Beyond Vassar

From the Campaign Trail

By Micah Buis '02

In July 2007 Lee Feinstein ’81, a former senior fellow for foreign policy and international law at the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC, joined the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign as national security director. As such, he serves as the chief adviser on all foreign-policy, defense, and related issues.

Feinstein had previously served as a senior policy adviser to the Kerry Campaign in 2004, in addition to working as a principal deputy director of policy planning for Secretary Madeleine Albright in the state department and with Secretary William Perry in the defense department during the Clinton Administration. One of Feinstein’s key interests is the use of force, particularly as related to the changing nature of sovereignty in the 21st century and international responsibility to prevent mass atrocities. Last year he published a report for the CFR titled “Darfur and Beyond: What Is Needed to Prevent Mass Atrocities.”

“The real challenge for people who care about U.S. foreign policy is how to connect our ideas and proposals to the political process,” Feinstein said in a telephone interview. “The real nub of this job is how you get from the idea to the doing. How do you take the best ideas and get them presented to and endorsed by the public, and then act on them?” Working within politics, and particularly on a campaign, is a “road test for the ideas I and others have worked on over the years,” he said.

Hillary Clinton on the Campaign Trail
Hillary Clinton on the Campaign Trail
For Hillary Clinton’s campaign Feinstein has traveled to early primary states and works with foreign-policy practitioners around D.C. and with the press. The 24-hour news cycle and web activity mean there is constant interest in a candidate’s reaction to breaking news or to the actions of the current administration — and constant work for Feinstein in advising and informing Clinton in what he describes as a very foreign-policy-focused election.

Up to this point, Feinstein had worked mostly with foreign-policy reporters; now he deals with the broader public and sometimes directly with voters. “It’s pretty healthy — and a little bit humbling,” he said. “It forces you to speak in [clear] English and be very precise.” And still, he admitted, “in general, in terms of perceiving big foreign-policy trends, the public is often way ahead of the experts.”

The VQ is interested in hearing from any other alumnae/i who are currently working in a senior role for one of the presidential campaigns. Email with your name, title, and the campaign for which you’re working.