O’Bagy, where art thou?: Can a 26-year-old be a Syria ‘expert’?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

The Institute for the Study of War fired Syria researcher Elizabeth O’Bagy yesterday for lying about having a Ph.D. This came on the heels of revelations (first reported by The Daily Caller) that she was a paid advocate for the rebels.

That’s the big story. But I think there is more to discuss. For example, how did O’Bagy — who is 26! — get to be a senior analyst  at the Institute?

The title, which was listed on her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, presumably implies she has worked at the Institute — or somewhere comparable — for many years, right?

In fact, “O’Bagy started at the institute as an unpaid intern and was pulled into their work on Syria when a researcher needed a fluent Arabic speaker, which transformed her internship into a much longer gig,” reports Politico. “[Dr. Kimberly] Kagan hired O’Bagy as an analyst around August or September 2012…”

So a year, or so, ago, she was an intern?

Talk about title inflation. But hey, it’s not like she’s going on national TV to make the case for war. It’s not like anyone serious was reading and trusting her work.

… Actually, Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain both cited O’Bagy’s Wall Street Journal op-ed last week during congressional hearings, in making the case for why we could trust the Syrian rebels. (Watch the video above and tell me if this is the person you’d trust to justify arming “moderate” rebels.)

I’m not saying young people can’t make important contributions. We have 18-year-olds fighting and dying for our freedom in the military. In journalism, some of the best reporting is being done by people in their twenties (hell, we sent a high school kid to cover the White House briefing!).

So I get that by writing these kinds of things I risk coming off like the guy shaking his fists at kids to “get off my damn yard!” But I can’t help thinking we have gotten away from honoring the wisdom that comes with age and experience (traveling to Syria multiple times and reading books are not an adequate substitute). At some point, we fully surrendered to the fetishization of youth (this impulse is no longer relegated to the superficial world of entertainment. It has infected the academic intellectual and policy worlds, as well).

I’m not even blaming young people for being ambitious. O’Bagy (probably) didn’t bestow the “senior analyst” title upon herself. And McCain and Kerry, who granted her work their imprimatur, are no spring chickens. Heck, she probably didn’t even book herself on TV (although, who knows?). More likely, someone who shared her views recognized that a young person (with a face that might have launched a thousand ships) would be a compelling messenger. Who better to make the case for war than a telegenic and intelligent young lady?

TV bookers and producers, no doubt, were nodding their heads in agreement.

Matt K. Lewis