Leadership in Times of International Conflict: Dr. Korb Speaks to TWC Students

Leadership in Times of International Conflict: Dr. Korb Speaks to TWC Students

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version
Maha Neouchy
September 26, 2013

More than 350 fall interns were given the opportunity to hear from a seasoned Washington, D.C. professional, Dr. Lawrence J. Korb, who has been at the forefront of a number of fields throughout his career. He is currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a member of TWC's Board of Directors.


Michael B. Smith, TWC's president, introduced Dr. Korb and spoke about the impact he has made on the organization and the rest of the nation. Smith noted Dr. Korb's invaluable contributions, an individual who is, "well-versed in national security issues and higher education." He has held teaching positions at the University of Dayton, the United States Coast Guard Academy and the U.S. Naval War College. He has also served in a number of defense and government positions, most notably as Assistant Secretary of Defense from 1981-1985 for the Reagan administration. Other positions have included:


After delving into his background, Dr. Korb addressed the topic of the September 23rd SMLS, "Presidential Leadership in Times of International Conflict." The first topic he discussed was the issue of national security, beginning with the recent question regarding whether the U.S. should attack Syria. This is currently a huge focus of both national and international debate, especially after the recent sarin chemical attacks on innocent Syrian civilians. Dr. Korb argued that no country will "have perfect security; there will always be challenges. Terrorism has always existed." He transitioned to ask the students to think about what the cost would be if the U.S. intervened militarily in Syria, and America went as far as to put boots on the ground.


After discussing the potential for a U.S. invasion in Syria, Dr. Korb analyzed the national security policies of the country as a whole. He argued that while the U.S. may see itself as "exceptional, with its separation of power, checks and balances, and freedom of press, religion, and speech; when it comes to fighting wars we are not always exceptional." Dr. Korb ended the discussion by talking about how critical presidential leadership is when it comes to dealing with national politics and foreign policy; "it is not a short-term thing, it is long-term. It is about working with Congress to set good precedents. In the long-term, that is how history will judge every president."


Question and Answer Session with Dr. Korb


John Curiel, intern at the International Economic Development Council and student at Ohio Northern University, asked Dr. Korb about the value of using past examples from history to assist in helping the president make decisions today: "How does the president decide which cases from history to use?" Dr. Korb responded that, "not every lesson from history is the same," but that we can examine and take a deeper look at cases in history like Iraq when discussing Syria. Dr. Korb noted that, "we aren't seen as liberators. We're a Western State and belong to a completely different culture." At the end of the day, it is not even so much about examining examples from history. It is more about seeing what tactical mistakes were made." He went on to explain that he would "like everyone to have liberty, freedom and privileges we have, of course. But it is up to them, it is not up to us."


Juliana Cardona, intern at Trust for America's Health and student at Florida Southern College, wondered why General Colin Powell decided to support President Bush and a U.S. invasion in Iraq, despite the Powell Doctrine instructing that costs and benefits should be analyzed first. Dr. Korb responded by saying that Powell's U.N. speech in fact, "hyped the threat. But he also made the point that the Bush Administration never conducted a cost-benefit analysis. Comparing the costs of the wars in Libya and Iraq, it cost the "U.S. over one billion dollars to get rid of [Muammar] Gaddafi and not a single American casualty, but over one trillion dollars and thousands of lives to get rid of [Saddam] Hussein. Even though we have a lot of power, we have limited resources."


Kevin Pinkoski, intern at the Embassy of Canada and student at the University of Alberta, asked about "what presidential liberty means and what does the president need to do at this critical moment in U.S. history?" Dr. Korb responded by noting the importance of not saying something "unless you really mean it." He also advised students that it is OK for the U.S. to ask for help. He pointed out that the U.S. does not always recognize that, "we need the international community. As powerful as we are, we are not omnipotent."


Advice to Future Leaders from Around the Country and World


Dr. Korb left every student in the room with a few pieces of advice:


  • "Be true to yourself. Figure out who you are and never compromise your values or beliefs."
  • "When you do something, don't do it just for the money."
  • "When you get up for work everyday, you should be excited about making a difference."

[View photos of the event on our Flickr channel]

Experience a Day in the Life of an Intern at The Washington Center

Learn More