Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, in a keynote at Harvard’s Kennedy Forum last week, called for patience from the public on the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and beseeched the Harvard students in attendance to consider military service.
“Women on War and Peace” brought together Flournoy, the third-ranking Defense Department official and the highest-ranking woman to ever serve in the Pentagon, with two Harvard professors who have also held top national security posts.
Flournoy, who also co-founded Washington think tank the Center for a New American Security, said the 30,000 troop buildup in Afghanistan has helped combat the Taliban’s reach in rural areas and provided breathing room for Afghan army troops to be adequately trained.
However, Flournoy counseled against impatience.
“It will take time. It will require patience,” she said.
In fact, it may require more patience than many have been planning on. President Barack Obama’s announced date for beginning to draw down troops – July 2011 – does not signal U.S. troops will pack up and leave right away, Flournoy said.
“It will mean the end of the current troop surge, and the beginning of some U.S. combat-troop reductions – when and where conditions warrant,” she added. “July 2011 won’t mean the end of our commitment to Afghanistan, or even necessarily a reduction in the intensity of our operations. Not by a long shot.”
On serving in the military, Flournoy, a Harvard graduate, called for Harvard students “to think beyond the well-worn paths that lead from Harvard to the world of think tanks and policy offices,” and consider joining “one of the most impressive and diverse institutions in the world: the United States military,” she said.
Meanwhile, Flournoy’s name is increasingly being dropped as a possible replacement for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is expected to retire early next year. A Pittsburgh Tribune columnist, called the “experienced and vibrant” Flournoy “ideal for the job.”