Five Questions with Jay Williams on Civil-Military Affairs and Realism


This is the latest edition of our Five Questions series.  Each week, we feature an expert, scholar, or practitioner answering five questions on a topic of current relevance in the world of defense, security, and foreign policy.  Well, four of the questions are topical.  The fifth is about booze. We are War on the Rocks, after all.


I spoke with WOTR contributing editor John Allen (Jay) Williams about civil-military affairs and foreign policy over the weekend. Jay, a longtime mentor of mine, is Professor of Political Science at Loyola University Chicago, immediate past chair and president of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society (IUS), and member of the board of the Pritzker Military Museum and Library.  He is a retired Captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve with Navy, Joint, and DoD staff service as a Strategic Plans Officer.


1.  Jay, you are, in many ways, a poster child for combining a successful military career with a successful scholarly career.  How has your own career shaped your view of the importance of the soldier-scholar, particularly in light of the likelihood of further cuts in Professional Military Education?

At a time in which the military (not only in the United States) is stretched for resources, education – as distinct from training – is the first thing to be cut, as many WOTR readers can attest.  The value of education is measurable in the long term, but training pays off now and it is difficult to resist the temptation to let the future take care of itself.  Compounding this problem, at least in the Navy and Air Force, is an overemphasis on technical education at the expense of the humanities and social sciences.  Both approaches are necessary, but the pendulum has swung too far in the technical direction.  Professional military education needs to develop big picture leaders and strategists, and a broad liberal education is crucial for this.  I was fortunate to serve in billets at the Naval Academy, the Naval War College, and several Pentagon staffs where I was challenged by some of the best minds in or out of uniform.  These people are still at the center of my circle of professional contacts and friends.

2.  You recently stepped down as chair and president of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society.  How do you view your legacy there and the ongoing value of the IUS? 

I was fortunate to be hired at Loyola University Chicago by the late Sam C.  Sarkesian, with whom I worked closely on many projects and who continues to serve as my role model as a soldier-scholar.  Sam recruited me to be executive director of the IUS when he took over as chair and president from Morris Janowitz in 1982.  In that capacity I got to work with and learn from Morris and Sam and successive chairs Charlie Moskos and David Segal.  I received great on-the-job training in military sociology from them and my successor James Burk.  I took my focus as executive director and, for the last ten years, as chair and president from Morris Janowitz: maintain and support the highest quality of social science scholarship among the Fellows of the IUS.  Were that to be lost, the organization would have no purpose.  At the same time, academic organizations don’t subsist on great thoughts alone and the IUS is now on a sound financial footing from Fellow dues and contributions, foundation support, and revenue from our excellent journal Armed Forces & Society.

3.  Do you think President Obama is a realist, as he is often said to be? If you could give him advice on any piece of foreign policy business, what would it be?

President Obama has moved significantly in a realist direction, at least with respect to foreign and defense policy.  He learned the hard way that good intentions and charm are not enough and that other nations and groups have interests they will advance to the extent they can.  Probably the best example of this was his belated realization that pinprick military strikes on Syria would do no good and, I hope, that redlines need to be credible and should not be proclaimed except for vital national interests.  His hard line so far on Edward Snowden is consistent with a realist perspective and compares favorably with a truly appalling editorial in the New York Times reflecting the view of many in our society who regard Snowden as a far more sympathetic figure than I do.  It appears that Pres. Obama will support necessary changes in intelligence collection without overly restricting the ability of the NSA to identify threats.  I would certainly advise him not to be deterred in these matters.  Ad hoc improvisation, which seems to be the default policy now, is insufficient, and it may be time for a new National Security Strategy document that outlines an overall vision for U.S. foreign and security policy.  As is often said, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

4.  Inter-service tension is at a high point these days, with defense cuts on the agenda. Was it ever comparable ?  

Inter-service tension is not new, and in some respects is not a bad thing.  It provides checks and balances when services are watching one another rather than speaking with a unified voice.  An example from well before my military career would be the “Revolt of the Admirals” in the late 1940s, when the Navy stalled Air Force plans to buy many wings of already-outdated B-36 “Peacemaker” bombers as they competed for the mission of strategic deterrence against the Soviet Union.  I have always thought that my Air Force friends are insufficiently grateful to my beloved Navy for slowing that program until the B-52 “Stratofortress” came online.

5.  As the man who first introduced me to good whiskey years ago, what brand of the grain you prefer these days? 

Yes, and I apologize for that because I know that has gotten more expensive for you as your tastes have escalated. I am not much into bourbon (my loss, I realize). I especially enjoyed an 18-yr. old Macallan, but I also like peaty Islay Scotch whisky  and have a very nice Laphroaig Cairdeas awaiting visitors.  I wouldn’t mind a taste of the Laphroaig Triple Wood that Frank Hoffman just gave you for Christmas. I also like Irish single malt, and am enjoying an excellent 12-yr. old cask strength single pot still Red Breast from our mutual friend, Sarkesian mentee, and WOTR contributor Mike Noonan.


Ryan Evans is the assistant director of the Center for the National Interest. He is the editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks.


Photo credit: The U.S. Army

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