The Pentagon’s #3, Michele Flournoy, is leaving her post as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy in February, she told AP. The 50-year-old mother of three said she needs to rebalance her personal life. Unsurprisingly, the Pentagon doesn’t give many days off, and it’s not so easy to step out to take the kids to dinner.
“By nature it is an all-consuming job and it does take a toll on the family,” she said, adding that she considers her time as the undersecretary of defense for policy as “probably the highlight of my professional life.” She was the first woman ever to hold the post when she started the job in February 2009, two years after co-founding and serving as the first president of the Center for a New American Security, a prominent think tank.
As an adviser to former CIA director and current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Flournoy is held in high esteem, wrote Laura Rozen on The Envoy:
“I hate to see Michele go–as a defense intellectual, a standout bureaucratic player, as a respected colleague and trailblazer for women she has few if any peers,” former Clinton administration official Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the progressive National Security Network, told Yahoo News Monday. “Goodness knows she has earned any re-balancing she wants. I think it highlights for both men and women how extreme the demands of government service have become.”
The demands, no doubt, are great. Flournoy made the conscious decision to choose between two once-in-a-lifetime opportunities: parenting and her role at the Pentagon.
Flournoy said her children understand that their parents’ hard-charging jobs are “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities” at an important juncture in American history, but it has required difficult trade-offs.
“You can make the sacrifice for a period, but at some point the cost becomes too high and you need to rebalance,” she said.
Her resignation comes as the U.S. makes a shift in its foreign policy focus from the Middle East to Asia, where China poses an ever-increasing threat to U.S. dominance and tensions with Pakistan are high. Flournoy’s successor is likely to spend much more time thinking about policy in Asia — and inherent within that, naval policy — than the Middle East, where troops levels are expected to fall over the next few years.
Photo: Michele Flournoy meets troops in Herat, Afghanistan in April 2011. Creative Commons/Flickr user isafmedia