May 28, 2024

Around the Table with Anthony Cho

Three Questions with the Make Room Email Newsletter

Around the Table is a three-question interview series from the Make Room email newsletter. Each edition features a conversation with a peer in the national security community to learn about their expertise and experience in the sector.

Anthony Cho was a Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes at the U.S. Department of Treasury and a 2024 Next Gen National Security Fellow. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the United States government.

What are some current foreign policy challenges you face working in the economic security field?

I think everyone is tracking the most challenging international economic issues, so I want to highlight a consideration that people in U.S. foreign policy and national security may not be paying as close attention to: the interplay of foreign and domestic challenges. Many who advocate for quick and decisive economic action (because the perceived cost is lower than alternatives like military intervention) may not fully understand the domestic implications. Sanctions in global oil markets, for example, are easy to advocate for from a geopolitical standpoint. However, national security and foreign policy-focused experts may not be fully taking into account what that means to U.S. consumers and prices at the pump. That said, there are very experienced and smart people working on these issues both within and outside of government. However, understanding the interplay of the two and the trade-offs required will continue to become more important for everyone going forward.

What advice do you have for someone who is early in their career?

I have two pieces of advice: (1) your first job is not your last job, and (2) don’t settle for good enough.

The first is more applicable to people who are seeking their way into the government. When I was trying to break into government, I was looking narrowly into the positions that I thought I wanted. One of my mentors emphasized to me that it’s more important to get in rather than to wait and hope for a specific position to open up. The line that stuck with me from that conversation almost a decade ago was “Your first job is not your last job.” And they were right—I’ve changed jobs since then and will undoubtedly change again in the future.

The second applies to everyone. There’s a strong temptation to do your job as quickly as possible, which can lead to “good enough.” This can take the form of a cut-and-paste-filled memo, recycled briefing points, or tagging someone else to fill in a question you’re not able to answer immediately. Obviously, there are cases where this is unavoidable, but I think doing too much stagnates creative thinking. Plus, I always read new points more closely than material I’ve seen before, so you’ll get more attention and engagement with new material.

How has mentorship influenced your career?

First, I think it’s important to define what mentorship means to you since it’s always been quite nebulous for me. Additionally, much like how all of us are different learners, we all receive mentorship differently. To me, mentorship is going to people you respect and trust to get their input on difficult decisions.

Using this definition, I have been tremendously influenced by mentorship. Whenever I have considered changing jobs or have some questions about balancing work and family obligations, I always go to my mentors for their counsel. These discussions have happened over coffee/lunch, office hours, or even phone calls. I have always benefited more by being very candid with my considerations in these conversations. Difficult decisions require difficult conversations!

Lastly, I’ve also benefitted greatly from peer mentorship. There are many people I respect and trust who are in my peer group, and they have also provided great advice and insights since we are living through similar situations and have similar concerns. Sometimes, these types of discussions can originate completely new ways to approach issues that those with already established careers may not be able to see as clearly.


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