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Michele Flournoy – Chief Executive Officer, CNAS

Chuck Hagel is leaving the role of Defense Secretary after being pressured to quit less than two years into the job.

Chuck Hagel resigned from his role as Defense Secretary amid reports that a WOMAN might succeed him. President Barack Obama announced Hagel’s resignation on Monday.

Clearing Hagel out of the Pentagon as America returns to more active war footing will dangle a tantalizing history-making opportunity in front of the president, with a female successor, Michèle Flournoy, who would be the first female Pentagon chief, and the most logical candidate under discussion for the first time in American history.

As the front-runner to replace Hagel, there is no doubt Flournoy knows her business!

As Chief Executive Officer, Ms. Flournoy co-founded the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a “liberal-hawk” think tank with Kurt Campbell in 2007. CNAS dedicated to developing strong, pragmatic and principled national security policies. CNAS is widely viewed as having had significant influence on the Obama administration’s defense policies, particularly with respect to counterinsurgency warfare.

Flournoy also served as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from February 2009 to February 2012.  She was the principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense in the formulation of national security and defense policy, oversight of military plans and operations, and in National Security Council deliberations. She led the development of DoD’s 2012 Strategic Guidance and represented the Department in dozens of foreign engagements, in the media and before Congress.

Prior to confirmation, Ms. Flournoy co-led President Obama’s transition team at DoD.

Previously, she was senior adviser at the for several years and, prior to that, a distinguished research professor at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University (NDU).

DoD FlournoyIn the mid-1990s, she served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy.  She has received several awards from the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Ms. Flournoy is also a member of the Defense Policy Board, the DCIA’s External Advisory Board, the Center for National Policy, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Aspen Strategy Group. She serves on the boards of the MITRE Corporation, Rolls-Royce North America, Amida Technology Solutions, Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Mission Continues, and the Leading Humanitarian Organization (CARE).

In October 2014, Flournoy was named to the president’s twelve-member President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), which provides the president with independent advice on the effectiveness of the intelligence community in accomplishing its directives and planning for the future.

In 2005 she supported a advocacy campaign spearheaded by the neoconservative Project for the New American Century that aimed to boost the size of the U.S. military.
After leaving the Pentagon in mid-2012, Flournoy joined the Boston Consulting Group as a Senior Advisor and the Harvard Kennedy Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs as a Senior Fellow.

Harvard Kennedy SchoolInterventionist

Although she is sometimes characterized as a “liberal realist” who seeks to reign in the United States’ global ambitions, Flournoy also believes that the U.S. military “is a force for good abroad” and has pushed to maintain American forces in places like Iraq. “I am one who believes that the United States, as a superpower in the world, still has an indispensable leadership role to play,” Flournoy said at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2013.

Flournoy has criticized the Obama administration’s withdrawal plan from Afghanistan, saying, “If it was a timeline with a strong statement that said, ‘Hey, this is our plan, but no plan survives contact with reality and, of course, we are going to adjust based on conditions on the ground,’ then no problem, but what I am hearing out of the White House is that ‘hell or high water, this is what we are going to do.”
Regarding the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia,” which was heralded in 2012, Flournoy commented that it “has been very important” in helping “to ensure that we can sustain open trade routes, freedom of action down through the Strait of Malacca, down through Southeast Asia, so reaching out more to Australia, to the Philippines, to Vietnam, to other ASEAN nations.”
Institute for Peace Panel-NF

Pictured from left to right, LTG (Ret.) Michael Maples, Hon. Michele Flournoy, Kevin Baron

Two State Solution

Flournoy was ask how she would reinvigorate the Middle East peace process.

“That is one of the priorities. I think that as difficult as this is and as much as the current conditions don’t seem to support success in this endeavor, it is something that the United States must continue to try to pursue because it’s so important to our interests.

The truth is, a two-state solution is the answer. And if we want to support Israel as a democratic Jewish state, which is their goal (Jews), the demographics are such that we’ve got to help them (Palestinians) achieve via two-state solution sooner rather than later, because at some point, the demographics in Israel will make them choose between being democratic and being identified as a Jewish state. We don’t want that choice to have to be made, and I think the Palestinians too. It’s a tragic story and they need to have a viable state as well. So again, very difficult under the current circumstances but something that we have to keep on the agenda and continue to pursue.”

Militarist Tendencies

Foreign policy hawks have frequently commented on Flournoy’s militarist tendencies. For instance, in a September 2009 commentary on U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute wrote, “Undersecretary of defense Michele Flournoy is the dictionary definition of a hawkish Democrat. While it’s true that there are increasing contradictions in the very term—we’re not really talking Harry Truman anymore—the strategic implications of a faltering commitment to Afghanistan would be obvious to her. So when she’s lowering expectations, I sit up and take notice.”

Flournoy has warned against a preemptive U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran, calling it “a tactical step that undermines the strategic goal” of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. However, Flournoy has also allowed that military action remains a possibility in the future, telling the Jerusalem Post in August 2012 that “Israel can rely on Obama to stop a nuclear Iran. … [T]he policy is not containment and I think he is serious about that.”

Military Spending

In September 2014, Flournoy argued in a Washington Post op-ed written with Eric Edelman, a board member of the neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative and longtime advocate for militarist U.S. polices, that military spending should be increased to “sustain the rules-based international order that underpins U.S. security and prosperity.” The two called for an immediate repeal of the Budget Control Act, which provided for the “sequestration” cuts much loathed by foreign policy hawks, and a “return, at a minimum, to funding levels proposed by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his fiscal 2012 budget.” Edelman and Flournoy further argued that “the U.S. military must be able to deter or stop aggression in multiple theaters, not just one, even when engaged in a large-scale war.”

Notably, in 2005 Flournoy supported an advocacy campaign aimed at increasing the size of the U.S. military that was spearheaded by the now-defunct neoconservative activist group the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). PNAC was notorious for its efforts in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to promote a U.S. invasion of Iraq “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack.”
In the 2005 open letter to several leading congressional figures—which Flournoy signed along with a host of other national security hawks—the group claimed that the George W. Bush administration was failing to support large enough U.S. ground forces to successfully fight the “war on terror.” The letter channeled core neoconservative beliefs that the United States is a unique arbiter for good and evil in the world and that the U.S. military must remain in the Middle East indefinitely.

Undersecretary of Defense

According to her CNAS biography, during Flournoy’s tenure as undersecretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration, “She was the principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense in the formulation of national security and defense policy, oversight of military plans and operations, and in National Security Council deliberations. She led the development of DoD’s new Strategic Guidance and represented the Department in dozens of foreign engagements, in the media and before Congress.”

Before joining the Obama Pentagon, Flournoy directed CNAS, which had by then gained a reputation as having been instrumental in shaping the Obama administration’s views on counterinsurgnecy (COIN) warfare. When she left CNAS to join the administration, Flournoy (who was replaced by John Nagl as CNAS president) brought several colleagues with her. As Daniel Luban reported for Right Web in 2009, “CNAS’s impressive roster of alums in the Obama administration is a testament to the influence of the organization’s technocratic approach in Democratic foreign policy circles.”
Luban wrote, “At the Pentagon alone, Flournoy brought no fewer than seven CNAS colleagues with her: James Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy; Colin Kahl, deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East; Price Floyd, principal deputy assistant secretary for public affairs; Shawn Brimley, special advisor on strategy; Vikram Singh, special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan; Eric Pierce, deputy chief for legislative affairs; [and] Alice Hunt, special assistant. … Within the new bipartisan consensus favoring the escalating application of COIN doctrine to Afghanistan—a consensus stretching from CNAS to FPI, Nagl to Kristol—only a few isolated voices of dissent have emerged.”


In 2008, Flournoy co-authored Shaping the Iraq Inheritance, a CNAS report which, according to CNAS, “places America’s interests in Iraq within a regional and global context, and suggests that the United States must simultaneously attempt to avoid a failed state in Iraq while not strategically over-committing to Iraq. The report then outlines a policy of conditional engagement—a strategy that initiates a phased, negotiated redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq while conditioning residual support to the Iraqi government on continued political progress.”

In a review of the book, Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress wrote that it had an “identity crisis,” posing as “an exit strategy but ultimately advocat[ing] a course of action that looks a lot like what the Bush administration and its conservative supporters have endorsed in Iraq.” Discussing “conditional engagement,” Katulis argued that it is a strategy that “fails to clearly define … when the Iraq mission would be accomplished, and when U.S. troops could depart. … The report stakes out a position that places the strategy in the same space as the current Bush administration policy … a ‘conditions based’ drawdown of troops where the conditions are never really defined beyond vague terms like ‘accommodation’ and ‘sustainable security.'”

In October 2003, Flournoy was a contributing writer to a security policy blueprint titled “Progressive Internationalism: A Democratic National Security Strategy,” which was published by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), for many years a key outlet for militarist foreign policy thinking connected to the Democratic Party. Other contributing authors included Ronald D. Asmus from the German Marshall Fund; Kurt Campbell of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Larry Diamond from the Hoover Institution; Philip Gordon from the Brookings Institution; former Sen. Bob Kerrey of New School University; Michael McFaul from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Kenneth M. Pollack of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy; and Jeremy Rosner from Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, Inc.[26]

Employing language closely mirroring that of the Project for the New American Century, “Progressive Internationalism” hailed the “tough-minded internationalism” of past Democratic presidents such as Truman. Like PNAC, which in its founding statement warned of grave “present dangers” confronting America, the PPI security strategy declared: “Like the Cold War, the struggle we face today is likely to last not years but decades.”



Ms. Flournoy earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Harvard University and a master’s degree in international relations from Balliol College, Oxford University, where she was a Newton-Tatum scholar.



QA Michele Flournoy | Video | C-SPAN.org

flournoyMichele Flournoy talked about defense budget cuts, foreign policy, and U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also spoke about the creation of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and its mission. Ms. Flournoy served in the Defense Department during the Clinton and Obama administrations and is the co-founder of the CNAS. http://www.c-span.org/video/?320562-1/qa-michele-flournoy


Contact Information

CNAS Board of Directors Co-Chair Michèle Flournoy at House Armed Services Committee

CNAS Co-Chair of the Board of Directors Michèle Flournoy testified on September 19 before the House Armed Services Committee on Afghanistan. Read More

Toward a Successful Outcome in Afghanistan

Toward a Successful Outcome in Afghanistan

Former ISAF commander, General John Allen, USMC (Ret.), former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy and Brookings Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon challenge the perception that Afghanistan is a lost cause and urge Washington to “adequately resource” its current policy toward the country in Toward a Successful Outcome in Afghanistan. Read More

The Quadrennial Defense Review: A Model for the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review

Michèle A. Flournoy, President and Co-Founder of the Center for a New American Security, testifies before the House Committee on Homeland Security Read More

Achieving Unity of Effort in Interagency Operations

In testimony given to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Flournoy writes that “In the last two decades, the United States has experienced some truly stellar military victories: rolling back Saddam Hussein’s aggression against Kuwait in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, establishing a secure environment for the implementation of peace accords in the Balkans, driving the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and toppling Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime in a matter of weeks.” Read More

Strengthening the Readiness of the U.S. Military

This CNAS Congressional Testimony contains Michèle A. Flournoy’s prepared statement to the House Armed Services Committee, on Feb. 14, 2008. According to Flournoy, “the readiness of the U.S. military is just barely keeping pace with current operations. The fight to recruit and keep personnel, and the need to repair and modernize equipment, also means that building and regaining readiness is becoming increasingly costly.” Read More

Life After the Surge: Prospects for Iraq and for the U.S. Military

This CNAS Congressional Testimony contains Michèle A. Flournoy’s statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, given on April 2, 2008. According to Flournoy, “The only way to consolidate recent security gains in Iraq is to use our substantial political leverage to push various Iraqi actors toward political accommodation.  The Bush administration success or failure in so doing over the coming months will determine the options available to the next President.  When the next Commander in Chief takes office, he or she must put our Iraq policy on a new course that protects our vital interests there but also rebalances risk across our larger regional and global goals.  He or she must also take urgent steps to develop a new and more effective strategy toward Iraq, reduce the strains on our soldiers, marines and their families, free up more forces for other urgent priorities like Afghanistan, and restore the readiness of our military for the full range of possible future contingencies.” Read More

Enduring U.S. Interests in Iraq: The Three No’s

Even as forces in Iraq are drawn down, the U.S. has enduring interests in that besieged country and the surrounding region, and these interests will require a significant military presence therefore the foreseeable future.These vital longterm U.S. interests in Iraq can be boiled down to Three No’s: no regional war; no al Qaeda safe havens; and no genocide. Read More

Strategic Questions for Generals Petraeus and Odierno

As Generals Petraeus and Odierno appear before Congress this week, CNAS has drafted several key questions we feel are among the most vital to ask. As the 2008 presidential election looms, the American people deserve hard answers to hard questions concerning Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and military readiness. CNAS experts are always willing to provide insight and comment on these and other issues. Read More

The State of the U.S. Ground Forces

The State of the US Ground Forces, addresses the challenges our ground forces face after five years of engagement such as current deployment pace, recruiting standards and recommendations as we move forward. Read More

Shaping U.S. Ground Forces for the Future: Getting Expansion Right


America’s ground forces — the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Forces (SOF) — are under severe strain. Sustaining a high operational tempo has required repeated deployments that have taken a substantial toll on readiness. The force we build today will safeguard our national security tomorrow. As disturbing and compelling as current strains may be, they cannot serve as a sound basis for force expansion. Determining whether and how to grow our ground forces is a matter of deciding how best to balance risk across a range of competing national security and defense priorities. Any proposed expansion must be based on an assessment of the future security environment and the types of demands it will likely place on U.S. forces. Read More


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