Beginning the second year of my assignment as political advisor to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), I was beginning to wonder how I could continue to contribute meaningfully to the job. General Norman Schwarzkopf, my energetic and ambitious boss, had been on the job a year longer than I, and had pretty well absorbed the regional, political, interpersonal, and tactical advice and background that my excellent predecessor and I had directed toward his ready ear. Our numerous trips to the area had solidified good personal rapport with his local counterparts, including most of the ambassadors in his area of responsibility. The next year, I thought, looked like more of the same--long trips with the commander and his team, solidifying relationships, seeking still more access and cooperation, schmoozing, and building up a stronger regional presence and network.
I figured my role in the command had peaked, even though my advice and input would continue to be useful. Schwarzkopf, who by no means was an easy boss, appeared to respect my advice--which in turn made me a valuable reference point for the other members of the command. They could use me as what they called their political "reality check" before sending proposals for new cooperative or other projects up to their rather intimidating four-star boss. I relished that indirect role, which helped make the commander look smarter by giving him better, more thought-out options. I also helped resolve coordination issues with our embassies and the Department of State. In short, I was useful--if a bit jaded.
Frankly, my misgivings about the job had to do with a diminishing enthusiasm for the long and often tense trips around the Middle East, doing the same things, but with ever more pressure from the impatient commander to increase CENTCOM's role in the area, as well as its standing in Washington's budget fights. We were, to a degree, travelling salesmen for military cooperation--and I found a few of my State Department and regional embassy colleagues had reservations about how hard we were pushing. My liaison role could on occasion be touchy.
One the other hand, Olivia and I were enjoying our non-Washington but Stateside assignment in Tampa. While I was travelling, she was putting down roots with volunteer work, new friends and interesting activities. Moreover our son was living with us, getting re-focused after dropping out of college. There was no question of curtailing.
Any misgivings I had were...