By Bridget Smith
B.A. Political Science, Minor in Geographic Information Systems
The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency burst into the National Security Council without knocking. “Mr. President,” he gasped, attempting to catch his breath after jogging to the room, “Mr. President, it looks like China has begun the invasion.”
The room was silent, and then everyone began to talk at once. The Secretary of Defense was offering military contingency plans, snapping orders at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs’. The Secretary of State was speaking to an aide rapidly, ordering her to set up bilateral meetings with China, South Korea, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The National Security Adviser was grilling the Director of the CIA, asking how we know, what types of intelligence we had, and how confident we were.
The President considered for a moment, placing his fingers under his chin, before turning to the Council. “I want PACOM placed on highest readiness; meetings with the belligerents; and constant satellite monitoring over the region. Get me eyes and signals intercepts so we can plan our next move.”
Aides hurried out of the room, and there was a timid knock. The room fell silent again, a tense excitement and fear filling the air. The Director of the CIA opened the door, and one of his staff entered.
“Mr. Director, Mr. President, Sir,” the aide began nervously. “We have confirmation on the contents of the shipping vessel we were tracking, and a suspected destination.”
Everyone looked at her expectantly, so she took a deep breath. “Satellite images taken 68 hours ago confirm suspected nuclear material being loaded onto the vessel at port. Based on their current heading and the weather, we suspect their intended destination is Chabahar, in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The President rubbed his eyes. “Okay, folks. Get Legal Counsel in here. It looks like we’re going to war.”
The scene above did not happen on The West Wing, or even in the West Wing. Rather, this scene took place in September 2013, on the second floor of Funger Hall.
I am part of a student organization here at GW called Strategic Crisis Simulations (SCS), which works to create experiential learning scenarios about U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Students and young professionals have the opportunity to engage with these scenarios by portraying roles across the U.S. inter-agency, from the president to the administrator of USAID to an intelligence officer working at a U.S. embassy.
Between 70 and 100 students then must work collaboratively through the U.S. interagency process in order to manage and mitigate an evolving crisis. This can take several forms: sometimes students call multi-lateral meetings, such as the United Nations or the African Union in order to mediate conflicts; other times participants plan and execute a development strategy which works to strengthen the security, economic, social and political sectors of a given nation.
Through SCS, I have worked through the complex territorial claims in the South China Sea; prevented war between Russia and Turkey; and mediated a peace agreement in South Sudan. I have seen the effects of famine in Ethiopia; captured members of a homegrown terror cell in the United States; and rewritten U.S. policy towards Iran and the greater Middle East region.
I have had an unparalleled experience to not only study political theory, but to understand the wild, inconsistent, enormous beast that is U.S. foreign policy. I have worked with talented undergraduates, brilliant graduate students, and dedicated young professionals from across the Washington, D.C. metro area.
Professionals across Washington have come to our events and volunteered their time with students like me, in order to enhance our experience and create a more dynamic environment. From obvious (yet surprisingly necessary) advice like, “Maybe you shouldn’t try to assassinate a world leader. We don’t really do that,” to nuanced and valuable opinions such as, “As an intelligence officer, your first question should be from where is this information coming. Don’t accept anything at face value – always push harder and look deeper,” these mentors have created an entirely new and infinitely more understandable experience for my colleagues and myself.
Perhaps the best part of our mentor program is the diversity of opinions I have had the opportunity to hear. From members of the Intelligence Community and Department of Defense, to representatives from the Aid Community and Department of State, to employees of private-sector think tanks and research institutions, I have rubbed elbows with and picked the brains of talented and fascinating professionals whose wide range of experiences speaks to the complex processes which take place every day within our government.
Thus, I can proudly say as an undergraduate student that I have challenged the bureaucracy of the U.S. inter-agency process; crafted policy suggestions and options for U.S. engagement internationally; and prevented World War III with Russia or China (hypothetically, at least). I have gained valuable skills in presentation and public speaking, analysis and research, and leadership and team building. The students I work with every day inspire me to push myself to achieve anything and everything.
And, perhaps best of all, I have an interesting way to answer the question “Tell me about yourself,” for I have experiences and stories in every region, and for every occasion.