War on the Rocks 1st Anniversary Note

July 8, 2014

A year ago today, our team launched War on the Rocks with a book review by Admiral James Stavridis and a little note by me on the meaning of our realism – the approach to foreign policy that undergirds our platform.

Since then, our humble endeavor has grown tremendously, reaching a level of achievement that has far exceeded my expectations.

What did we hope to accomplish and why? War on the Rocks grew out of a cocktail (fittingly) of grain and frustration. Having returned to Washington from my misadventures in Afghanistan, I enjoyed many engaging and educational conversations with informed and experienced people about war, history, and foreign policy. These conversations usually took place over drink, and my drinks of choice are Irish and Scotch whisk(e)ys, hence the grain. Why couldn’t I bring a larger audience into these discussions on important issues? Why shouldn’t I? Hence, War on the Rocks first came into being as a podcast series, while I was at the Center for National Policy (CNP). I interviewed Tom Rid and Tim Stevens on cyberwar and Alexander Hitchens and John Amble on jihadism in East Africa.

CNP – by this time joined with the Truman National Security Project – was ambivalent about the project and my frustration remained. It stemmed from what I term the “People Magazine-ization” of commentary on conflict and international politics. This is not to say all commentary should be grave – there is plenty of room for humor (and, in our case, liquor) – but  serious topics deserve to be covered by serious people with experience relevant to the issues they are exploring. And just as importantly, adult readers deserve to be treated like adults.

Over the next few months, I reached out to a core group of friends and colleagues – John Amble, Stephen Tankel, Mark Stout, Lauren Katzenberg, Jason Fritz – and pitched them on what become War on the Rocks as an independent multimedia platform on strategy, defense, and foreign policy. With luck on my side, I also stumbled across Usha Sahay, who joined our little band. And then came the windfall – Frank Hoffman came on board as a contributing editor. It was Frank who gave us our mission statement:

In a world in which relative power levels are narrowing and means are diluted, America’s historical black hole, a bifurcation between policy and operations, must be closed.  Given that our country expects great sacrifices from those toiling at the tactical level, much more can and should be expected at the summit.  It is my expectation that War on the Rocks will help fill in the black hole.

And we have worked to fill that black hole as an editorial team with indispensable components. John, Stephen, Mark, Lauren, Usha, Frank, and Jason: Thank you all so much.

We reached out to our favorite writers, leaders, former officials, and veterans to build the most experienced stable of writers on war on the web. We received a generous outpouring of support for our Kickstarter campaign and Tom Hashemi directed his considerable talents to building our website.

Accomplished friends, mentors, and leaders fleshed out our editorial team, including Jay Williams (a mentor since my days as a lowly undergrad), John Bew, and later Sir Lawrence Freedman, Admiral John Harvey, and John “The Warlord” Collins.

Our roster of regular contributors has almost tripled. They are fantastic in many ways. Fantastic as thinkers and as human beings who teach me something every day. War on the Rocks does not exist without them and they have the eternal gratitude of our team. Thank you.

But why realism?

Quoting from an early WOTR missive, I’ve often been asked what we mean by realism. There are, indeed, competing interpretations of the term and I recognize that few people in a society as self-consciously pragmatic as ours would countenance being called “unrealistic.”  Moreover, our contributors are a rowdy bunch who have many different opinions on many different things. I did not expect that our common badge of realism would overcome the cacophony of our opinions and it hasn’t. This is fitting for realism, a doctrine that does not tell us what to think, as competing frameworks often do, but teaches us how to think. We are not reasoning backwards. Realism is, simply, the study of human relations with a focus on power and strategy.

And through realism, we have achieved, as John Bew explained it to me, “a genuine catholicity of views.” To take today’s events as examples, we have authors who rally for more U.S. engagement in Europe and a hard response to Russia over Ukraine and we have authors who argue for restraint. Some WOTR contributors call for a more robust U.S. effort in Iraq to counter the so-called “Islamic State,” and others view Iraq’s problems as just that. What unites them all are power, strategy, and interests as their starting points. If they all finished at the same spot, War on the Rocks would be boring and not useful.

Now to our readers: You are amazing. I mean that with all sincerity (and it is hard not to get a little emotional as I type this). I love getting your emails (editor@warontherocks.com), your suggestions, your requests, your tweets, and even your poems (you know who you are). Just as War on the Rocks does not exist without its editors and its contributors, it is nothing without an audience. You have not just received what we have to offer. You have shaped what War on the Rocks has become.

Keep shaping it and keep reading.


Ryan Evans is the founder and editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks