2006 PFIG Recipient Michael Wain

UVA Career Center – August 1st, 2006

Michael Wain
College of Arts & Sciences
Foreign Affairs Major
2007 Graduation Year

Internship: National Defense University

Notes on the first week

The beginning of my internship at the Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA-CSS) at National Defense University (NDU) has been both fascinating and rewarding. Friday ended the first of three weeks of NESA’s Executive Seminar on Strategic Communications for senior military and diplomatic leaders from the region. Despite a 5:30 wakeup time and a 50-hour workweek for me and the three other interns, the seminar has been incredibly fulfilling. Each day brings personal interactions with 30 representatives from countries as diverse as Morocco and India, and I have taken this as an opportunity to broaden my cultural and political understanding of the region.

The theme of this week seems to be: what are U.S. governmental agencies doing to improve public diplomacy efforts in the NESA region, what are its strengths and weaknesses, and how can NESA countries help in this effort to promote security and peace? While the administrative side of the internship entails such tasks as distributing translation devices (some participants speak only Arabic or French), assisting participants with computer access, and taking notes for the “breakout” sessions led by NESA professors, I have also had the opportunity to listen in on provocative plenary sessions as well as smaller discussions. The successful U.S. operation against the terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq this week was a significant development in the war on terror that sparked interesting discussion among the participants. Trips to the Pentagon and State Department, in addition to a dinner at the National Press Club, were also highlights of the week.

However, I must say that the personal interactions I have had with participants have been the most valuable. While assisting participants with NDU computer databases, an Iraqi military official who spoke limited English said, “Mike, you mean I can use this from MY country? From Iraq?” Yes, I assured him, as a NESA alumnus you will have lifetime access to this important research on terrorism, military weapons, and regional issues. At first he was incredulous. Finally, “thank you, Mike.” I was heartened by the gratitude in his voice and the knowledge that my computer assistance might, in some small way, help him build a better future for his country.

Midway

Since the end of the Strategic Communications Seminar in June, things at NESA have slowed down considerably, but the environment is still fast-paced and highly interesting. My main project for the summer is a paper on religious terrorism that I am collaborating on with one of the professors at NESA. National Defense University has a library with a plethora of resources that I have access to, and I have enjoyed spending time delving into the academic literature on religiously-motivated terrorism.

I was fortunate to participate in a two-day long offsite planning meeting, during which the entire NESA faculty and staff convened to discuss the Center’s evolving mission and vision, and its relationships within the Department of Defense. The NESA Center will likely be expanding in the coming year, and it was exciting to be a part of the planning for upcoming changes.

I also had the opportunity to attend a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where I heard from the foreign minister of Afghanistan explain the ongoing war on terrorism and reconstruction in that nation. It has also been interesting to interact with the Honorable Ali Jalali, the former interior minister of Afghanistan, who is now a distinguished professor at the NESA Center. The new director of the Center, Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, USA (ret.), was formerly commander of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Needless to say, the faculty have extremely impressive backgrounds, but are also down to earth and have been very open in sharing their experiences and insights into regional issues. In my office, I work next to an Iraqi military officer, who has provided me with a firsthand glimpse into the situation on the ground in Iraq. My experience at the NESA Center so far has provided me with some very unique opportunities for expanding my knowledge of the region, both through research and through one-on-one interactions.

Final Reflections

It has been a truly stimulating summer at the NESA Center, especially in light of the current situation in the Middle East between Lebanon and Israel. Interning at a center with experts who have worked directly in the region in diverse roles has afforded me a broader view of the NESA region. Recently, I have been engaging in preparation for the upcoming Combating Terrorism Seminar for regional leaders in mid-August. While continuing to conduct research for the religious terrorism paper, I assisted many staff members in administrative tasks related to the seminar.

One of the professors at NESA graciously took all of the interns to the Capitol Grill for a delicious lunch. While dining on fine steak at an establishment where Washington’s movers and shakers often meet to broker political deals, we discussed the highlights of our internship so far and the complex politics of the Middle East. The professor shared with us his unique insights on national policies related to combating terrorism and narcotics, after having spent several years in the State Department and working with members of Congress.

As a culminating activity, the interns collaborated in putting together a slide show documenting our accomplishments from the internship, and were presented with certificates from NESA Center director Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, USA (ret.). My internship at NESA has been incredibly relevant to the global war on terrorism and the foreign policy issues of our day. Between conducting interesting research on religious terrorism, to interacting with regional leaders from Marakesh to Bangladesh on a daily basis, my summer at the NESA Center has been rewarding and helpful to my understanding of a region which will continue to play a central role in American foreign policymaking.