Déjà vu – 20 years already?! (A Husband’s guest blog from France ;) )

Hectic week here…one kid got an elbow growth plate fracture (more about that soon!), and another with a half-day soccer tournament….so I’ve enlisted my wonderful husband Michael to write a guest blog with an update on teaching at the French university….

In 1997, I started my junior year of college at Washington State University by heading off for a year on exchange at a business school in the French Alps. Twenty years later I’m back in France, guest lecturing at a university with campuses in Paris and Reims.

The university is called Sciences Po (Institut d’études politiques de Paris).  It’s a very interesting school that was set up in the 1870s in the aftermath of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War to better train the country’s future political and diplomatic leaders.  As such, it tends to produce many of France’s leading political and business leaders.  (i.e. seven of the eight last French presidents were alums or staff, including new president Emmanuel Macron).

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Notre Dame de Paris

I’m teaching two courses on foreign affairs.  My class is titled: “Counterinsurgency in Theory and Practice:  Lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

I really enjoy teaching and have had some wonderful experiences doing it!  In the past, I spent a post-college year (’99) teaching at the College of Economics at Catholic University of Mozambique to some of the least privileged students in the world, many of them former war refugees. At Harvard (’01) I got to teach some of the most privileged students in the world when I was a Teaching Fellow in Economics for Prof Jeff Sachs.  With the State Department in Iraq during the Iraq Surge (’07-08), the US Military began asking me to lecture at the Counterinsurgency Leaders Course and since then I’ve been honored to occasionally lecture to deploying military officers about integrating economic and political operations, and the geo-politics of the Middle East.

This course is kind of a combination of all three of those experiences.  The students are great and really talented.  They self-selected into the class so they are already highly interested in foreign policy.  They are very international in make-up, and a large portion of them are students on exchange from Columbia University in New York.  Almost all of them are interested in careers in diplomacy, development or the military, so I also get to have some very entertaining post-class lunches with groups of students who want to talk about career advice.

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Saint-Germain-des-Prés…the parish church near the Sciences Po campus in Paris

Early on in the course, we’ve looked at COIN theory by reviewing insurgencies from ancient Rome in Judea, to post-colonial Algeria and Vietnam. We are now reviewing the successes and mistakes of US strategy in post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m particularly enjoying putting together case studies of the Baghdad Security Plan and our efforts to reduce Iranian-backed militia influence in Iraq’s fuel sector, which formed part of the Surge that I participated in.

As you might imagine, I’m having a lot of “déjà vu”, remembering both my own university studies in France, and my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Prof Sachs used to preach the paradigm of “see one, do one, teach one” in seeking to master a subject matter, and I think that there is little doubt that the person who is learning the most from the course is me, lol.

Having this opportunity to take a deeper dive and think about the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and then attempt to analyze/summarize what happened to a group of students interested to learn has been been a real privilege.  (Sometimes I find myself waking up at night, or day-dreaming on the train, recalling some random fragment or an anecdote from Baghdad that I hadn’t thought about for years).

In fact, right before I got into politics a very kind columnist at the Boston Globe suggested I write a book on Iraq and I’m hopeful that this course may provide a spring board to actually getting around to doing so.

In a sense, I feel an obligation to do so.  I was very fortunate to work with such a great group of Americans in Iraq at a special time during the Surge, and my job back then – both helping think through long term strategy options as a member of the Office of Joint Strategic Planning & Assessment (JSPA), and my role in the inter-agency, inter-government effort to coordinate non-kinetic counterinsurgency operations through a weekly Iraqi Cabinet meeting I helped run – provided a privileged vantage point for thinking about success, mistakes and lessons learned.

It’s also great getting Eleanor’s help with preparing the Afghan portion of the class.  She knows a lot more about the country than I do, having lived and worked in Afghanistan for two years (plus she speaks a fair bit of Dari). Our work together finalizing the weekly lectures also feels like “déjà vu” to when we were working on the Helmand counternarcotics strategy with our Afghan team (most of the good ideas from her, most of the attempted humor from me).

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Gite beside the 14th century tower

It’s been wonderful having the entire family here.  Rather than live in Paris, we decided to try to find some place small that would be better for the kids.  We hit the jackpot and are staying in a very small farm village about an hour from Paris. The small house we are renting even came with its own 14th century castle tower.  Right near the old castle is a canal network built during Napoleon’s rule, and the tow-path provides a great track for running and wandering through the nearby forests and farms.

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The canal

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…more of the canal!

Our three oldest (6,5,3) are all enrolled in the local schools and are doing well.

 

The youngest (2) is having a great time as well.  Being a parent of young schoolchildren in France is a lot like being one in the States, and we’ve had a similar schedule of youth soccer (football), library trips and parent/teacher meetings.

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Gaston and a new friend

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Victoria

It’s fun to watch the kids pick up a bit of French, and we’ve already made some good friends with local parents.  My favorite time of day is school drop off, when I walk the kids across town with all the other parents.  I like to think that we blend in, but Ele always points out that I’m the only one wearing a baseball cap, chewing gum, and pushing a giant American-style “Double-Bob” running stroller (which does not fit on the sidewalks).

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Walk home from school

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French countryside

Our small village is located very close to many of the major battlefields of World War One.  When I go for walks or runs through the picturesque neighboring farm fields, it’s a bit surreal to imagine all the carnage, and the courage, of the soldiers fighting horrific trench warfare.  I’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit the nearby WW1 museum, but I’m very much looking forward to it.

Through technology I’m keeping up with happenings on the political scene every day, and I’m secretly hoping that our part-time legislature gets called back to vote in a “special session” this fall – so I can make a couple of WSU Coug and EWU Eag football games.

That’s sort of the last piece of déjà vu.  Back in 1997, the year I left for France, the Cougs had their best football season ever and went to the Rose Bowl.  This year, we’re off to a 6-0 start, and my brothers are wasting no chance to suggest that I may be the Cougs “reverse good luck charm”, and that the team’s chances of winning are better the farther that I’m away.

All in all just very grateful to be having such a fun experience in France, and especially to do so with the whole family.

 

A bientôt,

Michael

2 thoughts on “Déjà vu – 20 years already?! (A Husband’s guest blog from France ;) )

  1. Susan Ashe says:

    What a tremendous experience for you and your family, and wishing you all the best of times! I hope to check in with you upon your return on HSSA and other matters.
    Regards,
    Susan

    P.S. You and Ele have the cutest kids! Victoria is a heart-stopper!

    Like

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