Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, in a keynote at Harvardâs Kennedy Forum last week, called for patience from the public on the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and beseeched the Harvard students in attendance to consider military service.
âWomen on War and Peaceâ brought together Flournoy, the third-ranking Defense Department official and the highest-ranking woman to ever serve in the Pentagon, with two Harvard professors who have also held top national security posts.
Flournoy, who also co-founded Washington think tank the Center for a New American Security, said the 30,000 troop buildup in Afghanistan has helped combat the Talibanâs reach in rural areas and provided breathing room for Afghan army troops to be adequately trained.
However, Flournoy counseled against impatience.
âIt will take time. It will require patience,â she said.
In fact, it may require more patience than many have been planning on. President Barack Obamaâs announced date for beginning to draw down troops â July Â 2011 â does not signal U.S. troops will pack up and leave right away, Flournoy said.
âIt will mean the end of the current troop surge, and the beginning of some U.S. combat-troop reductions â when and where conditions warrant,â she added. âJuly 2011 wonât mean the end of our commitment to Afghanistan, or even necessarily a reduction in the intensity of our operations. Not by a long shot.â
On serving in the military, Flournoy, a Harvard graduate, called for Harvard students âto think beyond the well-worn paths that lead from Harvard to the world of think tanks and policy offices,â and consider joining âone of the most impressive and diverse institutions in the world: the United States military,â she said.
Meanwhile, Flournoy’s name is increasingly being dropped as a possible replacement for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is expected to retire early next year. A Pittsburgh Tribune columnist, called the “experienced and vibrant” Flournoy “ideal for the job.”