their experiences into a broader perspective and to apply their hard-won granular knowledge to broader academic and policy problems. (And not only military veterans — there are plenty of civilians, contractors, and NGO workers who have worked in Iraq as well.) Most will pursue MA degrees, while some percentage will decide to continue on to a PhD I think this an unequivocally good thing — and I wonder if people have given serious thought to how it might change the field of Middle East studies.
It’s a fascinating question and one that we in London should be thinking about – identifying the young up-and-coming MA/PhD students and helping them find their way into think tanks, NGOs and government service.
It reminds me of a story I have been told by numerous military folk about a young lance corporal on his Junior Command Course in Brecon. The story goes that a senior NCO was giving a lecture on counterinsurgency and spent much of his time describing the campaigns in Malaya, Oman and Northern Ireland. During the Q&A session the young lance corporal put his hand up and asked the senior NCO a question about Afghanistan and Iraq. The senior NCO couldn’t answer the question – his only experience, he said, was in Northern Ireland, so he asked the assembled group who had had experience in Afghanistan and Iraq – almost everyone raised their hands… soon the senior NCO was listening to tactics learnt in the fields of Helmand and from the streets of Basra.