National Security Experts


Bing West

Biography provided by participant

Francis J. "Bing" West served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He is currently a correspondent for The Atlantic. He has written three books about the Iraq war. His latest, entitled The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics and the Endgame in Iraq, has appeared on both the New York Times and Foreign Affairs bestseller lists. The book is based on 15 extended trips to Iraq, where he was embedded with over 60 units and interviewed 2,000 participants from the frontlines to the White House. A graduate of Georgetown and Princeton Universities, he served in Marine infantry in Vietnam, he was as a member of the Force Reconnaissance team that initiated "Operation Stingray" - attacks deep behind enemy lines. He also saw action in the villages with the Combined Action Platoons. He has written six books, including The Village, which has been on the Commandant's Reading List for 30 years. He is the recipient of Marine Corps Heritage Award for nonfiction, the Colby Military History Award and the VFW National Media Award. The Los Angeles Times named him "one of the top ten journalists covering Iraq". He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Middle East Institute, Military Order of the Carabao and the Infantry Order of St. Crispin. His articles appear in The Wall St. Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. His web site is

Recent Responses

June 22, 2010 05:00 PM

Trust the Commander

The top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, meets today with President Obama. At issue is an article that quotes McChrystal as joking snidely about Vice President Biden and other senior administration officials. Like many journalists, I have heard various generals, senators and even a president offer uncomplimentary off-the-cuff quips. Most journalists do not gratuitously report such gossip.

McChrystal’s should not have trusted a reporter he didn’t know, and his staff should have set strict ground rules. As a result of this gossipy article, every reporter in the war zone will find it much harder to get candid information.

The administration could have shrugged off the general’s verbal gaffe. It’s the diplomatic, not the military roles that need to be straightened out. The administration’s command structure on the civilian side is decidedly rickety. Instead, the White House raised the stakes unnecessarily, as if it reflected insubordination or lack of respect.

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April 5, 2010 10:20 AM

In February, the Taliban sanctuary of Marja in southern Helmand Province was the scene of the largest operation of the Afghan war. Hailed by the press as “a major test of the Obama surge”, the battle illustrated both the military promise and the political challenge confronting Obama and the Congress. Called Operation Moshtarak (Dari for ‘together’), the attack began on 13 February and the fighting was essentially over by March.

Moshtarak’s success was Obama’s problem. How does the president keep his pledge to withdraw starting in 2011, without upsetting the progress our troops have attained? In late March, Obama flew to Afghanistan. To an audience of cheering American soldiers, he said, “our troops have pushed the Taliban out of their stronghold in Marja…. The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something.”[i]The dilemma for Obama was that American troops could start, but not finish the job. The more our soldiers did, the less many Afghans though

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March 1, 2010 11:10 AM

I just returned from Marja,where I observed numerous firefights. Many involved extended discussions between the JTAC and the pilots, (to include UAV controllers thousands of miles away.) It is disturbing as a precedent for future wars that the battefield commander under the theater commander did issue a written restriction. Once we've said you can't employ IDF in many circumstances, how does a future commander issue a written directive to the contrary without appearing to be irresponsible?

That issue aside, however, the risk to our troops in the current fight in Afghanistan has not been substantially increased because our commanders and JTACs are so experienced, and our comms so good, that reasonable solutions are reached in the actual fights.

The terrain is so broken by canals and defilade arroyos that 60s and 81s do have a role. However, combat air is the absolutely critical enabler. Yes, grunts complain about IDF restrictions. But the askars press forward in the attack and the enemy ducks and dodges day after day because both hold air in awe. I did

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