A Conversation with Kori Schake


By MEGHAN BODETTE and THE POPULAR DISCOURSE EDITORIAL BOARD || August 31st, 2016

Experience. Insight. Taking the long view. In national security, few things matter more– and few people can provide perspective on them like Kori Schake can.

Schake’s experience in government spans multiple administrations and agencies. Her career includes time in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, as the director for Defense Strategy and Requirements on the National Security Council, and as the deputy director for policy planning at the State Department. She has seen the policy process firsthand from various viewpoints, at key moments in America’s post-Cold War history– and this week, Popular Discourse had the opportunity to reach out to her with three questions on some more current issues.

Popular Discourse: You, along with many other conservative national security experts, have signed a letter condemning Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and promising not to work for him. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is welcoming the support of disillusioned Republicans. Do you think this campaign trend will create opportunities for a more bipartisan approach to foreign policy if she is elected? What might that look like?

Kori Schake: It could, but it’s too soon to tell.  Because Clinton is getting conservative national security types for free — the campaign isn’t making any policy compromises to secure our support, she’s just benefitting from our abhorrence of Trump.  But a bipartisan policy would require her to give us reasons for supporting her policies. I’d love to see her stop talking nonsense about TPP as the bellwether.  Stop relying on Republican votes to deliver a trade deal that, if it’s not passed, will be both an economic and foreign policy debacle during her presidency.  

I also think we conservatives have a lot of work to do with our own voters, who have soured on internationalism, both economic and security.  Republican voters are actually more opposed to trade than are Democrats.  And, of course, it’s conservatives who’ve put Donald Trump on the masthead of the party of Lincoln.  It will be insufficient to ignore or repudiate their views; we actually need to win the argument about how engagement with the world benefits Americans.  Because we can’t have sensible bipartisan policies until we reestablish the basis for them on our own team.

PD: What do you see as the most important foreign policy challenge the United States faces in the short term– the next 5-10 years? What about in the long term–10+ years?

KS: I’d say the principal short term challenge is helping the American people to understand how the economy is changing.  Technology is sweeping through economies like a wildfire, and even with all its benefits, people are scared by the rate of change.  Not only are peoples’ jobs going away, entire professions are going away. People are right to be scared, and political leaders aren’t helping them find paths to new work.  We won’t be able to engage confidently in the world until we succeed at that, and there are lots of foreign policy problems that need our engagement if they are not to burgeon into crises or take directions damaging to our security and prosperity.

For the longer term, I worry that we’ve lost the art of building norms and institutions.  Post-Cold War triumphalism at the expense of our power led us to reject lots of modes of cooperation that, tiresome as the doing of them may be, are cost-effective ways for the U.S. to ensure international order and practice that are beneficial to us.  And President Obama’s just as guilty of it as Presidents Clinton and Bush and the Congresses they dealt with were — drone policy is just one example where we’ve over a decade conducted ourselves in ways we will find objectionable in others, yet we made no attempt to position ourselves for a future in which we weren’t the only possessors of the capability.  We don’t compromise enough with others, we don’t utilize the means they favor for getting things done, we don’t enshrine in law or institutions things we want to have done.  It’s drawing down reserves instead of building them up.

PD: What advice would you offer to young people hoping to work in foreign policy and national security?

KS: Don’t worry too much about failure.  I’m struck at the number of young professionals who are preoccupied with making a mistake that derails their career.  Failure is just data.  Don’t give it outsized importance — your career isn’t a medieval morality play.  And you aren’t the only person whose behavior is being judged in any given circumstance, so don’t preoccupy yourself.  Dust yourself off and get back to work.  If you’re tailoring your actions to prevent failure, you’ll sail too close to the shore to achieve all your talents can give.  And while I wouldn’t advise making as many mistakes as I have, it’s emboldening to outrun hostile fortune.  Give yourself license to take risks.

 

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