The Ivey Business Journal Interview: with Steve Coll

Steve Coll is author of Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power, winner, Goldman Sachs Financial Times Best Business Book of the Year.

Even among its peers, a select grouping of global behemoths, Exxon Mobil stands out easily. To put it succinctly, as George W. Bush once did, “Nobody tells these guys what to do.”

The company that many love to hate and hold up as the exemplary global corporate bully is also – surprise – a paragon of prudent management practices and social responsibility. Exxon executives, personified by former CEO Lee Raymond, take nothing for granted and obsess about everything from safety standards and risk management to expense reports and company social functions. Small wonder, perhaps, that Exxon Mobile is one of the most successful companies on the planet.

Above all Exxon Mobile is an extremely well run corporation. One could read Private Empire, especially one who would choose to characterize the corporation as careless, arrogant and even incompetent, and wonder how Steve Coll could write such an even-handed — at times almost admiring  – account of the world’s second-largest corporation. But Mr. Coll, an experienced business journalist, clearly appreciates Exxon’s insistence on management excellence and the layers of management oversight that make such excellence attainable. Private Empire is a rich and rewarding read, a book that well deserves recognition as Best Business Book of the Year.    


Other books that were nominated are The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust, by John Coates; Steve Jobs, The Exclusive Biography, by Walter Isaacson; Volcker: The Triumph of Persistence, by Walter L. Silber; What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Michael J. Sandel; Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, by Daren Acemoglu and James A. Robinson.


The Financial Times Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award was inaugurated in 2005, when Thomas Friedman was recognized for The World is Flat. Previous winners are: Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo for Poor Economics (2011); Raghuram Rajan for Fault Lines (2010); Liaquat Ahamed for The Lords of Finance (2009); Mohamed El-Erian for When Markets Collide (2008); William D. Cohan for The Last Tycoons (2007), and James Kynge for China Shakes the World (2006).


Steve Coll, a former managing editor of the Washington Post, has received two Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting. He won the first of these, in 1990, for his series, with David A. Vise, about the Securities and Exchange Commission. His second Pulitzer was awarded in 2005, for his book, Ghost Wars, which also won the Council on Foreign Relations’ Arthur Ross Award; the Overseas Press Club Award, and the Lionel Gelber Prize for the best book published on international affairs during 2004. In all, Steve Coll has written seven books. I reached Steve Coll by phone in Lahore, Pakistan, where he is researching a series of articles he is writing for the New Yorker, where he is staff writer.


Ivey Business Journal: Why did you decide to write a book about Exxon Mobil?

Steve Coll: It followed a bit of a jagged line. As a young journalist, I was thinking about big non-fiction books and was inspired by The Prize, by Dan Yergin. When I came out of college, it was one of the books that I’d read and sort of had on my shelf as a model, thinking that some day I would attempt something like that. My last book before the Exxon book was about modernization in Saudi Arabia. I came out of that project really wanting to write about oil and American power in the post-9/11 world and I had in mind The Prize as a model. But I wanted to update it in a world of constraint, in a world of competition, in a world of climate change. And I thought of The Prize as a kind of epic about the era of discovery and the era of hegemony experienced in the post-war world, the Second World War, how oil and American power aligned during the Cold War. So my idea originally was to write a broad narrative, a reported narrative, about that subject but in a much different era. And that’s what I signed up to do with my publisher. But about six or eight months into the research I began to think that this is too broad and I wanted a more specific case to work with. I thought I should choose a single company or perhaps two companies, and as I worked through that decision making, it was almost by logic that I came to Exxon Mobil, the largest corporation, certainly in the energy industry and headquartered in the United States. I pulled some Securities and Exchange Commission records and looked at the equity oil and gas holdings of all the supermajors in the global American sphere and was impressed by how diverse Exxon Mobil’s position in the world was. I thought, well, it’s really the map I’ve been reaching for, so I choose to write about them. So, I came to them through the back door and once I chose them, I started to understand that they were a very distinctive corporation. I certainly understood the Standard Oil history and some of the closed aspects of their culture, but I have to say that at the beginning of what became about a four-year project, I really didn’t know what I was getting into, in choosing them as a subject, in terms of how closed they were and how distinctive and odd in some ways their corporate culture was. So that’s really the reason. I called them up at a certain stage after I made this decision and said, congratulations, I’ve chosen to write a book about you. I didn’t expect them to be especially happy about it and they weren’t, but it is one of those things that happens in journalism, I guess. Your subjects end up choosing you as much as you choose them and that’s kind of how it all happened.


I can imagine how difficult it must have been for you to get information on the bin Ladens and the CIA, the subjects of your two previous books.  How did getting information about Exxon compare with those challenges?

This was the hardest project that I’ve ever done, easily. I didn’t appreciate that at the beginning, but I appreciated it at the end. They were harder to work on than the CIA, at least in order of magnitude, and they were harder than the Bin Laden family, which was pretty tough. And I think the reason is that they’re just very disciplined, they’re very effective, they know exactly what their policy is towards folks like myself who announce themselves as independent investigators or journalists, and they are able to distribute across their system a degree of discipline that is uncommon, even in secretive government agencies. And then as well, they operate themselves by a philosophy of closed systems, so even forgetting about journalism, they are unusually tight about information in their competitive sphere. For example, BP publishes its internal think tank’s forecasts about energy, metrics, demand, consumption, forecast, looking out over various periods of time. Exxon Mobil does sort of a milder exercise of that but they basically do not go anywhere near as far as BP in publishing numbers about the global oil industry. So the odd thing is that when Exxon Mobil talks about those subjects, they actually just cite BP numbers, as if they didn’t have those numbers themselves. So there’s a sort of extremism about information management at the company that I came to know and came to understand. This was one of the problems for my project, but fortunately, and unfortunately, I hope I never do anything quite as hard as this again. It was a little bit over the top, but I had just taken on two large projects about closed subjects and I’ve been doing this for a while, so I have my kind of toolbox for dealing with closed institutions from the outside in and in some ways . There’s a chapter in the book about these scientists in Alaska who end up getting shadowed by Exxon Mobil and dealing with their habits of litigation. As a sort of punch line for that chapter, I chose what one of the scientists I interviewed at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said about the whole experience of being challenged by Exxon Mobil — it just makes you a better scientist. And I thought, it kind of made me a better journalist because I basically had to step up all of the methodology that I had thought I had evolved to a different level.


You must have learned certain things, and not just about Exxon.

What I feel that I’ve learned about this sort of work is that you really have to choose, you have to employ all the methods that are available to investigative journalism simultaneously. There’s no magic bullet. There’s no easy way. So you just have to do everything simultaneously and with vigour. In my way of doing this, that means about four or five key things. One is litigation. The U.S. court system is remarkably transparent, and an institution like Exxon Mobil gets sued and sues routinely. That means there’s an enormous body of legally privileged detailed court records, mostly involving civil litigation, not criminal. And if you can find your way through that thicket to the right cases and the right trials, you find previously unreviewed records of Exxon Mobil executives talking about all kinds of issues in the context of litigation. So that was one big push.

The second one was the Freedom of Information Act requests. Again, taking advantage of the American system in knowing that those requests are delivered very slowly. At the very front end of the project, having chosen Exxon Mobil, I systematically got a lawyer, went through the chronology that I’d done, looked at the parts of the world where they operated, looked at some of the foreign policy episodes that I thought must have occurred because I knew enough about, for example, West Africa or Russia to know that once I could see what was going on just from the clips, that there must be deep, interesting narratives. So I filed a whole series of Freedom of Information Act requests, mostly with the State Department, but other sections of the U.S. government very early in the project, and those cables and other releases came almost randomly over the life of the project, but they really helped. So that’s number two.

And of course, interviewing. There were two parts to interviewing. One was your typical kind of outside-in thing you do as a journalist. I made enormous lists of former executives, I looked at lawsuits where people looked to be disgruntled, I contacted everybody who had served on their board of directors that I could find, I contacted every retired executive I could find. The rate of refusal was one of the indicators of how disciplined their system was. But it wasn’t a hundred percent, so I started to open up doors through that method. But I was frustrated by the rate of refusal, so I did something I’d never done before. I wondered how I could get employees of this company to talk to me at different levels. If contacting members of the board and retired executives is a little bit frustrating, what else can I do? And there was a sort of light-bulb moment when I realized that under the American political system, if you make a contribution to a political campaign in the federal system, even if it’s just $20, you have to register and when you register, one of the options that you have — it’s not a requirement — is to state where you’re employed. So I pulled the Federal Election Commission aggregate total records of all political contributions made by all Americans over, I don’t remember what, a 10-year period. I searched for Exxon Mobil employees and then that popped up a huge list of random individuals, many of them at low levels of the company, accountants, managers, janitors, refinery employees. I thought these people are politically conscious, so let me search for their phone numbers and just start cold calling them, almost like a pollster would. And that turned out to be pretty effective. Those folks were willing to, on a random basis, just talk about their lives as Exxon Mobil employees and that was where I started to get a grip on the culture of the company, the portrait of their safety obsessions and what it was like to work there, and the almost cult-like aspect of the operating discipline that grew up after the Valdez spill. It was very methodical.

I sort of had concluded after the CIA and Bin Laden projects, and I guess from newspaper reporting as well, that there’s lots of different ways to do this kind of journalism successfully. There’s no one right way, but I sort of had learned that I didn’t think there was really any benefit in trying to be coy with a subject like this, pretending that you’re not working on the book or just hiding from them. I sort of concluded that you learn something from going right at the front door and knocking on the door and saying, “I’m here, I’m doing this project, and I would like to have access,” even if you think the probability of meaningful access is very low. Because one thing I learned during the Bin Laden project, for example, is that even the way somebody refuses is actually a learning experience. You figure out who their representatives are, what their rationales are, how their processes work, you get to know their spokespeople. So I did that too. I went right to the front door fairly early on and said — it’s almost like a channel of diplomatic communication — I’m out here, I’m doing this, I’m going to do it no matter what, I would like as much cooperation as you can offer, I think it’s in your interests and mine but that will be for you to decide and so forth. And out of that channel did emerge, as I think I described in the footnotes, what I would regard as a pretty limited degree of cooperation, but which other people who have dealt with them said later, “Oh, you got an incredible amount of access.” Well, if that’s access, that’s not a very familiar definition to me, but it was all very helpful. I did get to go down there (Irving, Texas), I saw the headquarters, I met some people, I talked about some subjects that they chose to make people available to talk about, and in the context of a much broader set of approaches, that direct access was useful.


Did you talk to Lee Raymond (former CEO)?

I did. I don’t want to speculate about his motivations but I was grateful for his decision to grant interviews. My objective is to understand people and how they see the world and why they do the things they do. I don’t see myself as prosecuting an indictment. I’m trying to clarify and penetrate and describe, and so the opportunity to see him in person was very, very helpful. I would say a few things about him, just in broad strokes, just in reference to the interviewing experience. He is a really sophisticated guy. I mean he is probably more sophisticated than a lot of Exxon Mobil senior executives in the sense that he has travelled very, very widely over a long period of time, he has been in political settings and lots of different arenas, and while he has a very ardent ideology that does come through in the book — and that I think is wrong in a lot of respects — even so he is one of those characters who confesses a very ardent ideology but also has a pretty sophisticated 360-degree sense of how the world is organized. The only reason I say that is because that makes for good interviewing because you’re not wasting your time just going through talking points; you’re actually talking about things as they are. And the second thing about him as an interview subject is that he is, at this stage in his life anyway, now retired and obviously very wealthy, he has what he would regard as a very proud track record behind him. He’s very comfortable in his own skin. He never tried to pretend that he was something other than what he was. I think he wanted me to believe that his fearsome reputation was overdrawn and I took note of his view of himself as not as fearsome as his colleagues regarded him. But I could not help but reflect in the book the fact that virtually everyone I interviewed who had worked with him or for him found him to be an incredibly blunt and intimidating character. Sometimes you don’t know yourself.


What is his ardent ideology?

It’s a form of free-market conservatism that I think doesn’t have a hard social policy edge, although he is a very devoted Catholic. I think some of the culture he built reflected social values that he possessed and thought should be reflected, as they (Exxon) had in John D. Rockefeller’s time, really frankly Christian values that Rockefeller had established as part of Exxon Mobil’s culture. So there was a little bit of that, but really that’s not where he’s coming from. The social issues and this idea of a values-based culture was context, but really not where he was coming from. Where he was very ardent was about two things. One, a deep, profound scepticism about government and government regulation, and government’s capacity to understand and manage industry. He was also very ardent about science and the science of climate change. What is interesting about it is that he saw himself as having these convictions as a scientist and it wasn’t crazy him to hold those views. He has a doctoral degree in chemical engineering from one of the most superior mathematical engineering mentors and professors at the University of Minnesota of his generation. He was an accomplished, if engineering-inclined rather than pure-science- inclined, scientist. And so it was from that education that he developed, or that he articulated his sort of political scepticism about climate science and that somehow between his own education and the over-weaning privileges of being the Chairman of Exxon Mobil, he developed an outside degree of personal confidence about his views of the world, that the climate was not warming at all, never mind that industrial activity was a primary cause.


Many really did see him as an intimidating figure. Was he a good CEO?

Absolutely. He had a very clear and forceful sense of Exxon and then later Exxon Mobil as an organization, and how to change it. I think he was driven by the problem that a lot of CEOs of very large companies wrestle with, which is that this is a very settled, very well-established, very large, very sclerotic in a lot of ways, bureaucratic organization and you could spend your time as CEO just accepting your inheritance and trying to fiddle with it around the edges. Absent a crisis, there isn’t a lot of motivation to change a company like Exxon Mobil. But he really wanted to do that, and he had a very clear profit-driven, performance-driven, safety-driven, discipline-driven vision of what the end state he was headed toward would be and why it would require in his mind the pretty radical upheaval in the internal practices of Exxon. Talking about that history in the interviews and then reflecting on what he actually achieved, you could see something about corporate leadership generally, which is that you really cannot change an organization of that shape and stability unless you have a very powerful drive to do it and you’re willing to break some eggs. That’s what he did. So the same kind of temperament, the same habit of thinking that led him to these fairly radical views about climate science, also informed his reformist agenda inside the corporation. Good enough is just not good enough for him. And that came across pretty rough sometimes in the way he spoke about people and things, but it was not malign. People who worked with him thought it was malign, but I didn’t interpret it that way. I interpreted it as part of this almost Marine Corps influence, the drive to get to the other side of the battlefield at all costs, to be forward leaning and aggressive. I guess the last thing I would say is that my observation about CEOs at big corporations who are change-oriented is that often the change they have in mind has somewhat abstract aspects. We want to be recognized as the best in our field or we want excellence in some general way. He was so hostile to all that kind of babble of management and corporate culture. When I said something about Exxon’s culture, he said, “God, I hate that word.” Anything that was vague, he really rebelled against.


It’s rather like what Margaret Thatcher said, “There is no such thing as ‘society.’”

I think he would endorse that. So then you start to think to yourself, what is the alternative? Well, the alternative is numbers. He was driven to the numbers, and not just any numbers. He identified a series of metrics that he thought were the most valid way to measure the long-term health of a supermajor, integrated, a diverse supermajor of Exxon’s type, and he drove towards those numbers. That’s maybe giving him a little too much credit because he then also chose numbers and ways of communicating about numbers that were designed to sell Wall Street, very forcefully, almost in an intimidating way, on a series of stories about Exxon Mobil’s performance that I think you could recognize as a kind of lawyer’s argument, as any CEO would do. It wasn’t as if he was really driving his narrative toward some purely objective standard. He was trying to also persuade the people who determine Exxon Mobil’s share price to believe in him, to believe in his version of the numbers, even when there were other numbers, such as reserve replacement, that looked problematic.


You point out in the book that one of his greatest accomplishments was in re-making Exxon’s risk management practices. How did he do this?

I think he wanted to correct what he realized about what he had inherited, which was that there was too much discretion distributed in Exxon’s management systems. He wanted a uniform approach to risk management that would deliver measurable changes in performance against risk, by which I mean operating risk that’s measured by productivity in projects. That is, “How much oil are we producing against our project plans and across what timelines, are we late, are we on time, are we on budget?” There was a basic operating discipline that he drove through in uniform manuals, a thing called Operations Integrity Management System, OIMS. If you run into any Exxon Mobil employee, even all these years on after OIMS’ birth and you refer to OIMS, they immediately almost have a reflective recognition. Yet that’s what you confront every day you go to work — this integrated series of operating manuals that required every manager, ever employee, worldwide, to follow the same script about operating performance. So that was one area of risk management he greatly improved.

Another area was that safety, which was partly for public consumption after the Valdez but internally was very rigorous, and OIMS and its companion safety operating manuals drove the workforce toward [zero defects] by measuring days lost to injury. That was the key metric. And there was a little bit, of course but we don’t want anyone to die on the job. They drove that as close to zero as they could and they ended up with numbers in both categories that were industry leaders, but it was by focusing on those two metrics, days lost to injury or obviously the more traumatic deaths on the job. One distorting effect of that in the safety culture, days lost to injury, was that it became so intense that people, I think, at least from my interviewing, were inclined to shade their reporting in order to come up with good numbers a little bit. You know how that works in a bureaucracy. That was one effect.

And the third area was financial discipline. The big financial responsibility lay with the management committee and ultimately with him. That involved gated decisions about whether to deploy capital for one project or another, whether to sell properties that were producing inferior returns and whether to withhold capital because of an uncertain pricing environment. All that sort of stuff happened at the management committee and he and his team were in charge of that. But throughout the organization he did something in addition to the basic strategic capital deployment role that management holds. He decentralized, employees said, a degree of discipline about the little things to do with Exxon Mobil’s money. The smallest fiddles with expense accounts were firing offences, and he pulled the trigger. How you accounted for your procurement, the prices you paid, the contracting system with all the many contractors that make Exxon Mobil go, whether big industrial contractors like Halliburton or Schlumberger or small contractors that provide services to retail gasoline systems, their system for enforcing price discipline, were really awesome. All of that was present in Exxon before Lee Raymond arrived. I mean there was a sense that this was a fairly tight company, I think, that had survived across decades and even through the relatively lax years of the indies, in the ’70s and ’80s, but they really made that a universal manual.


Raymond was pretty tight with Dick Cheney. Could you describe that relationship?

Yes, they were personal friends before Cheney became Vice President, significant personal friends. They were neighbours in Dallas in the 1990s when Cheney was running Halliburton and Raymond was in the early years in his tenure as Chairman and Chief Executive. Their wives were friends, they had dinner regularly at each other’s houses, they went hunting together, they were similar men, both from the Midwest, both taciturn, both free market conservatives. So that was the foundation that had been laid when Cheney became Vice President. Then, during the Bush administration, the friendship and the kind of taciturn, work-focused, no drama, discreet, almost secretive, relationship between the two of them continued and the way it manifested itself was that 3, 4, 5, 6,7 times a year when Raymond was in Washington, on his regular rounds of world capitals, he would just have a one-on-one with Cheney, no note-takers, no lobbyists, just a conversation. I understood it to be, they’re both very busy, both very business-focused, sometimes it would just be 30 minutes, sit down, one on one, let’s talk, let’s trade some notes. Maybe something like, “I’ve been in Saudi Arabia the last six weeks, here’s what I’m hearing about the royal family, what’s happening in Kazakhstan, what’s happening with pipeline politics out of the Caspian,” and so on. And sometimes in that channel, Raymond asked for and received interventions by Cheney in contract negotiations for big oil awards in parts of the world where Cheney’s influence was significant. The one specific example that I was able to flesh out the most was an oil field in United Arab Emirates, called Upper Zakum. It was a big, big, multibillion dollar oil field in Abu Dhabi, and there was a long tangled history about international oil companies trying to get a piece of it. The last two players were Shell and Exxon Mobil, and Raymond was frustrated that the State Department, the usual channels, working through the bureaucracy to try to get the United States government to intervene on Exxon Mobil’s behalf against an Anglo-Dutch company, weren’t going anywhere. He  didn’t think that the State Department knew what they were doing or had the kind of clout that was required inside the Abu Dhabi palace, so he got Cheney to pick up the phone. Cheney did and they won the contract.


In the book you write about resource nationalism in Chad, Indonesia and other countries. The Canadian government has rejected takeovers of resource companies by foreign companies and in fact is now considering another one, by CNOOC.  Is it in a country’s best interests to be nationalistic about its resource companies?

It’s a good question and a complicated history. I think if you were writing your doctoral thesis about resource nationalism, you’d have to start from a different perspective than the one that is starting in places like Canada and the developed world. This is really a narrative of post-colonial nationalism in first, the Arab world, and then in other resource-rich countries with a rising capacity to assert that nationalism, in Africa to some extent, but also in Brazil. So, mostly the idea was that there are certain economic possessions of a nation that, even if you are adopting a pre-market development strategy or pre-market-influenced development strategy, there are certain resources that belong to the people, belong to the state. Some of it is just politics, rhetoric, some of it is the history of Arab nationalism and expropriation, throwing out the colonialists, in countries where this idea developed. And it had consequences for the supermajors, including Exxon Mobil, because it deprives them of access to the easy big oil fields in the Arab world, not just in Saudi Arabia, but also in Iran, Iraq and north Africa, Algeria, Libya at times, and then places like Venezuela got on the train and so forth. And what’s interesting about the dilemma in Canada and the United States, which has had a similar case with the Chinese, (trying to buy Unocal) and were rejected, is that that same feeling that somehow oil, because it feeds a sort of utility function in our modern economies and because it’s relevant to war fighting, requires a degree of nationalism, national assertion of prerogative, that you would never entertain if the subject was, say, international fast food chains or even real estate. It’s a funny thing. As to whether or not the hypothesis is valid, that there’s really something about the ownership of oil in our globalized world that requires a more defensive posture by national governments in order to secure the defence of the realm, whether that’s really valid, I’m pretty sceptical about that. Really, when you look at the intellectual history of resource nationalism, it’s not about the economic merits, it’s about politics, populism, the sort of rhetoric of successful politics.


A similar emotional or at least political tone underlies the discussion about building pipelines to ship the oil.

I think the opposition is really not driven by widespread, genuine concern about pipeline operations. Yes there are spills and yes some of those spills create significant environmental damage. But containment in pipeline operation is, at least from my sense of things, miles easier than containment of operational failure in deep-water drilling or in Arctic drilling. It’s  truly not the same order of magnitude. I think the resistance that you’ve seen to pipelines, from Canada down to the Gulf, is driven by a climate agenda that has failed to achieve its goals of carbon reduction through legislation in Congress and has seized on the pipeline issue as a way to drive engagement in the environmental community and in coalitions against carbon-heavy fuels. So yes, they use the operating risks of buried pipelines and damage to pristine environments as one of their arguments. I’m not saying those are completely false arguments. But the underlying risk is really political risk.

The risk for any company of the scale of an Exxon Mobile is a broad one of political risk. They are willing to accept political risk. Today in Canada and in the United States, the boom in unconventional oil and gas, shale oil, shale gas, the sands, is really enticing to Exxon Mobil in particular, which is obviously very heavily invested in Canada, because on the surface it seems to offer an escape from these guerrilla, coup-making forms of political risk that they’ve been wrestling with for the last 10 years. So what the pipeline story tells you is that there’s political risk in the developed world, just of a different kind. The political risk is environmental, the political risk is climate campaigning, the political risk is democratic politics and the way that a perfectly sensible economic project can be entangled in very complicated competitive politics. Alaska is a pretty good example of that. I think the current chief executive of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, probably regards the politics of Alaska as more problematic in terms of the political risk it presents to the deployment of capital than the political risk of Equatorial Guinea, because it’s just completely inconsistent.


What are you working on now?

My interests and experience are a little bit eclectic but not as eclectic as they seem on paper. I have a background in business reporting and also not contiguously, a background in South Asia … Afghanistan, Pakistan. I spent a lot of time in Saudi Arabia, so I’m basically back in my territory working on a book about the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan after 9/11. And then there’s my New Yorker work, which is a little bit diverse, mostly national security, foreign policy subjects, with a business line through them.


You’ve written a lot about Afghanistan. What do you see happening after the Americans leave in 2014?

I think there’s a real risk of return to the civil conflicts that Afghanistan endured during the 1990s. That would certainly be the worst outcome, but I think many Afghans, for their part, fear it today. There’s a degree of preparation and hedging for a renewed civil war that’s already under way because of the timelines that have been announced and the clear understanding that the United States really is going and NATO is really going. So at best you could end up after 2014 with a sort of Iraq-like model where deeply imbedded regional and ethnic conflicts are producing sporadic violence but are managed in some broad way, well short of a cataclysm, and have their spheres of influence that they frankly already possess. The whole strategy of NATO has been to build an army that can do some of the job that NATO and the United States have tried to do over the last five or six years in the field. Such a project might work in a technical or a military sense but in a political sense, it’s much more doubtful. Is there really going to be a state in Kabul that the Afghan National Security Forces are going to feel loyal to? So that’s the equation. The best case might be something like Iraq and the worst case would be Afghanistan in the 1990s, which would be a return to civil war. A lot of people fear that scenario and a lot of Afghans I know are heading for the exits already.


Thank you very much for doing this.

You are welcome