September 12, 2011

CNAS Senior Fellow Andrew Exum Featured As One of Top 9 Under 33 Foreign Policy Leaders


Andrew Exum

Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security

Describe the impact on foreign policy you have made in your current/past jobs. 

My involvement with U.S. foreign policy began in 2001 when, as a newly minted platoon leader and second lieutenant in the 10th Mountain Division, I deployed with my unit to Kuwait and Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. I have since gone on to attend graduate school and serve on several strategic reviews for the U.S. government, but I like to think I have not lost sight of the fact that when all is said and done, foreign policy is executed on the ground by young American men and women operating in uncertain and challenging environments abroad.

What personal contribution to foreign policy are you most proud of? 

I am still most proud to have deployed to war three times leading platoons of both light infantry and Army Rangers and to have returned each time with all of my men alive and back in the arms of their families.

What is your vision of foreign policy in the 21st Century? 

I do not have one over-arching vision of foreign policy. I myself just try to carefully understand local environments and to then think through how U.S. actions might affect those environments for better or for worse. Normally, this leads me to urge caution on policy-makers in Washington.

What is the greatest foreign policy issue facing our generation? 

The single biggest foreign policy challenge in this generation is the economic health of the United States. If the United States cannot get its own economic house in order, it cannot expect to be a global leader and influence events abroad.

What challenges need to be overcome to create better foreign policy? 

I watch the "tyranny of the inbox" consume our policy-makers here in Washington. Very rarely do those responsible for what passes for U.S. "strategy" have the time and space themselves to think deeply or to study an issue in depth. 

What personal, managerial, and leadership skills and traits must the next generation of foreign policy leaders possess? 

If you look around the U.S. government today, you see many of those responsible for foreign policy in each party with law degrees from fancy colleges but no real time spent outside the United States. I believe those interested in working in foreign policy should not just travel widely but also travel deeply. They should spend a few years in a foreign country and take the time necessary to learn the languages, cultures, and history of that country. They can then combine that in-depth knowledge with a functional area skills and specialization such as the law, political science, military operations, or economics.

How can foreign affairs be made more accessible to Americans, particularly younger generations? 

It's already happening. Young people today can watch the events in Egypt and Bahrain unfold before their eyes on Twitter, Facebook, and al-Jazeera's live stream. Foreign affairs are plenty accessible already.

Which living or dead foreign policy practitioner do you look up to the most? 

Robert Gates. His lifetime of humble public service sets quite an example for the rest of us to follow.

Which living or dead foreign policy practitioner do you think has missed the mark and why? 

George W. Bush. His presidency after the 2006 mid-term elections was arguably among the more successful one in U.S. history. But the decisions he made in the years prior -- from the decision to invade Iraq to the passage of the Medicare Part D entitlements and massive tax cuts -- saddle my generation with enormous debts and declining U.S. influence around the globe. 

If you could change a critical decision in history to affect foreign policy, what would it be? 

It's tempting to say the 1898 annexation of the Philippines, in which the United States flirted with outright colonialism. But to pick a more contemporary decision, I will say the U.S. decision to invade Iraq in 2003.