Embedded journalist Andrew Lubin, '74, visits campus

Thirty-six years.

That’s how long it’s been since journalist Andrew Lubin walked the grounds of Allegheny College.  For the first time since his graduation in 1974, Lubin returned to campus to give a Center for Political Participation-sponsored presentation entitled “On the Front Lines with the Marines in Haiti and Afghanistan” on Tuesday, Feb. 23 in Quigley Auditorium.

“It’s like walking down memory lane,” Lubin said.  “Things were so different back then. This was a school where the sons of Cleveland or Pittsburgh steel mill workers attended so they could get jobs in steel mill personnel. The women – and this’ll make you mad – the women weren’t here for an education. If they were engaged by their junior year, it was considered time well spent. Things have changed a lot and it’s very exciting.”

Lubin is an independent combat correspondent and author of the critically acclaimed “Charlie Battery; A Marine Artillery Unit in Iraq.”  He has appeared on ABC, FOX and CNN and his work is published in newspapers and magazines nationwide. Lubin’s web site claims he is rapidly becoming one of the most knowledgeable journalists covering Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia today, yet he never took one English or journalism class while at Allegheny.

Lubin is a fast talker.  Wearing a crisp white shirt, khaki-colored pants and soft brown loafers, Lubin comfortably summarized the entire history of counterinsurgency and how conventional and unconventional war has evolved in about an hour before answering audience questions with an even quicker ferocity.

Having seen the situation in the Middle East firsthand, Lubin explained why he thinks the U.S. must implement counterinsurgency tactics that will adapt to the situation on the ground.

“This is their country and we need to fight their way,” Lubin said.  “We need Afghanis to have an Afghani solution, and that solution is called counterinsurgency.  To clear, hold and build.  True peacekeeping starts at the source and we need to stabilize this part of the world.  While folks in Washington act like things are all fine and happy, the world is falling apart and the military is trying to keep it together.”

Lubin’s PowerPoint slides outlined Obama’s counterinsurgency approach for the audience: to clear out the bad guys, to keep the bad guys out, to build jobs, schools and medical institutions for the local people, and to transition the people to take over for themselves.

“This is the difference between the Obama administration and the Bush administration,” Lubin said. “Bush just wanted to clear.”

He asked students to consider the mindset of a typical Afghani adult.

“In 1977, Afghanistan had a civil war, and they’ve been at war or under attack ever since,” Lubin said.  “Their idea of a good day is one where no one drops a bomb on them. You’re either living like serfs or you turn around and suck up to the Taliban for money. They just need money. They just need to feed their families. Education stops. Business stops. But they have a national pride that rivals ours.”

Lubin also discussed how the Marines interact with the local people in Afghanistan.

“You want to build a relationship and know their names,” Lubin said. “It’s easy, they’re all named Mohammed or Abdul.”

Lubin spoke in depth about Operation Khanjar and Haiti as well.  He recently visited Haiti to report on the devastation following the earthquake.

“Haiti’s the worst place I’ve ever seen,” Lubin said.  “The smell of bodies was in the air.  They’re devastated and they don’t know what to do.  Nobody’s making decisions. The rainy season’s coming through and what happens when waterborne diseases start getting passed around?”

Professor of Political Science Howard Tamashiro thought Lubin’s talk was “an excellent learning opportunity.”

“Mr. Lubin’s presentation was an excellent platform for encouraging my students,” Tamashiro said.  “He makes the case that we’re winning and many of my students pointed out that this is something you don’t often see.”

Professor Tamashiro was pleased that Lubin’s presentation prompted a discussion with his students.

“Mr. Lubin believed the U.S. could win the hearts and minds of the local people by introducing American development policies and creating jobs.” Tamashiro said.  “Many students began asking if this idea of micro-tribal economic development would be self-sustaining.  Mr. Lubin conceded that Afghanistan’s national government is really corrupt.  Can you have a sustained political system of progress and prosperity, limited to local tribal level?”

Some students questioned the validity of Lubin’s optimism that we can pull out our forces so soon.

“I feel like the problem is creating that one stable government and he kind of just refuted that,” said Jamie Havens, ’11.  “There are so many tribes in Afghanistan and the thing that concerns me is, how can they fix their problems without a centralized government?”

Others agreed with Lubin’s stance.

“I liked it because he seemed very knowledgeable about what’s going on,” said Alex Smith, ‘10.  “He also had a unique perspective – he was optimistic.  A lot of what you hear around here is all doom saying.”

Lubin’s presentation was particularly didactic because of the parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam, according to Tamashiro, who currently teaches a seminar on Vietnam.

“Another paradox is that Afghanistan will need a lot of assistance and at the same time, we’re trying to make Afghanistan more independent,” Tamashiro said.  “Giving them more resources will tend to make Afghanistan dependent on the United States.  The same thing happened in Vietnam.  We left and they couldn’t stand on their own.  Are we inadvertently making Afghanistan dependent?”

“I am gratified by the fact that the presentation triggered these queries,” Tamashiro said.  “It raises questions for students to explore their subjects more deeply.  Afghanistan is an incredibly complicated situation, and it is always helpful to see more points of view. I hope he comes back.”

Earlier that day, Lubin had visited a journalism class to discuss his experiences in “combat reporting.”  Lubin, who majored in political science when he attended Allegheny, urged the journalism students to write about what they know and like.

“I like political science; I like history,” Lubin said. “You gotta find a subject matter you enjoy, pick a topic.  You wanna be a combat journalist?  Read books about war.”

Although Lubin admits to being partial to the Marines (his own son is a Marine), he says he makes sure no bias enters his work.

“I don’t have to be impartial, I have to be accurate,” he said. “Can I say what I want? Yeah, but I gotta have the facts behind it.”

Lubin has no regrets.

“I love what I do,” he said. “I think it’s so exciting even though sometimes I get only two or three hours of sleep a night.  After the action is over and the Marines go to sleep, I’m still awake writing the story. But give me a Red Bull and a cup of coffee and I’m good to go.”

Lubin will return to Afghanistan in April.