Kleinfeld: A Truman Approach to National Security


When Harry
Truman was president, security was a broad concept.  It implied not just a strong military, but
also a strong economy, strong morale at home, and strong alliances based on
shared threat.  After World War II,
President Truman and his able foreign policy corps created a security structure
that would buttress world stability for the good of America.  They had the vision to see that America was
safer in a world that was more peaceful, more just, and more prosperous.  And they articulated that vision of
enlightened self-interest to the American people, explaining why it was in
America’s security interest to support the unprecedented foreign aid of the
Marshall Plan, reduced protectionism that spurred trade and revived the world
economy, and binding alliances such as NATO.

In recent
decades, this broad understanding of global security has been dismantled.  Conservative think-tanks teach that national
security equals military strength alone. 
Liberal pundits want an America so humble that we retreat from global
responsibilities, leaving countries like flood-soaked (and nuclear-armed)
Pakistan to their own devices.  From both
sides of the political spectrum, we pursue narrow self-interest over
enlightened self-interest, and are surprised that we reap resentment, anger,
and distrust.

When I was
finishing a D. Phil in England, supported by my Truman Scholarship, I saw
firsthand how these twin strands of policy could tighten into a noose that
would harm America – and the world. 
Doing dissertation research in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim
nation, I saw how anti-Americanism plummeted after our tsunami assistance – and
how America’s right wing was forcing politicians into cutting such aid and
supporting simplistic militarized security measures.  While working in Albania, I saw the gratitude
that had come from years of American support for their human rights – most
recently through the war in Kosovo.  And
yet from the left came cries of hubris if America intervened to assist the
lives of the marginalized, poor, and oppressed.

We founded
the Truman National Security Project to create a strong voice for Americans who
supported a third way in foreign policy. 
We wanted to articulate a strong, smart, and principled set of policies
that harkened back to the wise worldview of President Truman while meeting the
challenges of the 21st century.

Five years later,
the Truman Project and its sister organization, the Truman Educational
Institute, have become the nation’s largest organizations training progressive
leaders in national security.  Each year,
we offer courses for more than 200 Congressional staff, scores of political
candidates, and hundreds of progressive political consultants and activists who
may never have considered security issues before.  Our flagship Truman Fellowship trains a
handpicked cohort of future leaders. 
Over 100 Truman Fellows now serve in the Obama Administration and in
Congress, ranging from special assistants to National Security Advisor General
Jim Jones, General David Petraeus,
and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and speechwriters for President Obama,
to on-the-ground military officers and USAID leaders in Afghanistan.

trainings emphasize hard moral and policy questions: for instance, a recent
scenario on what to do about Iran’s nuclear weapons program was co-created with
Harvard University’s Graham Allison, and moderated by leading Iran
experts.  Those we train are inspired by
personal meetings and mentorship from security leaders such as Homland Security
Secretary Janet Napolitano (NM ’77), General Petraeus, and Anthony Lake.  We provide deep training in effective
communication, drawn from cutting-edge psychological research.  And we position those we train to impact the
public conversation, by placing them in the media, in advocacy campaigns, and
in the political sphere.

A crucial
part of our effort is to reconnect foreign policy leaders with the
military.  In a democracy, civilians must
lead the military.  But as the left
became estranged from our fighting forces following Vietnam, it left a legacy
of separateness that harmed our ability to understand what our military could,
and could not, do.  That hurts
policy.  Thucydides said that “The
society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking
done by cowards and its fighting by fools.”  
By bringing together rising policy-makers under 40 with their military
peers, we hope to overturn such a damning indictment.

We also work
to bridge the gap between foreign policy makers and politicians.  For decades, foreign policy thinkers have
disdained American politics.  The
political process removes so much nuance from tough foreign policy questions
that to engage in politics was seen by many as a betrayal of their policy
wisdom.  But in a democracy, policy is
made through politics.  We help rising
foreign policy leaders under 40 become comfortable with the political sphere,
and able to communicate their policy case in language that resonates
politically – not just to the illuminati of Beltway Washington!

One of our
most recent projects in this sphere has been in the area of climate change and
energy.  Our addiction to oil has poured
billions of dollars into the coffers of countries arrayed against us – such as
Iran and Russia.  It also filters into
terrorist networks. In the words of former Director of Central Intelligence R.
James Woolsey, our oil addiction has created the first time since the Civil War
that we are funding both sides of a conflict. Meanwhile, climate change is a
threat multiplier, sparking famines and floods and exacerbating migration in the
poorest parts of the world, creating uprooted populations ripe for riot and

But the
issues of energy and climate had become partisan.  Half our polarized country saw them as
left-wing issues, rather than looking at the policy facts.  The Truman Project has mobilized more than
700 veterans in our OperationFree program (watch video here) to speak out on the national security
need to reduce climate change while freeing America from oil dependence.  They have spoken in more than 200 cities
across America, and have been hosted twice at the White House.  Their efforts to lobby Congress for action –
from supporting a cap on carbon, to working for higher fuel efficiency
standards – are changing the terms of this debate, and helping everyday Americans
to understand the security need to move to a new energy future.

As President
Truman said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on
imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”  We hope through the work of the Truman
Project to create a new generation of leaders who can help America stay great,
and the world to be ever more peaceful and just.

Rachel Kleinfeld (AK ’97) is the CEO and
Co-Founder of the Truman National Security Project and Truman Educational


Truman Project - 1

Janine Davidson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Aron Ketchel, Truman Fellow


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Gayle Smith, Senior Director at the National Security Council, with Phil Carter, Truman Fellow


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Truman Fellows at the annual conference

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