Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Tough Conversation

Senator John Kerry swung through here today and stopped to eat at our chow hall. It was a pretty neat experience.

I got to shake his hand, and then our Commander said, "Captain Page used to be a Navy Officer."

Senator Kerry then had to ask, "So why'd you leave?"

"I wanted to be closer to the action."

His comeback: "But c'mon, you could've stayed on to catch bin Laden."

I'll admit that was pretty quick. I knew he had to make his way through the room so I just said, "Uhh...I guess I should've gone to BUD/S, sir."

The whole visit was standard stuff. The 181 Infantry Commander handed him a plaque, and then our Commander gave him a decorative thingy, and he said a few words and left. The most interesting part for me was having dinner with James Traub (NYT, Foreign Policy).

But the most interesting part of what JFK said to us was about how he was about to head back to Pakistan. He was off on his way to some heated negotiations. Besides our need for Pakistan to work to "drain its own swamp" of extremist elements, we also rely on them for transshipment of nearly 70% of our materiel for Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF).

But here's the thing -- since 2008, NATO has steadily brough that number down (it used to be 85%). It's more expensive this way, but we can bring cargo through the Med, and up into the Black Sea to be offloaded in Georgia and then ferried across the Caspian (before then going from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan because Turkmenistan still won't play with us). Alternatively, we can offload at Riga in the Baltic and then move it through Russia via rail. Yes, I said Russia. NATO goods through Russia.

It's great that we've developed this Northern Distribution Network to wean ourselves off total reliance on Karachi -- that strengthens us tremendously at the negotiating table, and helps people like Senator Kerry when they go to Islamabad to try to extract concessions.

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