POUGHKEEPSIE, NY –John McCary, who graduated from Vassar in 1998 with a degree in French and Francophone Studies, will discuss “Me and My Brother Against My Cousin: Tribalism in Iraq and the Future of Afghanistan,” on Thursday, February 18. Free and open to the public, the lecture will begin at 5:00pm, in New England Building, Room 104. The event is sponsored by the International Studies Program and the Office of the Dean of the Faculty at Vassar College.
“Sgt. John A. McCary, who speaks fluent Arabic and specializes in ‘human intelligence,’ improvises how he does his job and the Army is improvising how it uses soldiers like him,” wrote The Wall Street Journal in September 2004. “[His] experience in Iraq shows why this war is so hard to win.”
McCary’s talk will include his personal experiences from his tour in al Anbar province, Iraq, where he was stationed on a Forward Operating Base deep in hostile territory, halfway between the violent cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. He spent a full year in country starting in the fall of 2003.
“Having learned the local Iraqi dialect, McCary encountered literally dozens of Iraqis every day, and developed deep and personal relationships with many of them, from all walks of life and from all sides of the conflict – farmers and businessmen, Republican Guard officers, politicians and religious leaders, insurgents, terrorists and ordinary citizens,” noted Pinar Batur, associate professor of sociology and director of the International Studies Program at Vassar.
“He used his experience in Iraq to guide his subsequent research on the tribal movement in Iraq known as ‘The Awakening,” including contacting former tribal members who became part of the movement,” said Batur. “In a strange turn of events, McCary also interviewed several former prisoners and intelligence detainees who became part of this movement following their release from Abu Ghraib prison.”
McCary described how “The Awakening” movement began:
“In September of 2006, Colonel Sean MacFarland walked into a small meeting room on the gated property of Sheikh Abd al Sittar Bezia al Rishawi, just outside the American base in Ramadi. Waiting for him was a group of nearly two dozen tribal leaders, all ready to publicly pledge an alliance between the Iraqi tribes and Coalition Forces. Their alliance would come to be known as ‘The Awakening,’ a movement that recruited and organized tribal members into the Iraqi security forces ranging from police to secret underground anti-terorrist groups.” He noted that, “Over the next 18 months, U.S. and Iraqi tribal leaders would coordinate against and eventually drive out al-Qaeda, which held sway over the province through a campaign of violent intimidation and murder.”
Since then, the model for the “The Awakening” has spread to other Iraqi provinces, “bringing stability to other war-torn areas,” as McCary noted. “While the current situation in Iraq is tenuous, the gains in security in a relatively short span of time are remarkable.”
In his talk McCary will discuss what lessons, if any, may be drawn from the Iraqi model of “The Awakening” in Afghanistan, where tribal warlords control much of the territory along the Pakistan border.
Since leaving active duty in 2005, McCary’s experiences have been widely published. One of his wartime letters, entitled “To the Fallen,” was published in the anthology Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of US Troops and Their Families (2006). His letter and personal testimony are also featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience (2007).
McCary recently completed a master’s degree in International Security from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and last year, covered international trade for The Wall Street Journal. He currently runs his own security consultancy in Washington, DC.
Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations or information on accessibility should contact Campus Activities Office at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space and/or assistance may not be available. Directions to the Vassar campus are available at www.vassar.edu/directions.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.
Security consultant and Iraq War veteran John McCary ’98 returns to Vassar to discuss tribalism and possible solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan on February 18, 2010.
Posted by Office of Communications Monday, February 8, 2010