Blatt publishes paper in military publication Parameters
Charlie Blatt ’18, a government major and French minor, was published in the United States Army War College’s journal Parameters this June for her analysis of military strategy in the Iraq War. Charlie is a War and Peace Fellow with the Dickey Center for International Relations, a Rockefeller Leadership Fellow and the former president of College Democrats.
The title of your paper is “Operational Success, Strategic Failure: Assessing the 2007 Iraq Troop Surge.” What made you want to write about this topic?
CB: I wrote the paper originally for the class Lessons from America’s Foreign Wars with government professor Jeffrey Friedman, but prior to taking that class, I took a class called War and Peace with government professor Ben Valentino. One of the topics that stood out to me the most in that class was on the evolution of modern warfare, and the movement towards more counter insurgent tactics as militaries evolve to deal with a shift towards civil wars. I was interested in the topic because of content I had learned in this earlier class. Last summer, I had actually talked with professor Valentino about what I might write for professor Friedman’s class, and he had suggested that I do some research about counterinsurgency in general. That led me to the specific topic about the 2007 Iraq troop surge, which is widely cited as one of the most significant developments in U.S. military strategy in the recent past.
What kind of impact do you think the paper could have on actual policy making?
CB: I know the paper has been distributed at the Army War College and throughout military communities, as well as among policy makers in general, so I’m hoping that the paper will start some dialogue about lessons that could be learned from the surge. One of the conclusions that I come to in the paper is that the surge operationally really did produce dramatic results in Iraq and was incredibly successful at reducing violence. But we attribute so much to the surge in modern American dialogue about Iraq and the military, and I think it’s important to take a step back from that and say, “Did this operation actually achieve all of the results that it set out to achieve?” I think the answer is no, because as soon as the troops left, we realized that they didn’t actually solve any of the underlying issues that were driving the conflict, and if anything the surge may have worsened the situation. I’m hoping that in writing the paper, I’m contributing to the narrative that there is more work to be done in analyzing the root causes of conflict, and that the military needs to think more about these sorts of issues.
What would you rewrite if you had the chance?
CB: I would add more detail to the paper. The published paper is actually shorter than the paper that I had written originally by about 1,500 words, and I think that there are sections that I could have elaborated that would emphasize my points. I would specifically have wanted to provide more detail in the second half of my paper, where I delve into what happened after the surge and with the 2010 election and the 2011 troop withdrawal. Those are such rich topics, but due to word count restrictions, I definitely could have added more detail to those two places.
What do you think is the role of research publications with government?
CB: I think they’re incredibly important. Government policy should be executed and backed up by research, and in the absence of publications like Parameters and internal government research, policy would not be as strong. I can’t emphasize enough how important the role of research publications is to the government, and it’s incredibly helpful to have strong research backing up these policies.
What do you feel made this paper different from other submitted papers?
CB: In addition to being published, I won Temple University’s Edwin H. Sherman Family Prize for Undergraduate Scholarship in Force and Diplomacy. One of the comments I received from Temple University was that they really liked the interdisciplinary approach that I took to the study of the conflict. I was citing journalists, military personnel, academics, people on the ground in Iraq, among other sources, and I think that incorporating such a wide range of different kind of materials — I know that in particular was what stood out to the award committee — may have attributed to the success of the paper in general.
Was there a reason you chose to submit the paper to Parameters?
CB: I absolutely thought I was going to get rejected. professor Friedman had suggested to me that I try to submit the paper to the best journal that would possibly accept it, because that way I might get accepted for peer review and receive feedback — and then they would reject me after I had gotten the feedback. My motivation behind submitting to this particular paper was essentially so that I could use the feedback to improve it. I was truly astonished by the success that the paper had, and I am really glad that the argument is getting the sort of awareness that I had hoped to bring to it. None of this could have been possible without professor Friedman, who is truly amazing and was so helpful throughout the process.
What was the process of publishing like? You said you ended up having to revise extensively — how did that feel?
CB: It was really interesting. The main reason why professor Friedman advised me to publish was so that I could go through the learning process of what it was like. First, I submitted the initial manuscript — which was basically just my term paper from the class. A couple days later, near the end of September, I got a response that I had been accepted for initial review. I heard from them again around Thanksgiving, when they sent me a round of peer review, which was very detailed criticism of my paper. They had sent me a “review and re-submit,” which essentially meant that they had neither rejected nor accepted my paper. I had two anonymous reviewers, one of whom had advised “accept,” and the other of whom had written “reject” and given extensive criticism of my paper. I spent quite some time over winterim revising my paper to meet the standards that the reviewer had given to Parameters. I resubmitted the paper during winterim, and heard back from them again in February, where I got a second round of comments back. In this round, the reviewer was still suggesting that they reject my paper (although he or she did say it was improved). Then, I revised it again over spring break, and after that resubmission, they told me they would publish it and sent me a copyright contract. I was convinced that it was still going to get rejected up until I saw the copyright contract. In May, they sent me line edits, and it wasn’t actually finalized and ready for print until June.
Have you gotten any responses to your paper since publication?
CB: I’ve gotten some pretty positive responses as a whole. I know that a professor at a Virginia military academy tweeted about it, which was pretty cool. But in general I have not gotten any substantive academic feedback. That may be because of timing, but who knows?
How do you feel like this process impacted you as a student and a writer? Do you hope to do any more publishing in the future?
CB: This process has definitely impacted me a lot as a student. Since writing the paper, I have only taken seminars in the Government department because I’ve decided that I only want to write papers from now on. This process made me realize how much I enjoy sitting down and working on one thing, so I will also be writing a senior thesis, which I’m both excited and nervous about.
Going through the process of writing and publishing this article very much confirmed for me that I was going to do a thesis, and also generally what topic I would write my thesis about. This process also confirmed for me that my main interest in international relations is very much in U.S. foreign policy — more specifically, current U.S. security policy. Writing this paper made me assess a lot about my beliefs and values, so it was a really interesting process to go through as a whole, and I’m really excited about diving into more research this year.
This interview had been condensed and edited for clarity and length.