This blog began as my own anonymous exercise to practice writing. It was never intended to be a platform to expand the conversations around the various topic areas this blog has covered. I first launched MountainRunner on TypePad in November 2004, a few months after I returned to university to complete my undergraduate degree in international relations. I had left school over a decade earlier to be an “Director of MIS” (older reader will know what MIS stood for) and ultimately a technology professional designing hardware and software systems (including SAN architecture, server balancing, regional and global systems availability, database optimization, and user interface development) with a later focus on knowledge management systems. In short, I needed to relearn plain English.
The absence of a clear goal for the blog, besides to write, it was natural that topics presented here largely followed studies — and later analytical work — I was doing in the real world. These included examinations into the privatization of force, or more specifically, private military companies, and the role of public opinion in counterinsurgency and foreign policy. The first post of MountainRunner was entitled ‘Robot Grunts’. A professor had tasked me with reviewing PMCs for class on human rights. She expected me to write about how bad they were in concept and execution, but instead I found that they were more potentially accountable than UN peacekeepers. What followed was authoring several magazine articles, a scholarly article or two, a book chapter, and nearly my own book on private military companies (the book outline was accepted by a university press in the midwest, but my interests shifted to “public diplomacy” before I started this project in earnest). And then there was an interest in unmanned warfare on the ground, particularly in the context counterinsurgency. There were several articles, an academic paper or two, a few presentations, and a conference paper all on lethal robots (unmanned ground vehicles).
Eventually, late in 2006, I put my name on the blog. And yet the blog still grew. While there have always comments on posts, generally there were 3-5 offline conversations for every online comment. Invitations to meet in DC increased in frequency — with House and Senate staff, State Department leadership and employees, and Defense Department officials and staff. Conference invites, speaker engagements, advisory and consulting roles followed.
In 2011, I became the Executive Director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. In late 2010, as the bureaucracy was doing the background checks and other preparations, the then-Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs placed a condition on my hire as Executive Director: that I stop blogging. While this was a violation of the policy then (and probably still) in place, I was burned out on blogging and agreed.
Six years later, at the end of 2016, I am restarting the blog as a place to have a personal conversation reflecting my personal views. In the subsequent five years, I have served as the ED of the Advisory Commission (there are many, but only one that matters here) and as a Governor on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a part-time role that will end this month (December 2016).
Guest posts are accepted, but read the policy on guest posts before submitting an idea or post. Guest posts reflect the views of the author and are not meant to be a reflection of my opinion. There are boundaries and basic qualitative requirements to further the conversation for a guest post to be published here. Also, guest posts that are clearly promotional will not be published. I have often published posts that I do not agree with (on one occasion a contributor and debated through posts on this blog). Overall, this blog is apolitical and has never and will never be used to further political positions, or an official agency view.
As always, don’t hesitate to let me know if you have a suggestion, comment, or criticism about an item on the blog or related to a blog topic. I enjoy an informed debate, which is a key reason for restarting this blog.
Considering that the bulk of this blog’s archives date from before 2010, it is worth stating that as knowledge and experience is gained, views evolve. With that, let me share a relevant quote from John Maynard Keynes: ‘When facts change, I change my mind. What do you, sir?’