Current Position: Senior Military Affairs Analyst, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Internships: Brookings Institution, Fulbright Grantee, University of Durham (UK)
Education: Pomona College
Alexandra (“Zan”) Gutowski has traveled throughout the Middle East, honing her Arabic language skills, by way of scholarships from the Fulbright Program and the Department of Defense. An alumna of the Hertog War Studies Program and Advanced Institutes, Zan is now a Research Analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
HOW DID YOU FIRST HEAR ABOUT WAR STUDIES?
One of my professors at Pomona, former Ambassador Cameron Munter, was teaching a course on international crises. He recommended that I apply to the War Studies Program. Following up on my experience at War Studies with “Lessons of the Iraq War” was simply phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a course where I learned so much so quickly or been with such committed peers.
What keeps bringing me back to Hertog Programs is the remarkable learning environment. Since the nature of the Programs is so intense, you really get to know people quickly. Everyone is willing to get into difficult discussions about challenging issues because there is already a base of respect among the participants. I don’t know of another program where I could get such a high caliber of instruction on such complex issues.
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR CAREER PATH.
I studied international relations and Arabic as an undergrad, and went abroad to Oman and Jordan on government scholarships. Directly after doing War Studies, I went to Doha through the Georgetown Qatar Scholarship Program. Right now, I’m in an interdisciplinary Master’s program in defense, development, and diplomacy through a Fulbright Scholarship in the UK.
I do not think I would’ve gotten into my Master’s program, nor would I be doing as well as I am, without the War Studies Program. Before War Studies, I had a bit of a sense of the diplomacy and development side of U.S. foreign policy, but I didn’t even have the vocabulary or any knowledge of the major texts and discussions in the defense realm. My first experience with the Hertog Foundation, and every follow-up course, has given me the vocabulary, background, theoretical knowledge, and confidence to engage these subjects.
WHAT STICKS OUT IN YOUR MEMORY ABOUT YOUR EDUCATION EXPERIENCE WITH WAR STUDIES?
There were definitely moments when developing my knowledge of defense sort of felt like learning a foreign language. During War Studies, we visited JCS Chairman General Dempsey, and Generals McChrystal and Petraeus came in to speak with us. We all had these incredibly interesting conversations about where warfare is going, and it dawned on me that even a week prior I wouldn’t have been able to participate in discussions like that because I lacked any background in the subject. To so quickly see the return on investment in starting to develop a language for discussing war was astonishing.
There is a larger flaw in the American education system at the moment, where post-Vietnam, we’re very quick to just say, “War: What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” But the bottom line is that our country still goes to war. So let’s go to war smarter, only in the cases where we have to. Let’s have a public discussion that goes beyond the dichotomy of war: good or bad. The Hertog Foundation does a great job of filling in those gaps and moving us towards a better way of approaching these issues as a nation.
OVERALL, WHAT IS YOUR IMPRESSION OF HERTOG PROGRAMS?
I think Hertog Programs are very empowering. One of my hesitations going in was that because the Hertog instructors are so involved in policy and have very strong political opinions, they would be pushing a certain viewpoint on the participants—that’s not what I’ve found at all.
One of the main reasons I keep coming back is that even with these extremely intellectual and experienced people leading the courses, you can have a different opinion. What they teach you to do is to develop a method to argue your own position very well. I’ve learned to put forth whatever political opinions I have, consider them rigorously, and defend them intellectually.
DO YOU THINK HERTOG PROGRAMS ARE BENEFICIAL FOR YOUNG PEOPLE INTERESTED IN SECURITY STUDIES?
Definitely. There are plenty of students who have a great theoretical background in the issues, but without knowing case studies of military history and working through a conflict decision point by decision point, you’ll always be at the hands of someone else’s analysis. Hertog Programs give you the opportunity to not just learn theories, but test them. Having that much raw material of historical knowledge allows you to craft arguments for yourself and not just take someone’s analysis at face value.
The “Lessons of the Iraq War” Institute is a great example. It’s easy to have a sound-bite understanding of that conflict without really thinking through all the decisions, the evidence, the sequence of events, and the actual outcomes of certain policies as that war unfolded. The Institute deepened our knowledge of the Iraq War to such a degree where it’s impossible to walk away without a fully formed analysis of your own.
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 10 YEARS?
I’d really like to be involved on the civilian side of defense policy. I’m very committed to public service. I want to have a career where I’m intellectually stimulated, but also contributing to our society. I’ve been extremely fortunate in that the U.S. government has sent me all over the Middle East to learn Arabic on scholarships, so I’m eager to give back. I want to help shape U.S. policy in such a way that promotes both our national security and a positive image for America in the world.