January 3: In spite of the less-than-benevolent weather conditions in Washington on Monday morning, the three DC winter seminars kicked off brightly. After a brief introduction of the staff and accommodations at W&M’s Washington Center, we embarked on our 10-day excursion into U.S. grand strategy with a review of the international relations paradigms of realism and liberalism. As it has been a fair number of semesters since my last international relations theory class, I am unashamed to admit that this was a welcome comprehensive review! But before the discussion commenced, Professor Amy Oakes began class with one of the quintessential ice-breakers that we all became so intimately familiar with during our respective freshman orientations. The eponymous, pivotal question – what is our least favorite type of candy? Answers varied widely, including, but not limited to, Whoppers, Twizzlers, Warheads, and anything composed of white chocolate. In the end, however, double-salted black licorice reigned supreme.
While the weather was no more cooperative on Tuesday, the IR seminar nonetheless proceeded in stride, beginning with an in-depth analysis led by Professor Oakes of five grand strategies grounded in realism. For me, this discourse brought back fond memories of the last few lectures from my International Security course two springs ago with Professor Dennis Smith. After much discussion and a handful of clever memes, the rest of the day was spent engaging with three different speakers from around the city. Andrew Weiss, Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, kicked us off with an enlightening discussion of the threat of Russia under the presidency of Vladimir Putin. Next, enigmatic alumnus Neil K. presented an historian’s analysis of American grand strategy over the last two centuries. Last, but certainly not least, noted academic and policy expert Dr. Eliot Cohen from John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies analyzed the primary threats facing America today and the importance of military force. Most impressive to me was the sincere willingness of each of the speakers to directly engage with the class in an honest and pointed discussion of a wide variety of relevant, contemporary topics.