home Current Events, national security, Syria In this Town, Your Word is All you Have

In this Town, Your Word is All you Have

Fellow lawyers, if you thought the bar exam was tough, the PhD comprehensive examinations (comps for short) are no picnic. Several years ago, my wife Yleem earned her PhD from the Catholic University of America (CUA). After several years of coursework, the examination process was a seemingly never-ending process.  It included written tests followed several days later by a conference-style meeting with a committee comprised of several CUA Political Science department professors.

Would she do it again? Of course. However, she’s real happy she only had to do it one time. She passed her comps on the first go around. By the way, she was holding a full-time job at the time as well. This trips down memory land was was prompted by a recent CNN news report about a now former analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who lied on her resume saying she had earned a PhD.

The Institute is a Washington, DC think tank founded in 2007 by Dr. Kimberly Kagan, a military historian. By all accounts, it appears as if they are building an entity that will be around for the long-term. However, recently one of their own generated a lot of news that I’m thinking the Institute could have done without. One of their own, Elizabeth O’Bagy had claimed to be a “Dr” when she not even been accepted by the Georgetown University program to begin with.

In this town, as in life, your word is all you have. You could spend a lifetime doing many a good deed, but once you lie to someone, it is very difficult to regain that trust. At some level, you never really do. It is a somewhat like a political scarlet letter. What money is Wall Street, information is to Washington, DC. Not just any information, but reliable information. O’Bagy has a lot to sort out, but her career in this town is likely finished. At least for the foreseeable future.

O’Bagy seems to be part of the TwitterFacebook social media “now” generation. She wanted her fifteen minutes of fame, no matter what. There are a lot of people in this town who fit her mold. When Yleem and I started in this business, Twitter did not exist, nor did the Internet. Back then not so long ago, it was your work ethic and record of accomplishments that were the focus of your career. There were not shortcuts. I think that is true today as well, however, political Washington is full of people seeking shortcuts. Social media and television give them that illusion.

There was a time when most Congressional and executive branch staffers in the political arena would shun public attention. You served and you moved on. When you’re in the think tank world, it can be a little different. You need the exposure because you have to deal with donors to your non-profit.  If your donors see your team on Fox News or CNN, it is a lot easier to raise funds. Your also called up more to testify on the Hill, create legislative history. However, you need to produce quality product, have some life experience, and be a person of integrity (i.e., telling the truth about your academic bona fides is a good way to do that).

Policymaking is serious business, or it should be. It is not a game. Laws are being drafted, debated, and implemented. This process is only as good as the information that is placed in the public debate or policy-making process. I think O’Bagy learned that the hard way.  Her Syria analysis was flawed and relied on by policymakers to make declarative statements. I guess we now know why. Fortunately, it is of no major consequence. It will be a footnote in the policy debate.


  • Arthur Freyre


    No matter what is your occupation, your integrity is the only thing that you can take with you when you die and how people will remember you.

  • Arthur, very true.

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