Bari Rogoff says she was always “that girl” at social gatherings in New York City. She was the one who wanted to talk about the Iran deal or Israeli security when discussing the latest Star Wars movie would suit most Manhattanites. “Destined for D.C.” is how her friends would describe her.
After eight years living in the Big Apple, four of them working at the Council on Foreign Relations, the 30-year-old New Jersey native moved to the nation’s capital in September to take a position as deputy director of the National Security Network at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Rogoff received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in international relations from New York University.
After graduating from U of M in 2007, Rogoff spent three months in Kenya, where she volunteered at the Huruma Centre Orphanage in Nkubu.
We recently caught up with Rogoff while she was moving furniture into her downtown Washington apartment down the street from FDD’s headquarters. The conversation ranged from her view of the greatest national security threats to the differences between living in Washington and New York.
How did you become interested in national security and international relations?
During my undergraduate studies at Michigan, I really didn’t study anything along these lines. I thought I was going to be a doctor through pre-med courses in the beginning of my undergraduate education. It wasn’t until my senior year that I took some interest in political science courses. Upon graduating from Michigan, I wound up moving to Kenya to do some volunteer work. When I was there I had my aha! moment, if you will, that I wanted to focus on more global issues.
Tell us about moving from New York to Washington for your job at FDD.
Moving to D.C. was always a necessary thing on my path in being interested in foreign policy. I love New York. My family, my friends, my network of humanity is there. But I always felt like I was arms-length away from where the real action in the foreign policy world is taking place. So I talked about it all the time: ‘I’m going to move to D.C. eventually.’ My friends were getting to a point where they would just roll their eyes at me like ‘sure, see you there.’ But eventually I started really understanding that I was an arms-length away from where the action was and it was about time that I pulled the Band-Aid off and really gave it a true shot.
What does your job entail at FDD?
I manage FDD’s national security programs, working with the next generation of U.S. national security leaders. This includes the National Security Fellows Program, National Security Trips to Israel and our National Security Network. It’s essentially programming developed to identify and train the next U.S. secretaries of defense, CIA directors, and so forth.
You are taking young professionals on a national security trip to Israel this May. Tell us about these trips.
It’s a trip that really provides context into Israel’s security environment. We do some training over there with Israeli Special Forces. We do a ton of stuff that you wouldn’t be able to read in a textbook over here. You have to be on the ground to really understand. Why we do Israel is, we always say, ‘If you want to study tornadoes go to Kansas, if you want to study counterterrorism you go to Israel.’ Especially being a Middle East national security-focused organization, when we’re talking about analyzing the Middle East and what could serve as a model to study the art of counterterrorism, [Israel] is the perfect model for what we’re looking for.
What do you see as the greatest national security threat for America? Israel? The world?
I am a firm believer that our security and safety has to start at home. My former boss, Richard Haass, wrote a book called Foreign Policy Begins at Home, and I believe that to be able to adequately counter threats abroad, we have to have our stuff together here first. We are seeing more and more that that’s not the case. I’m really hoping with the next administration on the horizon that we really, really work to get our stuff together here at home.
With that said, I think terrorism right now is our greatest threat. Once I looked at ISIS as more of a distant threat in that they’re trying to build their caliphate in the Middle East, but then we saw what happened in Paris and beyond, and know now that this is obviously a huge U.S. national security issue.
I also think Iran is still very much on the table in terms of being one of our biggest threats. I think we’ve still yet to see if [the Iran deal] is a positive or negative for our future, but I think regardless we have to keep our finger on the pulse and really continue to closely monitor Iran’s actions.
What was it like working for an orphanage in Kenya?
It was the most eye-opening experience I’ve ever had. I came from a background that was very different than anything of that nature. Very fortunate. And I wanted to put myself into a scenario that made me uncomfortable and that was challenging. I was living in a village with no water, no electricity. You get to a point where you have frustrations, you have fears, and then you develop bonds with the children that you’re working with at the orphanage and also at a primary school — and it makes every day worth your while. There’s no turning back after that when you’re exposed to something like that.
What have you noticed about the differences between D.C. and NYC?
Here in D.C. obviously the [foreign policy] conversation is plentiful. If you want to talk about the Iran deal — I could walk outside right now and talk about it with about anyone who walks by me. And that’s refreshing because you have people who care deeply about these issues that I believe every American citizen should care about. But sometimes now I’m finding myself feeling, can I talk about anything but. I’m craving to talk about music or fashion or whatever it is, so it’s a double-edged sword. It’s a great city though. I’m just starting to settle fully.
I feel your parents pride Bari girl.
I am kvelling beyond belief!! You are the most amazing and accomplished
Young woman I know! I always ask Mom about you and love to hear about your travels and the work that you do. Congratulations on all of your achievements!!!
Much love…… Anne