An Evening with Secretary of State John Kerry: An MSFS Milestone

 

by Jessica Kosmider (MSFS ’19)

When I was deciding between graduate programs in international affairs, I repeatedly heard about the high caliber of Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) program and its many offerings. Events featuring the biggest names in foreign policy, engaging coursework available across the entire School of Foreign Service (SFS), and faculty-practitioners who not only aim to help students in the classroom but also in their careers were all reasons why I ultimately chose MSFS. On the night of October 4, 2018, I witnessed all of these things converge when Admiral John Kirby, a former spokesperson for the U.S. State and Defense Departments, brought former Secretary of State and U.S. Senator for the state of Massachusetts John Kerry to campus as part of a half-semester graduate seminar on national security and communications.

Secretary Kerry came to the Hilltop to talk about his experiences in government, particularly those pertaining to the Syrian Civil War, but conversations ranged from U.S. infrastructure needs and the surge in female candidates running for public office in the United States to the future of diplomacy and foreign policies toward Yemen, Kenya, and Russia. Still, there were several important wider points that Secretary Kerry emphasized: the rapidity of change in today’s current environment, which he argued rivals that of the Industrial Revolution; the importance of multilateral relationships, even with adversaries; and the need for strong, coherent foreign policy strategies that are agile and effective.

“Diplomacy can move fast, [but] it depends on the relationships,” he said. “We have to move faster—we cannot be old-fashioned in the way we approach the world. Goods are moving faster. Services are moving faster. Ideas are moving faster. People are moving faster[…]the one thing that isn’t moving faster in the world today is government.” He argued that to overcome these hurdles, “we need much greater synergy” in government, especially between the U.S. State and Defense Departments.

As students in Admiral Kirby’s course, my classmates and I have spent the last few weeks studying these government responses—both in policy and communications—to ongoing foreign policy challenges, including Iraq, North Korea, and Iran. We have been pushed to consider how communications campaigns translate into policy implementation, how our allies and adversaries interpret our intentions vis-a-vis our statements and actions, and what the role of the U.S. in the world should be moving forwards.

Throughout our conversations, Admiral Kirby has emphasized the relationship between communications and policy. “The essential things I want my students to understand is the interconnection between policy and narrative and the importance of thinking through the communications piece of any policy well before that policy is decided,” he said. “I think Ben Rhodes [another guest speaker!] put it very well when he said that sometimes our policy is really what we say about it. I’m not suggesting that public communications is more important than sound policy, but I am suggesting it is every bit as important and very often the key to the success of the policy itself.” As the seven-week course nears its end, I am confident that I will leave Admiral Kirby’s classroom not only with a deeper understanding of these connections but also of U.S. diplomacy and what meaningful leadership looks like.

“Diplomacy is hard work,” Secretary Kerry warned yesterday, “[and] our democracy is in trouble.” However, he remains optimistic because our institutions have proved resilient time and again. I am also optimistic. At MSFS, we have learned how to put the program’s core values—leadership, service, ethics, and creativity—into practice, whether we are in classrooms with inspiring professors like Admiral Kirby or at internships spanning the public and private sectors. Though my classmates and I will certainly face many challenges in our future careers, I believe we are building the foundations to take them on with success.