Task Force group

Task Force keynote: ‘We’ve left lots of additional work for you’

 

July 17, 2014

This year’s Jackson School graduates are entering careers at a challenging time for the United States and the world. But with those challenges come opportunities, said James N. Miller, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, at the U.S. Department of Defense. Jim MillerGiving the keynote speech during the Task Force dinner in March, he said that if policymakers spend all their energy trying to contain risk without seeing opportunity it becomes a downward spiral.

“I want you to believe that change is not only necessary but possible. Good work will be rewarded. And the world can be a better place. What you do in your careers can make a difference,” he said. “It’s a good time to start a career in international affairs. We’ve left lots of additional work for you.”

By all accounts, students participating in Task Force are prepared for that work.

Miller used the crisis in Ukraine as a backdrop to illustrate the need for diplomacy first and a ready military second. “U.S. global engagement is critical for peace and prosperity,” he said.

Miller evaluated the group, “End Game: Rethinking the Global War on Terror,” advised by U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, who represents Washington’s 9th Congressional District. Smith has advised a Task Force group for four years. He said the capstone class gives students a chance to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom. And it gives him time to focus on an important topic.

Task force student gesturingSmith’s students recommended codifying the use of force with published guidelines and robust oversight. They said the current use of strikes do not adhere to any set of procedures, which is not sustainable and creates hostility among local populations where the strikes occur. One alternative they presented was to offer social services to win hearts and minds, and to limit strikes to groups that are externally focused and that want to actively attack the United States.

During the evening keynote, former Undersecretary Miller listed challenges that face this generation of international affairs professionals. “Cyber is an issue your generation is going to have to deal with.” After 25 years, people have come to depend on the World Wide Web economically, yet its vulnerabilities are significant, he said. In spite of the 90,000 Defense employees working on 15,000 networks, the tools to undermine security and exfiltrate data are cheap, while the tools to defend against it are expensive.

Task Force studentsAnother conflict the students took on was “Syria: American Action for a Complex Crisis.” Their evaluator, Ambassador Fredrick C. Hof, Resident Senior Fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, The Atlantic Council and a special advisor to Syria in 2012, pressed the students with questions. He asked how to deal with pro-Assad Iran and Russia who see Assad as winning in Syria. “Don’t we want Assad out?” he asked the students. The students pushed back and insisted their first priority was to stop bloodshed and violence on all sides.

During lunch, Hof told the other advisors and evaluators that he was impressed with the students’ report, despite only three of the students having previous knowledge of the Middle East and many trying to fit in schoolwork around other jobs.

Win Hubbard, a student in the Syria group, said the group struggled to make decisions without the hindsight that comes with time. “We faced the hard reality of real-time diplomacy,” he said. “Those lessons will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Presenter during Task ForceLike all the groups, students who presented “Playing Chicken with Big Ag: Advocating Regionally Sensitive Food Sovereignty to Address Pandemic Influenza,” had a lot to learn before they could make policy recommendations. They studied the biology of the influenza virus before presenting alternatives to large farms where the virus is likely to spread.

Their evaluator, Prof. Robert G. Wallace, Institute for Global Studies at the University of Minnesota, thanked the students for bringing to the table ideas that other people cannot – that others don’t have the political will to present. “Isn’t it amazing how one domain starts speaking to another domain?” he asked. “Agriculture speaks to economics. … We need to bust out of historical restraints in terms of these disciplines. … Ultimately, it’s not just about the science.”

“You aren’t responsible for where we are now, but you are responsible for where we go next,” Wallace said. “You inspired a lot of new things on my part.”

Task Force discussionJulia Nesheiwat, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Implementation, Bureau of Energy Resources, for the U.S. State Department, evaluated the group, “Beyond the Boom: Developing Policy to Advance U.S. Leadership in Shale Oil and Hydraulic Fracturing,” advised by Scott Montgomery. While most of the students did not have a science background, Nesheiwat said the issues they chose to consider were some of the same that the State Department is considering right now. She told students that the United States can take a leadership role in coal-dependent China when it comes to developing renewable sources of energy. She said 30 percent of energy use in U.S. State Department buildings comes from renewables.

Evaluators applauded students’ understanding of the interconnectivity between different sectors. For example, one group evaluated USAID’s role in ending extreme poverty by 2030. Amie Batson, Chief Strategy Officer for PATH and former Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID, evaluated the group and said nothing occurs in a separate box and students recognized that in their report. Batson shared her own experience with writing policy reports and recommended students include a shorter version of the report as well since her USAID briefings had to be fewer than five pages.

Sara Curran, Chair of Task Force and the International Studies program, said students set a high bar for next year’s cohort with their deliverables and also thanked evaluators for reading the thick reports.

Reşat Kasaba, Director of the Jackson School, noted the reservoir of talent in the Seattle community of people who volunteer their time and expertise to benefit students. “This course ends up being something they remember for a very long time,” he said.

By Kristina C. Bowman, kriscb@uw.edu