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Ryan Geitner | 2019 Summer Fellow

Ryan GeitnerFinal Reflection:

Looking back on my summer spent in D.C., I’m continuously grateful for the breadth of opportunities I had. The generosity from Duke’s Program in American Grand Strategy afforded me the ability to spend time in a city where so much is possible. Outside of my internship, I was able to attend a course on Constitutional Law through Duke’s Summer Institute on Law and Policy, enroll in an Arabic class at the Middle East Institute, continue working on a research project with my Bass Connections team, and attend lectures on topics like inclusive security in the Afghani Peace Process. As I enter adulthood at a time where the actions of the United States’ government seem evermore consequential, I am thankful to have had time to explore and reflect within our nation’s capital.

Interning at The Institute of World Politics (IWP) is an opportunity I certainly would not have imagined prior to involving myself in the AGS program, and am very pleased to have completed. IWP presents itself confidently on the line between academic study and practical application. As an undergraduate who was not and is not certain of the themes my professional life may veer toward, being able to toe this line and explore the professional arena of International Relations was helpful in beginning to give some direction to my professional interests.

My time spent talking to and researching for Ambassador Hughes allowed me to begin to understand what a career in diplomacy means and looks like. The project he tasked me with centered around investigating the myriad of paths within the state and federal governments to charter an international career. Though I was initially hesitant to count the assignment as stimulating, I think it was one of the most useful projects I could have been assigned. Spending hours searching through the career files and hiring maps of different bureaus gave me a perspective on the many ways one can work internationally through the U.S.

Week 7.5: ‘Ensuring an Inclusive Afghan Peace Process’
July 12, 2019

After a productive and encouraging lunch with Amb. Hughes on Tuesday, as well as Arabic class and Duke in D.C.’s Summer Law Institute Constitution Class, this week was a full one. Luckily, the momentum continued through Friday as I attended an event hosted by Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (GIWPS) entitled ‘Ensuring an Inclusive Afghan Peace Process.’ I’ve followed GIWPS from afar since January, after discovering their Podcast Series, “Seeking Peace: Stories of Women and War.” Since then, I’ve become a great fan of their work and frequent visitor of their online Resource Center where they post articles, largely written by those associated with the Institute and focus on gender and conflict.

Disappointed I had missed a conference they hosted in early June, the only one posted on their summer calendar, I was truly overjoyed when I received an email a few weeks ago announcing the event on the ongoing Afghan Peace Process. The event was held in Copley Lounge at Georgetown University and the panel was quite impressive. Amb. Zalmay Khalizad, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells, Representative Michael Waltz, Representative Chirssy Houlahan, Amb. Roya Rahmani, and three women who served as representatives at the recent peace conversations in Doha, Mary Akrami, Asila Wardak, and Ghizaal Haress, all spoke. 

Amb. Rahmani is the first female ambassador of Afghanistan to the U.S., and it was an honor to hear from her. She heavily stressed that being at any table is a means and not an end, and that the Afghan Peace Process has been and will continue to be a long one that requires the support of states like the U.S., as well as the broader international community. As the second speaker, she introduced the term of the hour, an “inclusive peace process” that highlights the necessity of female representation to build a lasting peace. 

I also greatly enjoyed hearing from the Afghan women who joined via Skype from Kabul to share their takeaways from the recent Doha peace talks. One of the women, Ghizaal Haress, is a member of the Afghanistan Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution. She is the only female member of the Commission and is a constitutional law expert. She spoke extensively on the current Constitution of Afghanistan that the United States helped to establish in 2004. 

Haress stressed that as much as the Constitution is a legal document, it is a political document. This means that for the Constitution to hold, there must be a consensus between the government, the regulating party, and as long as it maintains a strong hold, the Taliban. A stipulation of the Constitution is the only way the Constitution can be amended is to improve the fundamental rights of the citizens. As such, Haress says the Constitution must be amended because as it stands, it does not explicitly state equal rights across religion. Especially as the Taliban calls for an Islamic regime while promising that the fundamental rights will remain, there is no assurance, no way to trust that such a statement would be upheld. Further, the amendments proposed by the Taliban do not include freedom of media and speech, or women’s rights. Again, the Taliban says that such is covered under ‘Islam Law/Islamic Rights’ but Haress stresses that this is not enough, there has to be clear recognition, and such rights cannot be left to interpretation under ‘Islamic Law/Rights.’

Though all but two speakers are women, the discussion and points made spanned implications far beyond those solely of women’s rights. The truth that emerges from studying and practicing inclusive peace processes is that, similar to the words of Amb. Rahmani, representation is a means to an end. Having equitable representation across genders does not only promote the rights of half the population (a significant effect!), it promotes the rights of all people. I’m very pleased I was able to hear from such incredible peace makers, and world leaders, and know this is an experience I will be thinking of for some time.

Week 7: Arabic, ANC, and Research
July 9, 2019

This week has been my fullest since arriving in D.C. I’m still very much enjoying my Arabic class, working on the Presentation with Amb. Hughes, and taking a class on the Constitution through Duke in D.C.’s Summer Law Institute. 

On Tuesday, I met Amb. Hughes at the Army Navy Club right off of Farragut Square. We had a very nice lunch together where Amb. Hughes suggested our conversation focus on my interests and how he may be of service to me, and we would save talking about the project for after lunch. I’ve definitely felt that I have areas of interest, like diplomacy and cultural exchange, but am unable to visualize what a career in such a field looks like. Amb. Hughes was kind enough to share a number of stories from his time in the Carribbean as Ambassador. 

The stories were complex and a little wild. He reiterated that you may not expect, as he had not, that a post in the Caribbean would not yield too much action or have especially strong implications for the United States. However, during his tenure the Barbados experienced an unusual wave of crime for a state who’s police is unarmed. At the time, two desperados escaped from prison for the second time and ran rampant across the island, committing terrible crimes and dodging police by expertly navigating the series of small waterways that cover the island. Unfortunately, the crime effected a number of American tourists first hand, which contributed to Barbados receiving a travel warning from the U.S. State Department. However, reasons for the warning were compounded by the Barbados’ failure to support the United States at the U.N. on a certain vote. As the country relies heavily on tourist revenue, the travel warning had a severe impact on the economy and general state of the country.

In another event, an American couple who worked at the Embassy were accused and guilty of abusing a shipping privilege that allows for one, perhaps two shipments from one’s home to wherever they are posted through an embassy. The privilege allows the shipment to avoid certain taxes and tariffs. However, this couple had started a store in the United States and were using the privilege to receive shipments of goods directly from China without tax or tariff, and then send the shipments on to the U.S. under the guise that the packages were not what they needed for their home in the Barbados, so it should be sent to the U.S., their other home. This proved to be quite a headache to deal with and certainly unexpected.

I greatly enjoy hearing stories like this that give color to what I feel can be an ambiguous position. After lunch we went upstairs to the club’s library where we went over the research I had been working on. I’d spent much of the last week pouring over many of the 430 departments, agencies, and sub-agencies of the federal government, investigating opportunities that provide international experience and focus. I also began working on a parallel list that could be added to the current presentation on educational opportunities that run through he federal government that provide international experience. However, I wasn’t clear on who the target audience of the presentation would be, so I wasn’t sure if this new list would be of use.

In sharing my research with Amb. Hughes, as well as my notes on educational opportunities, he was excited by the parallel research I had done and asked that I begin compiling a second presentation to focus solely on those opportunities. As I delve deeper into this research I’d expected to find a little dry, I’ve found unexpected interest. I think this comes as I begin to understand the breadth and makeup of our government and the ways it interacts with international actors.

Week 5: Introductory Meeting with Amb. Hughes
June 25, 2019

Ambassador Hughes returned from his time abroad this past week, and we were able to meet in person to discuss the logistics of our research project as the summer progresses into July. We spent much of our first meeting introducing ourselves to each other, in an effort that allowed me to better understand the experiences, connections, and career trajectory of Amb. Hughes, and allowed him to glean my interests and aspirations. This exchange helped him choose which of his ongoing projects I may be of greatest service, and he decided on a presentation he’s been working on for some time. Amb. Hughes has been working on creating a presentation that he can share with his students at IWP, as well as fellows of the Council of American Ambassadors. 

The presentation extensively outlines seemingly every possible path to working internationally through the federal government, and also provides outlines of international opportunities in the non-profit and broader private sectors. Its not quite the academic project I had expected, but as I’ve begun to understand the breadth of opportunity and positions of interest throughout D.C. and beyond, I believe the project may prove quite beneficial in broadening my understanding of potential career interests.

In getting to know each other,  Amb. Hughes narrowed the narrative of his career trajectory to that which lead to his appointment as Ambassador of the United States to Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla. He advised that his path to ambassadorship is not one that should be, or can be attempted to emulate, but accurately depicts the array of opportunities that can lead to such a position.

I won’t enter into great detail, but I was happy to learn that Amb. Hughes entered public service with hopes of joining the Foreign Service. Taking the Foreign Service Exam at age 22, he advised on not only the necessary experience that one needs to be successful in securing the position, but the more crucial understandings of management, teamwork, and flexibility. I enjoyed hearing about his experience with the exam, and how when he took the exam, the panel who interviewed you for the in-person portion would invite you back into the room after a few minutes, and share with you your strengths and weaknesses. 

After hearing the panel’s observations, Amb. Hughes decided to continue his education, earning to M.A.s from Tufts and then an M.P.A. from The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Fully educated, Amb. Hughes entered public service working for the Congressional Budget Office before serving as a research fellow at the Brookings Institute, and then moving to the Pentagon. Through connections he made at the Pentagon, he was asked to serve as the Deputy Assistant to then Vice President, George H.W. Bush, for National Security Affairs. This relationship proved crucial and allowed him, after working for the National Security Council and Department of State, to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce, then as the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council in the White House, before being appointed as Ambassador.

Amb. Hughes highlighted that his path proved to be a much quicker ascent to Ambassadorship, but much rarer. He shared that he believes working for the Foreign Service provides a more direct path, though certainly a very selective and highly competitive one. Though I don’t know how I may like my career to take shape, or to what end, to my surprise I’ve enjoyed hearing about career development and opportunities this summer, and believe this education will be a strong takeaway from my summer in D.C.

On another note, I began taking Arabic class at the Middle East Institute this week and am greatly enjoying them! The class is taught by a professor with a true passion for teaching Arabic. I am the only undergraduate student in my class, so the conversations are very much pulled towards current events and political opinions, which is not a field where I’m very comfortable employing my developing Arabic skills, but am really enjoying doing so!

Week 3.5: Parading the Pentagon
June 14, 2019

Today I was fortunate enough to join a small group of fellow IWP interns on a private tour of the Pentagon. The former IWP Events Coordinator moved on to the Pentagon in 2016, politically appointed to work in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I had the opportunity to tour the pentagon, meet with Admiral Joseph Mulloy, and receive a non-confidential brief on the South China Sea when I was a junior in high school, but had not been back since. Especially under this administration, it was interesting to visit the Pentagon, knowing that current Acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick M. Shanahan is quickly on his way out, and Mark Esper will take his place in a week.

A definite highlight of the experience was walking down the Pentagon River Terrace Entrance and looking over the Parade Grounds. When we entered the office of the Secretary, we were able to pass through a security checkpoint and walk down the steps that look out over the terrace, the Capital building across the river, and the flight path out of Ronald Regan International Airport. As we passed through the point, the officer on duty told us that we would need to be quick, as they were expecting a visitor in a couple of minutes. When we walked down the steps, the color guard and Pentagon Press Corp was preparing for the arrival and entrance of Portuguese Defense Minister, Joao Titterington Gomes Cravinho, and his envoy. 

Our guide had never seen the full color guard perform for the arrival of a foreign minister at the Pentagon, and had only seen it happen overseas, so she was excited to try to stay and watch the ordeal. We waited for a few minutes and then saw the Portuguese envoy approach, escorted by a couple police cars. We crouched behind a car to the side of the steps to be out of the photographers’ range, and watched the precession of the Portuguese and American color guard members, and then the Portuguese Minister and his entourage. 

I greatly enjoyed witnessing the ceremony of entrance and diplomacy, especially at the Pentagon as I tend to associate national defense with colder and harder forms of engagement and diplomacy. Further, as I’m committed to a year of federal service within three years of graduating, it was a helpful experience in opening my eyes to the breadth of operations that fall under each federal agency, like the Department of Defense. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity and know it is not one I will soon forget.

Week 3: The Orienting Continues
June 11/12, 2019

The past couple weeks at the Institute of World Politics have not quite fit my initial impression of my summer internship. My research advisor, Amb. Hughes, has yet to return from overseas and communication has not been consistent as he’s traveled to more remote states. As such, much of my time at the Institute has been filled by the more mundane tasks such as writing articles about IWP alumna as they enter the news cycle. However, events sponsored by IWP and an orientation with the National Security Education Program (NSEP) have kept my days more than full.

Moving chronologically, this Monday and Tuesday marked the Boren Awards Scholarship Orientation in Washington, DC. Scholars and Fellows flew in from across the United States (and I biked a mile down Connecticut Avenue) to fill the halls of the Mayflower Hotel, and become intimately oriented towards our upcoming academic terms abroad.

Stepping back, the Boren Awards Program is a funding program within the broader National Security Education Program, that provides funding to undergraduate and graduate students, who propose and submit plans for unconventionally long studies abroad. The Boren centers around language acquisition, specifically those identified as critical to the national security of the United States. My application centered around studying Arabic in Jordan from August 2019 to late May 2020. Part of the student-program agreement in committing to the Boren is a year of service within the Federal Government, which must begin within three years of graduating.

I’m far from certain what my career will look like, but thanks to the Boren, I have an idea of how it  may start. I was surprised to find that as a rising Junior, I may be on the younger end of program participants. It appears many students joining the program as undergraduates are doing so after three years at university, and will return for a final semester upon completion of their time abroad. As such, much of the Q & A portions following each panel presentation consistently centered around the service requirement/“opportunity”.

As someone who is new to the world and lingo of federal service, I did not stand to ask any questions, but learned quite a lot about the ins and outs of becoming employed by the federal government. One detail of the service requirement states that Boren participants are to initially pursue employment in one of the first tier agencies—Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, or one of the 17 Intelligence Agencies. If students are unsuccessful or maybe leaning towards other agencies, they may also apply to second tier agencies which include USAID and the Peace Corp, but must submit a statement to the program writing how the position employs their language capabilities, and furthers national security interests.

The majority of these panels were occurred on the Monday, and on Tuesday we were instructed to ‘run for the hill!’ That is Capital Hill. The program had scheduled congressional meetings for each participant with their respective senators and congressperson. I met with two staffers from Senator Thom Thillis’ and Senator Richard Burr’s offices, before meeting with the Senior Legislative Assistant to Congressman Patrick McHenry. I was the only participant from the tenth district of North Carolina, so I flew solo to my meeting with Congressman McHenry’s Assistant, but was joined by three fellow North Carolinians on my visits to Senator Burr’s and Senator Thillis’ offices.

Each representative’s office was in a different building, so I enjoyed being able to ‘tour’ the Russell Senate Offices, the Dirksen Senate Offices, and the Rayburn House Office. Further, as I’ve been in DC for a little over a month now, it was a nice homecoming to visit offices loyalty upholstered in North Carolina leather and imagery of Carolina barbecue, Nascar legends, and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the discussions the staffers were willing to, and seemingly excited to, engage us in. As participants in the Boren, our visits were to promote the scholarship program, as well as the NSEP program as a whole, in hopes of assuring congressional support. However, I don’t think NSEP receives much opposition, and is, as it should be, a non-partisan and celebrated issue. As such, much of our conversations revolved around the staffers hoping to hear more about our goals and interests, and offering their advice, knowledge, and contact.

The Congressional visits just about concluded the orientation program. We returned to Connecticut Avenue for a few final panels featuring alumni presenters, and an FBI leader sharing the story of ‘The Game of Pawns.’

Week 1: An Introduction to the Institute
May 27, 2019

I’m thrilled to join the Institute of World Politics this summer, working as a summer research assistant. The Institute, or I.W.P., is a graduate school in Washington, D.C., founded to provide professional education in statecraft, national security, and international affairs. In truth, I had never heard of the school until this past spring when I went to a career fair at Georgetown University. I.W.P. had not been on my list of organizations to visit, but I was drawn in by a conversation between one of I.W.P.’s representatives and another interested student. In speaking with the representative, I learned that Duke’s Program in American Grand Strategy had recently established a relationship with I.W.P., and she encouraged me to contact her with any questions about their graduate programs or internship opportunities.

I.W.P.’s representative had been not only eager to hear about my interests, but responded to my topics of study and curiosity with related opportunities and course offerings at I.W.P. One characteristic factor of I.W.P. is the necessary qualifications of associated professors. Each professor has substantial experience as a practitioner of the disciplines they teach, working or having worked as leaders in their fields.

Though the internship schedule includes a short shift twice a week working in administrative positions, the bulk of the internship centers around a research experience with a professor. Opportunities included–broadly–researching: cybersecurity, the spread of human rights, the K.G.B., and diplomacy. I requested and was approved to research diplomacy with Ambassador Phillip Hughes. A broad topic, but Amb. Hughes has been traveling this week so we were not able to begin working on the project. I’m very excited to meet and begin the project next week.

Unable to begin the research portion of my internship, this first week was slow and allowed ample time for me to acclimate. Monday marked orientation for all interns (including two very nice Tar Heels). Much of the orientation centered around familiarizing ourselves with the school’s buildings–Marlott Mansion and two neighboring buildings. Definite highlights of the tour included a number of hidden safes located throughout Marlott Mansion, which once served as a K.G.B. stronghold in our nation’s capital.

This coming week I’m looking forward to meeting Amb. Hughes and learning more about the project he has planned. Another aspect of the internship includes the opportunity to audit classes offered by the school. I’m hoping to be able to continue studying Arabic through the summer, in preparation for the coming school year which I will spend abroad in Jordan. I’ll also be taking a course with Professor Albert Santoli entitled ‘Peace, Strategy, and Conflict Resolution.’ I’m a little nervous as I’ll be joining two weeks late and have not been able to look over a syllabus or reading list to prepare, but am looking forward to starting!