5 Questions with Ryan Evans on WOTR, Afghanistan, and Local Watering Holes


This is the latest edition of our Five Questions series.  Each week, we feature an expert, practitioner, or leader answering five questions on a topic of current relevance in the world of defense, security, and foreign policy.  Well, four of the questions are topical.  The fifth is about booze. We are War on the Rocks, after all.


This week, to belatedly mark the six-month anniversary of our launch (let’s call it an early celebration of our seven-month anniversary…it makes us sound like we’re ahead of the game), I asked Ryan Evans, our editor-in-chief here at War on the Rocks, to be our guest for this week’s installment of Five Questions.  I asked him about what readers can expect from War on the Rocks in the months to come and what issues he anticipates to feature in the ongoing dialog about defense and foreign policy over the next year.  Enjoy!


1.  You started to put together a team of editors and writers last year to launch War on the Rocks.  Can you take the readers through your thought process?  Was there a point at which you decided that a new platform to discuss defense and foreign policy issues was needed?  Why?

The concept began as a two-episode podcast series while I was a fellow at the Center for National Policy. Once I left there and before I started at the Center for the National Interest, I knew it could (and should) become something more ambitious. I felt there was something lacking in mainstream foreign policy and defense commentary – the sort of seriousness that could only be gained through experience on the ground, or through years of careful study of a subject, or both.  There was enough snark out there in other publications, some of which had taken on a really gossipy tone that turned me off. So from the beginning I emphasized the experience factor as I built our stable of contributors. I aimed to build the sort of strategic-minded publication that I would want to read every day.

2.  Has War on the Rocks lived up to your expectations thus far?  Has it evolved as you anticipated?  What role do you envision for the site over the coming year?

War on the Rocks has far exceeded my expectations. I figured it would stay really small and niche. And while we certainly are still small compared to the big publications out there, I’ve been really surprised by our monthly growth in numbers of readers. But now I know there is still much more room to grow. We’ve done a great job at setting ourselves apart.

I attribute our successes to this amazing team we have. It would be been impossible to do anything like this without such an awesome, dedicated editorial team and such enthusiastic regular contributors. We’ve also been fortunate to have the support of some really big guns out there like Frank Hoffman, Admiral Stavridis (who wrote our first piece), Admiral Harvey, John Collins (the Warlord himself), and my mentor Jay Williams. Frank in particular has been our guru and one of our most prolific writers, if not our most prolific.

We have a few new kinds of content we are about to announce, a store for War on the Rocks swag, and (fingers-crossed) a re-design this summer. And more booze-soaked podcasts, of course. I’m really excited.

3.  What issues and topics do you expect to dominate coverage and analysis of defense and foreign policy in 2014?

Beyond the obvious topics – wars in the Middle East, the draw down in Afghanistan, China, and terrorism – I’m really interested to see how the services here at home adjust to the new budget dispensation, or not, and how the politics of defense changes as the older, strongly pro-defense generation retires from the Hill and new leaders, many of them from the Tea Party, ascend. You still have some strong pro-defense leaders up there on both sides of the aisle like Thornberry, Forbes, Kaine, and others, but they are smaller in number now and faced with opposition that is much more skeptical when it comes to defense issues.  This is going to slowly change the politics of defense and budgeting and, consequently, our de-facto strategy.  It already showed itself with the sequester debacle. I think that is just the beginning.  There are also some big issues around the bend like the recapitalization of the ballistic missile submarine force and we’re likely to see some fierce debate there.  Some of the hardest strategic questions out there right now are naval questions.

4.  Let’s talk about one specific issue that you’ve got considerable experience with.  You spent nine months in Afghanistan as a member of a Human Terrain Team.  U.S. and coalition objectives have shifted over time throughout the duration of the war.  With the pending withdrawal of forces, what goals do you see as most critical for ISAF to pursue this year?  What realistic end state should we reasonably hope to achieve?

I’ve pretty consistently said that we need to focus ruthlessly in that region on containing terrorist networks with transnational ambitions and regional stability. As far as the latter is concerned, Pakistan’s stability is far more salient than Afghanistan’s, which is painful to admit because I have a lot of affection for Afghanistan and a lot of resentment toward the Pakistani defense and intelligence establishment, for some reasons Christine Fair, one of our newest contributors, just laid out last week.  But an unstable Afghanistan is not as dangerous to the United States as an unstable Pakistan – a paranoid nuclear power with a larger population and militant groups with ambitions beyond Pakistan’s borders. A lot of people might point to 9/11 and make the opposite argument, but I think an unstable Afghanistan is more manageable for the West.  And I also think it is going to happen – and in fact, is happening – whether we want it to or not.

To that end, we need to maintain some sort of presence in Afghanistan around at least 10,000 U.S. and allied uniformed personnel plus a contractor footprint focused on counter-terrorism, intelligence, air support for the Afghan National Security Forces, and security force assistance. Plus, it is not so bad to maintain a few long airstrips in that part of the world.

5.  And staying true to your vision for War on the Rocks, let’s shift gears to another topic near and dear to WOTR’s collective heart.  You’re DC-based now, but have also lived for a few years in London.  Let’s hear your definitive list of the top few watering holes in each of these two cities.

In London, I love this place called Camino near King’s Cross. It’s this Spanish wine bar and they used to have a salsa band in the courtyard the first Sunday of every summer month. I hope they still do. I’ve spent too much time in the Lyceum Pub by King’s and I suspect I will continue to do so whenever I’m in London.  It smells terrible, but it has been the site of many fascinating lager-fueled conversations.

In DC, I have to say I really enjoy Jack Rose, Boxcar Tavern, and of course the Jefferson Hotel Bar.  I recently checked out Bar Charlie on 18th St. with a couple friends and really liked it.  But, my favorite local watering hole is my back porch, because it comes with a grill and cigars.


John Amble is the Managing Editor of War on the Rocks.  A former United States Army intelligence officer, he has been featured in print and broadcast media in the U.S. and Canada.  Follow him on Twitter @johnamble.


Photo credit: DoD