An Interview with Abu Muqawama Eight Years in the Making

I spent the summer of 2004 in immersion Arabic training at the University of Chicago as part of my David Boren National Security Education Fellowship award. We spent five days in class, full time, signed a pledge to only speak Arabic for the summer, and engaged in six nightly Arabic review sessions. It was intense, to say the least.

I found refuge in two places — the gym near our dorm and the University of Chicago Student Pub. For those in the know, the Pub charges students a $10 membership fee and offers an extremely large and varied selection of beers on tap and in bottle. After our nightly review sessions, I’d take my Arabic homework over to the pub and drink my fill, as I had opted to participate in the 64 Club challenge (drink 64 different beers in one academic quarter and you won the challenge and a free t-shirt that said “Errare Est Humanum, Imbibe Est Divinium” or “To Ere is Human, to Imbibe is Divine.”

When I couldn’t tolerate any more Arabic, I found myself pouring over dispatches from Iraq (then just a year old and starting to spiral into insurgency and civil war) and the very few books authored by veterans of the young “War on Terrorism.” In particular, Andrew Exum’s This Man’s Army stood out as my favorite of those early memoirs. I’d read a few chapters each night and often found myself in heated debate about their content with the pub’s long-time bartender, Victor — who is a character worthy of future blog post.

I look back fondly at that summer and the memoirs I’ve since read. I’ve often argued that Andrew’s book set the “template” of successful memoirs published by Iraq and Afghan war veterans. Few authors have matched his raw and timely insights — I still consider the book required reading for any young/future American Army officer, especially those headed into the infantry.

If you’ve read my book, you’ll see Andrew’s endorsement of it prominently featured on the back cover. Andrew also runs one of my favorite foreign policy/national security blogs, Abu Muqawama, is a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security (an organization which Wired’s Danger Room has described as Obama’s “Shadow Pentagon“), and recently received his Doctorate in War Studies from King’s College London.

Thus, it is with great humility that I share a recent blog interview Dr. Andrew Exum and I did on his Abu Muqawama blog — an honor that I never could have imagined as I sat in the U Chicago Student Pub all those years ago.

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About Matt Zeller

Matt Zeller, a native of Rochester, New York, is a consultant on alternative energy and defense issues, working in northern Virginia. His latest book, Watches Without Time (Just World Books, 2012), gives a vivid description of what he experienced while serving as an embedded combat adviser with the Afghan security forces in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in 2008. Matt is a Captain in the US Army Reserve and a former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was the Democrat candidate for Congress in 2010 in NY's 29th Congressional District.
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