The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Cabler of the Week: Esther Brimmer

Where we ask 10 questions that help us to understand one of the personalities making foreign policy in the Obama administration. This week’s subject: Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Esther Brimmer: 1)  Which American president do you look to as the model for your approach to foreign policy? Jefferson, Wilson, FDR, LBJ, JFK, ...

568535_100528_0_brimmer_photo_200_12.jpg
568535_100528_0_brimmer_photo_200_12.jpg

Where we ask 10 questions that help us to understand one of the personalities making foreign policy in the Obama administration. This week's subject: Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Esther Brimmer:

1)  Which American president do you look to as the model for your approach to foreign policy? Jefferson, Wilson, FDR, LBJ, JFK, George W. Bush, someone else?

I appreciate Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt's and Harry S Truman's efforts to create a new system of international organizations to help manage global affairs following World War II. The United States has benefited greatly from their efforts and the development of global and regional organizations, including the U.N., the IMF, the World Bank, and NATO. FDR and his team had a vision; Truman and his team not only carried out this vision but had the foresight and fortitude to develop it further. I also greatly admire Eleanor Roosevelt and her commitment to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Where we ask 10 questions that help us to understand one of the personalities making foreign policy in the Obama administration. This week’s subject: Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Esther Brimmer:

1)  Which American president do you look to as the model for your approach to foreign policy? Jefferson, Wilson, FDR, LBJ, JFK, George W. Bush, someone else?

I appreciate Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt’s and Harry S Truman‘s efforts to create a new system of international organizations to help manage global affairs following World War II. The United States has benefited greatly from their efforts and the development of global and regional organizations, including the U.N., the IMF, the World Bank, and NATO. FDR and his team had a vision; Truman and his team not only carried out this vision but had the foresight and fortitude to develop it further. I also greatly admire Eleanor Roosevelt and her commitment to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2)  How do you view U.S. leadership in the world in the 21st century? Is it America a hegemon in decline or going strong? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I see the United States as the leader in a world populated with increasingly active international actors, including governments, NGOs, the private sector and others. The U.S. retains a unique place in international affairs with a leading role in all spheres: political, military, economic, and development and human rights. Smart power means building creatively on all these resources to advance U.S. interests. While the United States remains a global leader, it is also important that other nations take seriously their responsibilities and obligations for the health of the international system.

3)  What’s the No. 1 narrative about the Obama administration’s foreign policy so far that you feel has been mischaracterized by the media?

Foreign policy is not only an issue of the day’s headlines, but also of long-term trends. I think the administration is not only deciding what makes sense now, but also trying to make choices that will have long-term benefit for the United States, including combating climate change, advancing human rights, and securing nuclear weapons and materials. Sometimes when observers look for the fruits of engagement on tough issues, their perspective is too short term and they are too impatient. Rebuilding relationships takes time; developing new norms is slow.  The problems did not arise overnight and won’t be solved overnight. Sometimes, progress has to be measured in the small steps now that change the long-term trajectory of an issue.

4)  Which Obama administration foreign-policy official should we watch more closely?

John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Science is increasingly playing a more important role in foreign affairs.

5)  What do you see as the top three challenges for U.S. foreign policy over the next three decades?

Engaging new powers and centers of influence by taking up opportunities for cooperation with emerging powers, while working with partners old and new to pursue a more just and sustainable international order.

Building a more effective international system to address the most difficult transnational issues, like the spread of disease, climate change, trade, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the threat posed by terrorists, criminals, and trafficking of illicit narcotics.

Dealing with the urbanization of the human species. By mid-century, 70 percent of the world’s population, approximately 6.4 billion people, will live in cities and metropolitan areas. This phenomenon will have an impact on economic and social development, influence political trends, create environmental pressures, but also open up new avenues for social connection, education, and respect for human rights.

6)  Why did you decide to go to work for the Obama administration? What do you hope to accomplish?

I have been deeply inspired by President Obama’s vision of America and who we could become as a society ever since I read Dreams from My Father in 2005.

I would like to solidify multilateral diplomacy as an effective and respected tool of American foreign policy. Specific aspects include strengthening the U.S. internal mechanisms for multilateral diplomacy and making our international tools more effective (including peacekeeping and U.N. human rights mechanisms).

7)  Who was your mentor in the early stages of your career and how did they help you?

I have known Secretary Madeleine Albright my entire life and was inspired by her work. I also have learned so much from former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Peter Tarnoff, who gave me my first job at State on his staff in 1993, and former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Ambassador George Moose, who lead the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in Geneva and is an outstanding example of a diplomat who mastered bilateral and multilateral diplomacy as well as how to manage a busy bureau.

8)  Who is the foreign leader or figure you most admire and why?

I have a great deal of respect for Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She is a politician and diplomat with a strong academic background and a vision for improving the lives of people in her country.

9)  What is your favorite country to visit for pleasure, and what should we do when we go there?

France. When I was growing up my parents had family friends in Paris whom we would visit.  I learned French at school and realized that language opens up pathways to understanding another culture. My parents would let me travel there because they knew I had studied the language and we had friends there if I needed help. Intellectually, I have been interested in how the United States and modern France, both secular republics born of the Enlightenment, address political and social issues.

10)  If you had the chance to meet with any leading figure from history, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?

Eleanor Roosevelt, to ask her about her lessons in advancing a vision through diplomacy; Harriet Tubman, to ask her about fortitude; and Phyllis Wheatly, the 18th century African American poet, to ask her about the joy of writing despite the pressures of the world around her. She was the first African-American woman to have her writings published in the United States.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.