On our second day of the D.C. field study, we were in our groove and ready for the long day of the trip. It was Tuesday.
We began at the Capitol building, along with a bus full of Freshman Congressmen. The imposing building, made of white rock, stands on a hill and we circled around it to get to the visitor center where we would be in one of the many meeting rooms. The center was relatively new, and filled with statuary. When it was built, each state had been asked for two statues for the halls. It was strong and impressive, but welcoming.
Our first briefer, Air Force Brig. Gen. Darryl Robinson, of the USAF’s legislative liaison office, presented an overview of the job. Basically, the service liaisons are available to Congress to answer questions about their military service agency – budget questions or foreign military sales questions for example – for the Senators and Representatives.
The general was followed by House Armed Services Committee member Roger Zakheim who spoke about how the committee in particular and the Congress in general worked. He spoke about how the mid-term elections changed the political makeup of the Congress, and what might change in Congress’ actions.
He said he didn’t see any dramatic change in trans-Atlantic security and cooperation.
He also answered questions about Afghanistan, the Tea Party presence in government and the focus on chasing Al Qaeda.
Mr. Zakheim was followed by Representative Jim Marshall, a 4-term Congressman who had notably left Princeton as a young man to enlist in the Army and fight in Vietnam.
He spoke of the importance of working cooperatively with our global partners.
Rep. Marshall also talked about the “Blue Dog Democrats” and how the group at one point had encompassed many Congressmen, but that U.S. politics had become so party-polarized that it was difficult to bring people to the center any more.
The afternoon saw us at the State Department, in their relatively new George. C. Marshall auditorium.
There, we first heard from Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Thomas Countryman.
He reiterated Secretary Hillary Clinton’s goals in Europe: continued promotion of European security, cooperation with Russia, addressing global challenges, and to see a Europe whole and free.
He also spoke about how the State Department has worked with the governments of Bosnia and Serbia to help them write laws against corruption.
He addressed questions from the students about NATO intercession in Transnistria, questions about the future of Afghanistan and the Sudan, and NATO/EU security
Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary, bureau of political-military affairs, spoke next and addressed how the State Department works in the region.
He said under their system, it is the State Department that manages security assistance and encourages civilian authorities to have discussions authority about security.
Participants asked him about cyber attacks – are they a political or military attack? – foreign military sales, and piracy. When asked about the U.S. relationship with China, he stressed that we needed to develop mil-mil cooperation and basic relationships to progress.
After the State Department visit, we made our way to an evening event hosted by the German Embassy.
We were warmly welcomed by the deputy chief of mission who spoke of the strong relationship and friendship between Germany and the U.S., evident both physically with presences in both countries, and economically in the way we employ each others’ citizens.
About nine Marshall Center alumni attended the event, and all participants had the opportunity for discussion and dialog before closing the evening.