I recently organised an energy security conference in my hometown of Oil City, Pennsylvania — whose oil discovery in 1859 gave birth to the biggest industry the world has ever seen that connects America and the Middle East like no other.
A young girl with my bio printed in her hand walked up to me and asked: “From editor of a Damascus magazine to Director for Syria in the White House. What totally different worlds! How did you know what to do?”
I did not know what to say. Until recently, I would have agreed with her.
Damascus under al-Assad is synonymous with rampant corruption, mass atrocities, chemical weapons use, and narcotics smuggling, while Washington remains the capital of the free world.
In Damascus, people speak their minds privately in hushed tones, while in Washington they tweet it out in a stream of consciousness. Two different worlds indeed.
Journalism v statecraft
Journalism and policy statecraft also seem like oil and water. Journalism is, by nature, a ground-up business where curious and polyglot writers watch the physical plane of reality to determine the shape of things to come.
Breaking stories first, however crude, is the key to fame and fortune. Successful journalists become editors — concept-engineers of sorts that help their junior colleagues get information out so to help people understand the latest developments.