Susan Glasser: Well, hello, and welcome back to The Global POLITICO. I’m Susan Glasser, and I’m particularly delighted that you’re joining us today for this episode of The Global POLITICO, where we’re going to do something different: I have three incredible guests who I’m going to introduce by actually starting with a quote first. “It’s all going to end on January the 21st,” said Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka.”Our foreign policy has been a disaster. We’ve neglected and abandoned our allies. We’ve emboldened our enemies. The message I have—it’s a very simple one. It’s a bumper sticker. The era of the pajama boy is over January 20th, and the alpha males are back.”
Well, today I have for you perhaps the best collection of alpha ladies, certainly that this show has seen, and, I think, the very best that Washington, you know, has to offer. Madeleine Albright, our first alpha lady. I think she gets to be the commander in chief of the alpha ladies. if you will, and, of course, the first woman secretary of state. Michèle Flournoy, who undoubtedly was and perhaps still is, headed to be the first female secretary of defense, and Ambassador Wendy Sherman, who not only has occupied many senior roles in the State Department but was herself a top adviser to Hillary Clinton, both at the State Department and the campaign.
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I am incredibly humbled and honored to be joined by all of you, and I think it’s going to be a great conversation. I have so many questions, but I did invite you with this notion of the alpha male. So I guess we should start off with that. Secretary Albright, hasn’t it always been the age of the alpha males? [Laughter]
Madeleine Albright: Well, unfortunately, national security has kind of been a male domain, and there was a real question, frankly, whether a woman could be secretary of state. Imagine. And initially, when my name came forward, people said, “Well, Arabs wouldn’t deal with a woman secretary of state, and then the Arab ambassadors at the U.N. said, “We’ve had no problems dealing with Ambassador Albright. We wouldn’t have any with Secretary Albright.” And even then, when the great mentioning time was around, people would say, “Somebody at the White House”—and I never want to know who—said, “Yeah, Madeleine is on the list but she’s second tier.”
So it really has been a male-dominated realm of policy, and it’s lonely being the only woman in the Situation Room.
Glasser: Well, Michèle, you know what that situation is like, too, in the Situation Room. Do you think there is a connection between this sort of isolation or the very small numbers that persist even today in American national security and foreign policy and the broader foreign policy point that Sebastian Gorka seemed to be making? And the reason that I brought this up, right? It’s not just about women and who gets what jobs, but what about the connection with a worldview and the kind of foreign policy we might be seeing from the Trump administration?
Michèle Flournoy: I find that comment so retro. It’s very 1950s. It is still—I would say national security is an arena where women are still finding their place in the most senior ranks. But that comment about alpha males really ignores a couple of really fundamental principles. No. 1, we are a democracy, and we want our leadership across the board to look like our society and to fully represent us. And women are half the population. Women are half the talent pool. Women are half of the, you know, intellectual firepower that’s out there to be leveraged in support of public service.
Secondly, it completely ignores all of the literature, primarily business literature, on organizational performance that says, “The more diverse the group around the table making decisions, the better the performance of the organization and the better the quality of the decision-making.” So I don’t know what age or planet he was living on when he made that comment, but the truth is, diversity is a strength not just from a moral, democratic perspective. It’s a strength from a performance perspective.
Glasser: It strikes me so interesting, right, that Michèle is making this very rational, analytical argument here. Now, what’s interesting is that that was no idle comment and, again, I keep coming back to this as a strategy and connected to the broader sort of revolutionary, at least, impulse that is a part of this new administration’s thinking, right? Which is the alpha males are back as sort of tapping into this kind of id, this notion that this muscular, kind of macho America is rising again. In a way, he meant it more in those terms, right, than he did in the narrower sense of, “Yeah, and it’s going to be a bunch of dudes in the White House running foreign policy.” Although clearly, it is a bunch of dudes.
Wendy Sherman: I think a couple of things I would say, Susan. First of all, I, of course, agree with my colleagues and the comments they’ve made. But there’s a reason why La La Land is popular. It’s a fantasy. It’s a fantasy as a movie, and I think Mr. Gorka’s comment is a fantasy. As Michèle has pointed out, the world is run by people, and those people include women and girls and, in fact, the single best predictor of a rising GDP is girls’ education. It is something that has been a bipartisan issue, Republicans and Democrats, around the world to ensure that we use all of the human resources and all of the human capital that we have in the world.
I think in terms of power, in terms of strength, people tend to think of the military as strength and power and toughness and diplomats as soft and cuddly and female even though until recently, it’s been a domain of men and not a domain of women, as Secretary Albright pointed out. But in fact, diplomacy is about power and strength, and one thing I learned from Secretary Albright early on and was very critical when I was negotiating on behalf of our country with Iran and was a woman at the table, and a Jewish woman to boot, and an American as a three-stripe, is that I didn’t sit there as Wendy Sherman. I sat there as the United States of America. And the United States of America is a very powerful player that has always been thus.
That has not changed, and Donald Trump, I think, is going to make us less, not more, powerful, in the way that he’s approaching things.
Glasser: So, you know, Wendy, I’m so glad that you brought up your negotiations. You were the lead person. You’re very modest and won’t say it, but I will. You know, you were the lead negotiator for the United States in the recent Iran deal, which will be much debated, I’m sure, for many years, but is no matter what, a central part of Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy. It also happens to be pretty much target No. 1 of at least Donald Trump’s rhetoric when it comes to foreign policy. He said it was a terrible deal.
He’s going to work to overturn it, although, now, there’s an indication that perhaps that’s colliding with the reality and even now, it doesn’t look as though the Trump administration is going to be pursuing an actual rollback of the deal. But what has been your response when you listen to these critiques play out? What do you think, first of all, is going to happen to the deal, but also, what do you make of this critique of it? Is it about—like you said, that they perceive it as somehow not macho? That we just got a bad deal?
Sherman: Well, you know, I think tough talk is quite easy. Bullying is quite easy. Getting something done in the world is quite complicated, and when President Trump was in the private sector—some people would say he’s still in the private sector. When he was in the private sector and he built a building, it was a very transactional relationship, and if the building didn’t get built, then the rich people who were largely his clients would go find another building. If you don’t get an Iran deal done, you’d probably be at war, and the blood and treasure that I hope Michele Flournoy as our first woman secretary of defense has a responsibility for —it’s quite a different set of stakes. So I think that one of the things that analysis of the Trump administration is missing is that whether we like it or not, when you do things in the world, you have to, of course, protect your own interests.
But everybody else has interests, and if you want to protect your own, you’ve got to understand theirs.
Flournoy: Can I just jump in on this? I think one of the things that should be a lesson for the alpha males, whoever they may be, is to actually start with the facts. I mean, the actual facts of the situation and people can, you know, criticize or, you know, discuss whether we could have gotten a better Iran deal. The fact of the matter is that we got a deal that stopped and rolled back the Iran nuclear program. Not all the way, but it froze in very important respects, in time, and it put time on the clock. Rather than having Iran be within a couple of months of dashing to a nuclear weapon, they are now more than a year away from that and very disincentivized to pursue that because we have very good eyes on what they’re doing.
I can tell you as someone who was responsible for oversight of military planning in the Pentagon, had Wendy failed and the negotiations failed, the only option left on the table would have been to use military force to take out that program, and we would have gone. That would have started a third war in the broader Middle East. Now, you know, so let’s be fact-based and realistic about the consequences of the policy choices that were made. Again, as Wendy said, tough talk is easy, but actually advancing American interests in a way that’s smart is a lot harder.
Glasser: Secretary Albright, you were just in Munich at the security conference and talking with people all around Europe. I’m reminded of this theme that Wendy has introduced around sort of “talk is cheap” and that sort of macho positioning that we’re seeing. There was an effort there in Munich by Vice President Pence, and you have had Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis basically trying to walk back or clean up after Donald Trump or say, “Don’t worry about the tweets. It’s going to be OK.” Do you think that’s working and reassuring anybody?
Albright: That was not the sense I got. I’ve gone—been to Munich security conferences, as have my colleagues here, and we have always been kind of the center of attention because we are the United States, and what we wanted to do was, what people wanted to know what our plans were, how we were operating with others. This time, we were still the center—but at the center of doubt. And really, a concern about what were we doing and I think that people did—well, applauded what the vice president said and the secretary of defense, but they were saying to us fine words. What are the actions?
And that’s the part that I think made everybody nervous. Because some of the ways that they’ve been carrying on policy has not been able to put themselves into the other person’s shoes in order to recognize what our national interests are. And so we were the center of discussion, but not in a pleasant way, I have to say. And the thing that really upset me was that there were a number of speeches there that basically said that we were living in a post-Western world. That’s what the Russians said, the Iranians said, the Turks and the Chinese. And there was a sense that the bullying approach of the Trump administration was alienating people rather than giving them solace in terms of the fact that we still were a unified world.
And one of the issues, obviously, that’s out there is whether the other countries will live up to their commitment to do 2 percent [of their budget] on NATO, which is something that President Obama said and had been said for a long time. But the way it was put, I think, by the representatives of the current U.S. government was something that made you feel—if I had been a foreigner, like, who are these people constantly telling us what to do without really understanding what—really making their actions clearer. So it was an unpleasant time.
Glasser: You obviously have a unique perspective on not only having been secretary of state but also having come to the United States and growing up in an immigrant household with the experience of Eastern Europe and what happened with the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe after World War II, not just some historical fact. You’ve written a terrific memoir, which I recommend to everybody, about your own life experience. But these comparisons, right, between Putin and Donald Trump. I’m just—I’ve been so curious to ask you what you make of our president’s seeming admiration for Russia’s authoritarian leader, what you make of the issue of Russian influence in American politics these days?
Albright: Well, I’m obviously troubled by it. I’d like to tell a story that kind of encapsulates what happened. At one of the dinners, I was sitting next to the Swedish defense minister, and he was terribly concerned about the fact that the Russians were buzzing their ships and their planes and flying without their transponders. And that was really the basis of his whole discussion with me that evening. And then the next day, I was doing—introducing a film that had been done by the Atlantic Council on the breaking of Aleppo, which is about Russian bombing of a hospital over and over again.
But the person doing this with me was Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of Sweden, and he comes in and he says, “I’m so exhausted. I’m totally exhausted. I have spent the hardest night of my life looking for this Swedish massacre and trying to figure out what to do about the victims.” And what had happened was that President Trump had heard something on Fox News about some nonexistent Swedish massacre, and it was an example of what happens, as Michèle had said, when you’re not operating on a fact-based policy.
I then decided that, given the fact that we were in Munich, I said, “As a Czechoslovak, it is not easy to be in Munich, because World War II started there as a result of not having facts about what was going on and putting out a lot of false facts.” Then, what happened was, after the war, as a result of the Soviet occupation of Central and Eastern Europe, Radio Free Europe was in Munich, and that broadcast out the truth and really tried to make clear what the Western world was like versus the Soviet world. I thought—and I—it was really amazing to be secretary of state or at the U.N. first and secretary of state at the end of the Cold War and thinking that things could be different in terms of our relationship with the Russians and working in so many ways to try to make it so.
And yet Putin rose to power based on an identity crisis that the Russians were having because they no longer were the superpower and he is a man who—he’s a KGB officer. He has played a weak hand very well, and why President Trump would admire him is very—passing strange, frankly, because he is somebody who is an authoritarian figure who is lying to his own people in terms of where their economy is and trying again to bully other—maybe I just answered my own question as to why President Trump might like him.
Glasser: We’re back to the macho thing. You know, I’m reminded of your comments of Viktor Chernomyrdin, who was one of the prime ministers in your time, in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and he said “FOREIGN LANGUAGE–RUSSIAN,” which means basically, “We tried for things to do be better, but they turned out as always.” This has since become sort of almost shorthand for, “We had this experiment. It didn’t work out. Then we got back to Putin.”
And, you know, that’s one thing, and we could talk about that, you know, for hours. It’s endlessly fascinating to me. But the part that is so astonishing, right, to us here, is that we’re having this conversation about the United States and that we’re having this conversation about the president of the United States and, you know, what is his interest in Russia? What is his admiration for Putin? And that’s the part, I think, that it must surprise all of you the most, more than Russia.
Sherman: I think there are two things going on, Susan. First of all, the wave of populism and hypernationalism is not just happening in the United States. It is happening all over the world, and it’s happening in part because globalization has brought many wonderful things to people all over the world. But it also means that some people have lost out, and along with the change in technology—actually technology, more than trade, is, I think, the driver here—there has been rather rapid social change.
A lot of us like the social change that is taking place, but for someone who is 55 years old and had a manufacturing job and no longer has it, still, has to put kids through college, sees change happening all around him. They feel very unmoored, unanchored. This happened in the developing world a long time ago, and it’s part of what led to the economic inequality and the economic stress that led to the Arab Spring that hasn’t turned out so springlike. But it is now in the developed world as well. And there are different responses to it.
One response is the strongman response, which is what we see in Russia, the secretary has also said in the past, and as head of NDI, the National Democratic Institute. Democracy has to deliver, and, in Russia, it didn’t deliver fast enough for people to have the safety net that they needed, and a strongman gave them a sense of security, which I think men play too often—is playing that strongman role. But there’s another way to go, and the other way to go is to hold on to those Democratic values that have really created security and stability since World War II and have created worldwide prosperity. The trick for us is to find a way that we keep that prosperity going and we make sure that prosperity reaches to people all over the world, whatever their income.
Glasser: So this is an important point Wendy is raising, and I want to throw it out there for everybody. How much soul-searching are you doing as Democrats about, you know, did a two-term Democratic president do enough to address that? Did a candidate who was on the threshold of becoming the first woman president in the history of the U.S.? Did she do enough to address it? In our foreign policy, there is a critique, right? I mean, you know, not only of our dealings with Russia and how we got there but looking at the Middle East today, it’s hard to see that it really represents, you know, what President Obama hoped for it at the beginning of his eight years in office.
How much are you all doing soul-searching these days? Michèle?
Flournoy: Well, I think both parties have to do a better job of understanding some of the dislocations that are happening and the very real concerns and needs of a part of the electorate that is feeling very displaced and left out and so forth. You know, the irony is I don’t think Donald Trump has a set of plans that are going to, you know, be effective in addressing this. I think what he—what people responded to was a very angry voice that they felt sort of represented their feelings. They didn’t necessarily take what he said seriously, but they took him as a serious sort of voice of their concerns.
I think so for both left and right, Republican, Democrat, I think we all have to grapple with this, and, as Wendy said, there’s probably a small trade element, but more fundamentally, this is about technology and automation and the fact that the way we work and what’s, you know, what’s happening to the American economy is eliminating traditional jobs in some areas, and yet we haven’t figured out how to retrain and position parts of our workforce to take on the new jobs that will be available in the future. So I don’t think this is something that either party owns. I think this is something that we have to grapple with as a society, and whoever figures out the most compelling response and workable program—which frankly, I thought there was a lot more in Hillary Clinton’s platform than Donald Trump’s program—platform in terms of what will start moving us in that direction.
I think whoever manages to convince the electorate that they actually have some plans that will work and make a difference is going to be, you know, the party or the person, the candidates that we see succeed in the future.
Glasser: But people do see this, and the Trump administration is certainly trying to portray this as a repudiation of—at least in part, the Obama administration foreign policy and worldview, and I guess the question is, how far are they going to go in blowing that up?
Albright: Well, I think—I happen to believe, along with my sisters here, that Hillary Clinton was the best-prepared person ever to be president of the United States, and if she had become president, the world would still be this complicated. I think that we are going through a very, very tough phase that has been evolving for some time. We were talking about Russia and Wendy’s points about nationalism and technology and Michèle’s extraction of that in terms of what it does for domestic policy. I stole this line from Silicon Valley, but it summarizes things so well I keep repeating it.
People are talking to their governments on 21st-century technology. The government listens to them on 20th-century technology and is providing 19th-century responses. And so there’s no faith in institutions, and the issues that are out there in terms of technology, in terms of jobs and the social contract is broken. It is a very serious time, and in terms of national security policy, the instability that has come from globalization and national identification and technology makes it very hard to control or even manage in any kind of a way because of the lack of faith in national institutions and international institutions. So we have entered into a very complex era.
This is not President Obama’s fault. I could more likely blame President Bush and the Iraq War that I think was one of the really discontinuous activities that made the American people tired and wondering why, when things aren’t happening in the United States, are we bothering with a bunch of people that never say thank you. And so there are any number of different things that have come together, but what we needed at this moment was a president that could understand the interaction of domestic and foreign policy and not somebody, frankly, who has done everything to anger the population, to take advantage of this kind of sense of not belonging and not knowing what jobs are and making them angrier and angrier.
And so what I worry about is that we have an angrier population here where the institutions are still not responding to it, and the truth is, it is spreading in Europe. I mean, we found then—because after we had been in Munich, we went to Paris and London, and the same kind of feeling of who is doing what and why aren’t we getting any answers? And why doesn’t the government care what’s happening to us and, by the way, who are all of these foreigners?
So a lot of unpleasant things that have been set loose.
Glasser: You know, you mentioned Munich and how it’s—you know, particularly as a Czechoslovak, it’s painful to even to be talking about security in these terms. Do you think people who are worrying about this as a possible repeat of the ’20s and the ’30s are overstating things? I’ve had several Republicans who have their own critiques of Trump say to me in interestingly identical language, “What is up with the hysteria that I am getting from Democrats these days?” And, you know, it’s interesting that they’re defining it as hysteria.
It’s almost a gendered term. But are we being hysterical, those who are making those analogies, or this finally the Munich analogy that is legitimate?
Albright: Well, I think that there are lessons to be learned from the past. There’s no question, and some of it—what was interesting, when we were in office, I was always the Munich analogy person and the next generation was the Vietnam generation. And I know what happened when the United States did not get involved. The United States was not a part of Munich. It was the British and French making deals with the Germans and Italians over the Czechoslovaks and then when America came into the war—I was a little girl in London.
The Yankees came, and everything changed, and then to go back to your point about the Soviet expansion, that was as a result of an agreement made by Americans and Soviets to quote “let Eastern Europe be liberated by the Soviet Union.” So for me, having America involved is absolutely essential. The Vietnam generation does not—everything is always a quagmire. And so I think there is that question as to know whether things are such that require an American involvement in it. I do happen to believe in the indespensable nation.
But there is nothing about the word indispensable that says alone. It just means that we have to be a part of something with partners, and that’s the part that isn’t gelling at the moment.
Some of our gravest mistakes are those overcorrections: assuming that your predecessor was stupid, incompetent, you know, wrong—not well-intentioned.
Glasser: Well, and also, what’s the Iraq generation? You brought up the Iraq War, Michèle.
Flournoy: If you look at the history of the American foreign policy, one of the most dangerous tendencies is for—after a change of administration, particularly when there’s a change of party, for the new team to come in and use the term “repudiation.” But to come in and assume that everything their predecessors did was wrong—you know, they throw the baby out with the bathwater, basically, and they overcorrect in another direction.
So we get these—some of our gravest mistakes are those overcorrections: assuming that your predecessor was stupid, incompetent, you know, wrong—not well-intentioned and so forth. So I think that one of the things that I think is very important for this administration is—President Trump deserves credit for actually making some strong Cabinet selections on the national security side. He has people who are schooled in strategy, history, experience, etc. The problem is right now, there is no deliberate, ordered National Security Council process that allows them to really shape and influence policy before the president makes decisions.
And so they are stuck at the implementing end or the cleanup end without really having shaped the policy. I think if this administration is going to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it’s going to take a more, you know, a different perhaps, but a more mindful and thoughtful and informed approach to navigating the challenges we face. We’ve got to figure out a way to leverage the talent of the Cabinet that they’ve brought in.
Glasser: You know, I’m so glad you brought this up. Here in Washington, right, we are like worshipers at the shrine of the interagency process. [Laughter] But that can be hard to explain to people right now. You know, in the last few weeks, I have never had so many people, you know, saying to me, “The interagency, and the interagency.” You know, maybe you guys can help us understand a little bit why this matters so much. I know Wendy is going to jump in here.
Sherman: Look, I think the interagency process is not something that we should idolize, but what it is is a thought process. One that appreciates history, that thinks about the future. That thinks that facts and information are important. It’s the difference between a democrat and an autocrat. A democrat takes in information and thinks through what has happened, what needs to happen, and how to get there. An autocrat often acts on instincts and on a single purpose.
So I think that the interagency process is about decision-making. So that when you do an executive order, you don’t throw it out into the public before you’ve really thought it through in all of its ramifications. How it will be heard, how it will be communicated, what it will do to people’s lives, is it legal, will it pass muster, which is certainly what happened with the immigration executive order the first time around. We see now that that order, which was supposed to come out, now is being delayed. I see that as a good sign in the sense that it means there is further deliberation going on.
But there is a long way to having a deliberate process. I also want to mention something really important before we run out of time here. We’ve talked about the Munich generation, the Vietnam generation, and the Iraq generation. I want to talk about the 9/11 generation and the millennials. These young people don’t see the world the way that President Trump does. They are incredibly tolerant. They don’t understand why there is any discussion about LGBTQ issues. That’s just part of life. They are ready to embrace technology. They do every single day. Most people who are my age scream out for the 25-year-olds when we’re ready to throw our computers across the room.
They listen to information differently. They’ll listen to your podcast far more than people my age might listen to it. There is a whole generation out there that is filled with hope and possibility, and it is those young people that I hope that we are talking to and the Democratic Party is talking to, because that is the hope, that in fact, the darkness of the ’30s that led to World War II and the darkness that led to World War I. It’s really our responsibility and young people’s responsibility to open up the light and make sure we don’t go back there again.
Glasser: That sounds so incredibly optimistic. You know, I’m amazed to find somebody who is still talking is such optimistic terms. In a way, the fact that we’re having a conversation about Munich and the 1930s and, you know, I mean—
Sherman: Because you have to fight tyranny, Susan. If one sees tyranny, you have to call it out; you have to speak it out. And when 3 million women, the day after the inauguration, took to the streets off of an email, social media eruption, when women across the world did likewise. When thousands of people showed up when that first immigration order came out and lawyers went to the airports to help out. When these things happen—when town halls are filled with genuine people with frustration with the choices that are being made, that is all very hopeful, in my view.
Glasser: So back here in Washington, in this very small but important realm of national security professionals and why we’re talking about—you know, why process matters. There’s been a huge and really agonized conversation about how do you deal with the Trump administration now that it exists, right? You know, we’ve moved past the election. There is a professional infrastructure in this country that handles not only the military but our overall foreign policy and national security matters.
A lot of people have been torn about whether they should serve that or not. Michèle, tell us a little bit about your own thinking about that. I know that you’re close to General Mattis, who has become the defense secretary. I believe there were some efforts even to—to entreat you to think about going into the administration. How should we think about whether it’s right to work for the country in a moment like this or whether this is just too much of a disruption from our foreign policy?
Flournoy: Well, you know, I think individuals have to make their own decisions about whether they could, you know, serve the administration and so forth. I think if they can see their way to do it, I think there is—if it doesn’t violate your sense of values, we should all have—feel a duty to serve when called. I think for us outside of government—I mean, I’m running a think tank. We’ve had to wrestle with this question and, you know, the president of the United States is the commander in chief. He is the lead person responsible for our national security. You don’t want to see him fail when it comes to U.S. national security.
So I think to the extent we can continue to offer good ideas to those in the administration who will listen, offer good analysis, offer suggestions—it’s incumbent on everyone, from all sides of the political spectrum, to do that. But as Wendy suggested, when decisions that violate our interests or our values or who we are, are made, we absolutely—we have a responsibility to speak out and push back and to offer smarter alternatives to advance and protect American interests, so—and our values.
So I think, you know, we have to try to be helpful where we can but also push back where we must.
Glasser: Well, I’m taking that as a very diplomatically phrased answer when it comes to the question of your own thinking. I guess it revolved around values, would be my takeaway from your answer.
Flournoy: Yes, I mean, I am a huge admirer of Jim Mattis. We’ve worked together over, you know, different incarnations over many years. And when he called me to ask me to consider ways to help, I had to give it due consideration. But I also knew that he needed a deputy who wouldn’t be struggling every other day about whether they could be part of some of the policies that were likely to take shape.
And so I decided I could do best by helping from the outside.
Glasser: I want to ask you one more thing and then I really want to get Secretary Albright’s view on this. A lot of people—it’s almost become like a joke of sorts around Washington these days, saying like, “My goodness. Everybody’s relying on General Mattis at the Pentagon to somehow be the voice of reason in this administration,” but are we in trouble if a guy whose nickname is “Mad Dog,” is the guy we see as the voice of sanity? You know him much better than that. I know it’s not a nickname he likes.
Flournoy: “Mad Dog” is a nom de guerre that he earned leading Marines in combat. But he is a very strategic thinker, very thoughtful, very calm, very reasoned. You know, he will be the adult at the Situation Room table. And I should say, there are other good people too. I mean, there are others who can bring a lot to the decision-making in the White House if they are allowed to.
Glasser: What do you think? Can people make a difference in a situation like this?
Albright: I don’t think we want President Trump to fail, because then we would all fail. And so then the question is how—what instruments to use. So there are levels in terms of not going in for value reasons. But then I do think that having a respect for what our values are and talking about them from the outside and writing and frankly—Wendy was talking about the young people, which I think is very important.
Flournoy: Can I just add one more thought on young people getting involved? I have been so struck in the wake of this election as to the reaction of a number of young people. I expected a lot of people to sort of, in frustration, say, “You know, I’m leaving Washington,” or, “I want nothing to do with national security policy,” or what have you.
And I’ve actually seen the opposite happen. We have—we have run a number of next-generation kind of leader development programs at CNAS and we’ve had even more applicants coming through the door. The number of people, both my generation and younger, who have come to me and said, “I’m going to run for public office. I never thought I would, you know, run for office, but I’ve got to get in there. I’m going to roll up my sleeves. I’m going to run for office.” I have been very heartened by that response. I think that this election has galvanized a number of people to become—to participate more and to get in there and try to shape the future.
And so I think we have to look beyond the immediate term in four years and hope that part of what’s happening here is Americans realize that you can really pay a cost when people sit back when they don’t vote. When they don’t take elections and choices seriously. And so I think we’re going to see, in some ways, a corrective reaction to that.
Glasser: It’s the hashtag “Elections have consequences.”
Sherman: Elections have consequences, but the real alpha action here is to engage, to speak up and speak out when so much is at stake for the future of our country, for the interests of our country, and for the security of our country.
Glasser: So I’m glad you brought it back to alpha. We can end it on the point that we began with, which is: Is this the age of the alpha male? So I want to ask everybody: Is it the age of the alpha males? And then, B, I wanted to finish on this question that has often bothered me about the conversation around women in public life.
You have this when you talk about women in Congress and you have this, I think, when you talk about women in national security jobs or as leaders of countries, right? There is a little bit of essentialism. On the one hand, there aren’t very many women. On the other hand, there is often the rhetoric, “Well, if only the women were there.” We’re more cooperative with each other. Women are peacemakers. I’m curious where each of you, who have really been trailblazers, come down on this.
Are women inherently the peacemakers and better and the dealmakers? Is it sexist both ways?
Sherman: I think we are an incredibly wide variety of people and players in the world. I think that’s the richness of what we bring to the table. We bring the whole array of skills and capabilities. You know, all of us here have had significant male relationships in our life, so my hat’s off to the guys who are in the room as well. But as I say to all of the young women that I know, “Make sure you’re in the room. Make sure you speak up. Make sure when the woman at the table says something and everybody ignores the point until a guy says it, you point out that Michèle said it first.”
That we help each other out, that we help each other up, and in that way, we will help the United States of America get the safety and security we all want.
Glasser: But women are not at the table or in that picture these days. Michèle, what do you think? Do you come down on the same front? Is there something different about having women at the table? What—does it really matter?
Flournoy: I think there is something different, but it’s not that we all have some genetically determined, uniform perspective. [Laughter] We have different views, but I think it’s back to the diversity of perspective and experience point. There are all kinds of good analysis in the academic literature that shows when women are involved in peace negotiations, the resulting agreements last longer.
00:43:07 When women are at the table in boardrooms, the organization performs better. When women—and there hasn’t been a study of women around the Situation Room table, but I’m pretty sure—
Sherman: Oh, I think that’s been our experience.
Flournoy: From anecdotal experience, I mean, you get a more diverse set of views that in better—makes sure a president has the full range of perspectives before he makes consequential national security decisions.
Sherman: Or she.
Flournoy: Or she. And that that makes better quality decision-making. So it’s not a uniformity of perspective, but it’s ensuring that a diversity of views and experience are at the table to inform better decision-making.
Glasser: Secretary Albright, you get the last word as well as the first word of this conversation.
Albright: Well, I think—you were asking about the decision-making process and what makes ours work, when it does, is the diversity of views and the respect given to those diverse views in a meeting. And therefore, having women—we may not all agree, frankly, but I think having that diversity—I do think there is a difference in some ways. Women are better at—we have better peripheral vision, and it’s partially we’re better at multitasking and being able to see the consequences of decisions, I think.
But I always make this joke: The world would not be—if you think the world would be better if it were fully run by women, you’ve not gone to high school. [Laughter]
But the bottom line is that there are really—there is a way that I think we’re able to look across the horizon better, respect others’ views even if we don’t agree with them. And I don’t think there are enough women at the table at the Trump administration. You don’t see them. There’s the secretary of education, the secretary of transportation, who are not likely to be in the Situation Room. So I think that those are the issues.
And I think that is a—going to be a weakness—one of the weaknesses of this administration. The dismissal of views. And so I hope we are not in the world of the alpha males, because they have made an awful lot of mistakes. And they prod each other onto more alphaness. [Laughter] And so I do think that maybe as life goes on here, there will be some recognition of the importance of having the diversity of views of the women.
Glasser: Secretary Albright, with what, I think, is an important and fitting conclusion to this convening of the alpha ladies. I’m incredibly grateful to Secretary Madeleine Albright, to Michèle Flournoy, to Wendy Sherman, for joining me on The Global POLITICO. I’m also grateful to all of you who are listening. I hope that you will subscribe to The Global POLITICO on iTunes, download us, rate us, and give us feedback. You can email me anytime at sglasser@POLITICO.com. Send me ideas. I’ve already gotten lots of good ideas from you, and thank you again for listening.