Aspin Fellowship: Harsha-Strong

Les Aspin ’60 Summer Fellowship: Matthew O. Harsha-Strong

This summer, I undertook an unpaid, eleven-week internship in the Middle East and Western Hemisphere policy units in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. My responsibilities included: preparing policy briefs and reports for senior-level DoD officials, facilitating and observing meetings run by DoD officials, and, in the Western Hemisphere policy office, directly assisting the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. A successful experience by all measures, I am deeply indebted to the Les Aspin ’60 International Public Service Fellowship committee for their generous assistance in making the summer internship possible.

Internship Description
My internship began the day after Memorial Day, on Tuesday, June 1st. I remember approaching the Pentagon on the first day with awe; the building is massive — the largest office building in the world — and so many important national security activities are run from within. I took most of that first day to wander its labyrinth: peeking into Secretary Rumsfeld’s lively office, admiring the portraits of our past Secretary of Defenses, mourning the victims of September 11th in the Pentagon’s new wing, and marveling at the replete, high-tech gym. The second day I began my internship.

For the first seven weeks of my internship, I assisted in the Middle East policy office. I was assigned to the desk officers for Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia; Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar; and Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. My own computer and desk enabled me to contribute substantively to the formulation of DoD policy toward the Middle East. I prepared materials for various meetings addressing topics from bilateral military talks to country policy, I wrote memos authorizing the transfer of troops from one military command to another, I drafted policy memos that eventually found their way up to the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Under Secretary for Policy, Deputy Secretary, and Secretary of Defense. One project I spearheaded while working in the Middle East policy office was a compilation of each Middle Eastern country’s contributions to the War on Terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The spreadsheet and accompanying analysis was later forwarded to the Secretary of Defense. The Assistant Secretary of Defense used talking points I prepared word-for-word in a meeting with one ambassador. I was privy to many developments in the region during an especially tense time, and I was extremely grateful to have had that opportunity. While working in the Middle East policy office, I had the chance to meet and observe meetings run by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Ryan Henry, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman. In addition, the Office of the Secretary sponsored a seminar series featuring candid talks with each of these senior Defense Department officials. I felt privileged to work in an office at the forefront of so many US national security developments.

My contributions during the last four weeks of my internship rivaled those of the first seven weeks of my work at DoD. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere Roger Pardo-Maurer took me under his wing to show me the inner workings of DoD policy. For these last four weeks, I directly assisted the Deputy Assistant Secretary and pursued projects assigned by him. One of these projects involved engineering a public relations strategy for a new regional maritime initiative in the Western Hemisphere. I drafted talking points for Secretary Pardo-Maurer and wrote an op-ed that he hopes to publish in a major newspaper. He brought me to a policy formulation meeting at the State Department where I learned how the State Department and DoD cooperate in matters of foreign policy and where he used my talking points verbatim. I also spearheaded a “Southern Cone” science project, which aims to increase research and development funding and build scientific cooperation between the United States and three other countries in the Western Hemisphere. In planning this project, I cooperated with several offices within and without the DoD, including an office at the White House. I felt like a desk officer while working in the Western Hemisphere policy unit and value the contributions I made there the most.

Leaving the Pentagon in mid-August was difficult for me. I felt satisfied that I had made the most of my internship and that I had impacted DoD policy, but I regretted seeing such an awesome opportunity end.

The Les Aspin Fellowship’s Contribution
Without the Les Aspin ’60 International Public Service Fellowship, I would have been forced to turn down this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or, at best, find a second job for the weekends to fund substantial housing, transportation, and food costs. I am eternally grateful to the Les Aspin Fellowship Committee for selecting me from so many other worthy candidates and awarding me the amount it did.

My objective in accepting the internship at the Pentagon was to explore the inner workings of foreign policymaking, absorb the DC summer experience, and attempt to make as large a contribution to DoD policy as a lowly intern can make. As one might suspect from reading my internship description, my most precious moments in DC occurred when the Deputy Assistant Secretary or some other official used something I worked hard to produce in a meeting. Any intern should feel grateful at just having the opportunity to discover how Washington works; to directly impact policymaking, though, is an opportunity that few interns come across. I was very privileged to work in the Middle East and Western Hemisphere policy offices this past summer, and I have nothing but gratitude to Les Aspin, a former Secretary of Defense himself, and the fellowship committee for enabling this experience.

To top off the summer, I am currently studying abroad in the country with which I dealt most over the summer: Egypt. I have had the chance to see firsthand in Egypt, and in other countries to which I have traveled (Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan), how policy made in Washington, DC affects the rest of the world. This combined experience — the summer at the Pentagon, and the fall in the Middle East — has had quite an impact on my personal, professional, and academic development. I hope to return to Washington, DC at some point in my future.

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