Sen. Duckworth Links Health, Education and Values to National Security

The Illinois senator discussed those issues and President Trump’s foreign policy during a discussion at GW.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) told an audience at GW that President Trump's actions have "diminished [the U.S.] in the eyes of the world." (William Atkins/GW Today)
October 22, 2019

By B.L. Wilson

An evening with Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D– Ill.) sponsored by the George Washington University chapter of Delta Phi Epsilon (DPE) professional foreign service sorority was billed as a discussion on the importance of health and education to U.S. national security.

The start, however, was delayed by a late vote in the Senate because of a confrontation earlier in the day at the White House between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“At that meeting, the president called Speaker Pelosi unhinged and nervous Nancy,” said Sen. Duckworth, M.A. ‘92. “This is not acceptable behavior and in fact it has diminished us in the eyes of the world.”

What prompted that attack—criticism of Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria—became a major focus of the conversation with Sen. Duckworth, whom moderator Carly Nuttal, B.A. ’13, characterized as “an outspoken critic of the president’s decision.”

Reuben Brigety II, dean of GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs, opened the event last Wednesday in Jack Morton Auditorium, noting that it was taking place on “Global Ethics Day,” whose theme this year is “Ethics In Action.”

“These type of discussions with our leadership in practice, or LEAP initiative,” he said, “prepares Elliott School students for challenges related to leadership in the complex ethical and moral dilemmas they will encounter during their careers.”

DPE President Maggie Meiman, a GW senior, introduced Sen. Duckworth as exemplifying the sorority’s “values of leadership, service and female empowerment.”

Ms. Nuttal, a Montgomery County District Court law clerk, asked how the senator balances her prominence as a leader in national security with the demands of her constituents who are probably more concerned about “kitchen table issues.”

In a theme the Iraqi war veteran underscored throughout the evening, Sen. Duckworth said that health care and agriculture policy for families losing their farms are top priorities for the people she meets in her travels.

“I try to redefine national strength beyond just tanks and guns and helicopters and a big defense budget,” the senator said. “If you believe in a strong nation and we lead the free world, we also have to be able to feed ourselves, generate our own power, safeguard our water and educate our kids.”

She said technologically, the U.S. military readiness is at less than 100 percent.

The most critical part of military readiness, she said, is personnel. She said that less than one third of young people between ages 18 and 24 who are eligible for the military actually qualify. She said many recruits cannot pass the military’s math and English tests, have serious health and dental problems or a felony drug conviction.

“So, what is the point of having F35 fighter jets, the most advanced weaponry out there, if we actually can’t find the people to fly them or fix them,” she said.

America’s greatest strength is not its military’s equipment, she said. “You have to stand on who you are as a people and you have to engage and that comes from diplomatic efforts,” Sen. Duckworth said.

She said the ramifications of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria has led to the slaughter of U.S. allies, the Kurds; the escape of “hundreds, if not thousands of ISIS fighters”; the firing on U.S. forces by Turkey, a NATO ally; and the movement of Russia into space the United States once patrolled.

Mr. Trump has not made the United States greater, she said. “It has been diminished in the eyes of the world,” the senator said. “No one is going to work with us because they know we will abandon them.”

Ms. Nuttal asked the senator, who gave the GW Commencement address and received an honorary degree in 2017, what her advice would be for young women who want to pursue a career in public service.

“Get out of your own way. Get out of your own head,” she said, explaining that she did not so much choose to run for office but was urged to by others, a typical scenario for many women candidates.  “No one is more surprised than me every morning to realize the job I have.”


Politics and Society


U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth Urges Graduates ‘to Get in the Arena’

May 21, 2017
Sen. Duckworth, Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West and The Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron received honorary degrees as 6,000 students graduated from GW.

University Honors Alumna Rep. Tammy Duckworth

May 12, 2014
Congresswoman presented with Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award at Capitol Hill reception.