Podcast: A National Security Discussion with Ms. Michèle Flournoy

Ms. Flournoy

I’m really excited to tell you that the video of my ‘fireside chat’ with former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy is now available for viewing/listening (here).  She was among the world-class speakers and panelists at LENS’ recently completed 26th Annual National Security Law conference.

As I mentioned when Ms. Flournoy agreed to speak at the conference, I’ve known her for years (we overlapped in the Pentagon, and I was on the Center for a New American Security Board of Advisors when she was the CEO there). She is not only a brilliant defense thinker; she’s also a fantastic leader.

During my time in the Pentagon – and I did two tours there – it is hard to think of another civilian who was more respected by those in uniform than she was.  Personable, but tough when she needed to be, her fan club was a very large one.  She was also someone who made it her business to help build the next generation of national security leaders, both military and civilian.  Although a powerful advocate for women, she mentored everyone she thought could help secure the nation.

Duke Law’s Jeannie Naujeck wrote a great summary of the whole conference (here) that included a brief description of some aspects of my talk with Ms. Flournoy:

Flournoy: Government service a “peak experience”

Other highlights included a conversation on national security issues with Michèle Flournoy, co-founder and managing partner of WestExec Advisors who, as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from 2009 to 2012, was the highest-ranking woman in the history of the Department of Defense.

In conversation with Dunlap, Flournoy offered insights on a range of topics including the recent exchange of air strikes between the U.S. and Iranian-backed militias in Syria, the Obama administration’s counterinsurgency strategy in Pakistan, the urgency of addressing climate change, Russia’s gray zone tactics against democracy, and the preparedness of the United States to compete with China.

“As a nation-state threat, the biggest challenge we face is a rising China that is going to give us a run for our money in economic terms, technological terms, military terms, and even political and ideological terms,” she said. “They are racing and we are not, and I think we have got to get much more serious.”

The good news, she said, is that the areas the U.S. most needs to invest in, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, STEM education, infrastructure, and emissions reduction technologies, overlap with the post-COVID economic recovery agenda. “We have got to make a whole nation effort in this competition and that includes a military dimension that, in my view, should be focused on deterring conflict, preventing miscalculation between Beijing and Washington,” she said.

Flournoy called her time in government “a peak experience” and said she is dismayed by “an anti-government narrative that’s taken hold that somehow government is the enemy, government is feckless, government is corrupt, government doesn’t serve the people.

“I still believe through both my own idealism and also my own experience that public service is one of the highest and best things you can do,” she said.

“I would love to see an expectation of national service for young people … because I think it would pay huge dividends not only for the nation but in terms of our social cohesion, bringing together people from different backgrounds, from different geographic areas, creating social cohesion at a time when we’re so divided.”

You’ll learn even more when you watch (or listen to) the video of the full conversation with Ms. Flournoy available here. 

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